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Who Killed Betty Gail Brown? Murder, Mistrial, and Mystery

by Robert G. Lawson

Availablecloth$34.95s 978-0-8131-7462-4
216 pages  Pubdate:   6 x 9  9 b&w photos, 3 figures

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On October 26, 1961, after an evening of studying with friends on the campus of Transylvania University, nineteen-year-old student Betty Gail Brown got into her car around midnight—presumably headed for home. But she would never arrive. Three hours later, Brown was found dead in a driveway near the center of campus, strangled to death with her own brassiere. Kentuckians from across the state became engrossed in the proceedings as lead after lead went nowhere. Four years later, the police investigation completely stalled.

In 1965, a drifter named Alex Arnold Jr. confessed to the killing while in jail on other charges in Oregon. Arnold was brought to Lexington, indicted for the murder of Betty Gail Brown, and put on trial, where he entered a plea of not guilty. Robert G. Lawson was a young attorney at a local firm when a senior member asked him to help defend Arnold, and he offers a meticulous record of the case in Who Killed Betty Gail Brown? During the trial, the courtroom was packed daily, but witnesses failed to produce any concrete evidence. Arnold was an alcoholic whose memory was unreliable, and his confused, inconsistent answers to questions about the night of the homicide did not add up.

Since the trial, new leads have come and gone, but Betty Gail Brown’s murder remains unsolved. A written transcript of the court proceedings does not exist; and thus Lawson, drawing upon police and court records, newspaper articles, personal files, and his own notes, provides an invaluable record of one of Kentucky’s most famous cold cases.

Robert G. Lawson has been a law professor for fifty years at the University of Kentucky, where he served twice as dean of the college of law. He is the author of The Kentucky Evidence Law Handbook and Beverly Hills: The Anatomy of a Nightclub Fire.

This book is a must-read for several reasons. First, it’s a straightforward account of a famous Kentucky murder case, written in Robert Lawson’s no-nonsense style. Second, it’s a good example of lawyers’ pro bono representation of an indigent defendant charged with a serious crime. Finally, it’s the story of a confession, never retracted, that might or might not be true. -- Kentucky Bench & Bar

I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes stories true crime, legal nonfiction, or Lexington history. Lawson tells a great story from the perspective of his own involvement in the story, and his own uncertainty about who actually killed Miss Brown. -- Her Kentucky Reads blog

Who Killed Betty Gail Brown? is clear, well-written and accessible to the average reader. Mr. Lawson has done an excellent job of organizing the material to make the case easily understandable. He also keeps the action moving and the reader turning pages to find out what happens next. -- Tom Eblen, Lexington Herald-Leader

The book is more than a history. It is a gripping mystery story. Lawson lays out the facts, and the readers are free to explore many possibilities regarding the murder. Lawson details the chronology of the police investigation, giving the reader only the facts known to the police at any point in time. -- Retired Judge James Park Jr.