Public Safety

Iowa City man pleads not guilty in fatal stabbing of wife, JoEllen Browning

Authorities say husband's hidden financial misspending led to attack

Roy Browning Jr.
Roy Browning Jr.

IOWA CITY — The husband accused in the stabbing death of his wife, a University and Iowa Hospitals and Clinics budget executive, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder.

Roy Carl Browning Jr., 67, filed the written plea Tuesday in Johnson County District Court. No trial date has been set.

Browning was arrested and charged in October, nearly seven months after JoEllen Browning, 65, was stabbed to death April 5 in their home at 114 Green Mountain Dr.

JoEllen Browning death timeline

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

  • 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

A search warrant affidavit states Browning had taken out high-interest loans and was funneling the couple’s savings into his personal account without his wife’s knowledge.

It appears that information was about to be revealed the day her body was found on the floor of her bedroom with multiple stab wounds to her front and back torso and on her left hand, according to the court document.

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

A forensic pathologist determined the cause of death was “sharp-force injuries” and her death was ruled a homicide, authorities said.   

There was no signs of a break-in at the home, court documents show. Blood was found in the couple’s master bedroom and in the shower. Blood also was found on the right hand fingernail clippings of JoEllen. A blood analysis showed it had come from her and her husband.

“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.

Investigators also found JoEllen’s blood on the front storm door handle of the house, court documents show.

During the investigation, authorities found JoEllen Browning had a retirement account and life insurance policy worth over $2 million, according to the affidavit. Her husband had no source of income, and there was evidence he was making financial transactions without her knowledge.

Investigators found photos of “apparent banking records” at the home. But when compared with known records, they found “numerous discrepancies” between the documents, including a non-existent account in the photographed record.

One of the couple’s accounts showed a balance of $97,830 on Dec. 31, 2018. However, records provided by the couple’s financial institution showed the actual balance was only $88.76, according to court documents.

Upon further review of the bank account, it showed the money was removed from a joint account and moved into the sole account of Roy Browning, according to the affidavit.

Roy Browning also took out separate loans for $4,000 each — with an interest rate of 304.17 percent — on four 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 Browning emailed her husband April 1 to ask about the discrepancies in their bank accounts, the affidavit shows. 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.

A text message from JoEllen Browning 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. About 20 minutes after Roy confirmed via text message he was aware of the meeting, he was at a paint supply store buying gloves and towels.

Investigators said he purchased rubber-palmed gloves and a package of six white towels. He also was given eight to 10 latex gloves, according to court documents. Investigators searched the Browning home, vehicles and other locations but never recovered those items.

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.”

Credit card records also showed that a credit card in JoEllen Browning’s name had a balance of $17,644, 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 his wife’s funeral on April 11, authorities said.

After his arrest, DCI Special Agent-in-Charge Rick Rahn said he couldn’t disclose how they believe Roy Browning was spending the diverted money.

Roy Browning remains in jail under a $5 million bail. If convicted, he faces life in prison without parole.

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