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Records: Financially troubled husband accused of killing JoEllen Browning of Iowa City

Roy Browning Jr. took out risky loans and depleted couple's savings, affidavit says

Roy Browning Jr.
Roy Browning Jr.
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IOWA CITY — Nearly seven months after a University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics executive was found stabbed in her Iowa City home, her husband — Roy Browning Jr. — is in jail and accused of murdering her.

An affidavit laying out probable cause for his arrest in the killing of JoEllen Browning, filed Monday, paints a picture of a husband taking out high-interest loans and funneling the couple’s savings into his personal account, seemingly without his wife’s knowledge.

However, the truth was likely to have come out during a meeting the couple had scheduled for an hour after she was found dead, the court record shows.

JoEllen Browning had a retirement account and life insurance policy worth more than $2 million, authorities said. Roy Browning had no source of income.

Roy Browning, 67, was booked at the Johnson County Jail at 7:13 p.m. Monday on one count of first-degree murder. If convicted of the Class A felony, he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

During an initial court appearance Tuesday morning, a judge set Browning’s bail at $5 million cash or surety bond.

JoEllen Browning, 65, a longtime UI Hospitals budget executive, was found stabbed to death April 5 inside the couple’s home at 114 Green Mountain Drive.

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According to the affidavit filed in the homicide case by Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Derek Riessen, police responded to a 911 call placed by Roy Browning at 6:59 a.m. April 5. Browning reported his wife was “unresponsive,” according to documents.

“First responders found her deceased lying on her bedroom floor at her residence,” the affidavit states. “An autopsy showed she had been stabbed multiple times in the front and back of her torso and on her left hand.”

Authorities said a forensic pathologist at the UI Decedent Care Center determined the cause of death was “sharp force injuries” and her death was a homicide.

The affidavit states there was no signs of a break-in at the home. Blood was found throughout home, including in the couple’s master bedroom and master bedroom shower, authorities said. Blood also was found on the right-hand finger nail clippings of JoEllen Browning. The Iowa DCI Laboratory analyzed the blood and discovered it came from two individuals — JoEllen and Roy Browning.

“The probability of finding (Roy Browning’s) profile in a population of unrelated individuals, chosen at random, would be less than 1 out of 310 trillion,” the affidavit states.

JoEllen’s blood also was found in the front storm door handle of the home, authorities said.

The affidavit states authorities — the case was also investigated by the Iowa City Police Department — determined Roy Browning visited a paint supply store the day before JoEllen was found dead. There, he purchased rubber palmed gloves and a package of six white towels. He also was given eight to 10 latex gloves for free. Investigators said — despite searching the Browning home, vehicles and other locations — the items Browning purchased were never located.

Authorities said they also found evidence of Roy Browning apparently making financial transactions without his wife’s knowledge.

The affidavit states investigators found photographs of “apparent banking records” at the home. However, when compared with known records, investigators found “numerous discrepancies” between the documents, including a non-existent account in the photographed record, the affidavit states.

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One photographed record of one of the couple’s accounts showed a balance of $97,830.17 on Dec. 31, 2018. However, records provided by the couple’s financial institution showed the actual balance was only $88.76 in the same period.

“Further review of the actual bank account showed the money was removed from this joint account and placed into an account owned solely by Roy Browning,” the affidavit states.

Roy Browning also took out separate loans for $4,000 each — with an interest rate of 304.17 percent — on four different occasions from a title and loan company in the Illinois area. Browning told the company not to tell his wife about the loan, authorities said.

JoEllen emailed her husband on April 1 to ask about the discrepancies in their bank accounts, the affidavit states. She told her husband to contact their bank to ensure he could log onto their account so the couple could review their accounts that night, court records show.

A text message from JoEllen to her husband also showed they had scheduled a meeting at their financial institution at 8 a.m. April 5 — an hour before she was found dead. Roughly 20 minutes after Roy confirmed via text message he was aware of the meeting, he was at the paint supply store buying gloves and towels.

The affidavit states that a representative from the Brownings’ financial institution “was prepared to tell JoEllen ... that one of their savings accounts was depleted and Roy had taken out loans of which JoEllen was not aware.”

“The representative was prepared to tell JoEllen that an account JoEllen thought was active never actually existed,” the affidavit states.

Credit card records also showed that a credit card in JoEllen’s name had a balance of $17,643.86, according to the March 7-April 6 statement. The next month’s statement showed the balance was paid off through Roy’s individual checking account. Roy Browning continued to use the credit card after JoEllen’s funeral on April 11, authorities said.

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DCI Special Agent-in-Charge Rick Rahn said investigators could not disclose yet how they believe he was spending the diverted money.

“That will come out as the case unfolds,” he said.

While Roy Browning was designated as the executor of his wife’s will, as well as the beneficiary, Iowa law could preclude him from receiving money should he be convicted in her death, a legal expert said.

Natalie Banta, associate professor of law at Drake University, said Iowa has what is known as a “slayer statute” that prevents anyone involved in the murder of another from inheriting from that person. Banta said interested parties in the case — such as a trustee or someone else who could potentially inherit money — can file for a pause or deferment in the proceedings of JoEllen Browning’s estate.

“The trustee is going to have an obligation ... to act within the duties of prudence and loyalty to the beneficiaries of the trust,” Banta said. “If they paid out to her convicted killer or a person who has been arrested for her murder, that would be a breach of their fiduciary duties.”

The monthslong case included roughly 100 interviews. Rahn said investigators pored over records as well as tested and analyzed evidence.

“We want to be as thorough as we can,” Rahn said. “That’s why it took as long as it did.”

Roy Browning said little as he appeared for his initial appearance over closed-circuit television from the jail Tuesday. He told Judge Deb Minot that he would not need a court-appointed attorney. However, no attorney was present for Browning during Tuesday’s brief appearance.

The case was investigated jointly by DCI, the Iowa City Police Department, UI Decedent Care Unit and the Johnson County Attorney’s Office.

JoEllen Browning death timeline

— April 1, 12:01 p.m. JoEllen emails Roy to ask about discrepancies in their bank accounts.

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— April 4, 1:17 p.m. JoEllen texts Roy to tell him they have a meeting scheduled with their financial institution on April 5 at 8 a.m.

— April 4, 1:33 p.m. Roy responds “Yes” via text to JoEllen, indicating he was aware of the meeting.

— April 4, 1:51 p.m. Roy purchases rubber palmed nitrile gloves and a package of six white towels from a paint supply store. He is also given 8-10 latex gloves for free. The items purchased are never recovered by police.

— April 5, 6:59 a.m. Roy calls 911 and reports finding his wife unresponsive. First responders find her dead in the couple’s bathroom floor.

— April 5, 8 a.m. The meeting with the Brownings and their financial institution never takes place. A representative from the financial institution later tells investigators they were prepared to tell JoEllen that one of their savings accounts was depleted, Roy had taken out loans and an account JoEllen thought was active never existed.

Source: Court records

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