Into the Unknown: The Rawlins Rodeo Murders
This month, we dig into several potentially related cases, long cold, in my home state of Wyoming. There are many theories as to how these cases played out, but no concrete answers. The clues in these cases are varied, but each case is so similar they may have been committed by the same person. The summer of 1974 must have been a terrifying one in Rawlins, Wyoming.
Some of the content in this post may disturb or upset sensitive readers. I do not post graphic pictures, but websites found by following links in this post may. Reader discretion is advised.
THE HISTORY: Rawlins, Wyoming is the county seat of Carbon County, and is a city that housed around 9,200 people as of 2010. Wyoming in a lot of ways is still a wild place, sparsely populated with just over half a million people as of the publishing of this post, and rugged as it was when the first white man set foot in it. Rodeos are still a popular pastime in the summer, and Rawlins is no exception to that rule. Every summer to this day, Rawlins hosts several different rodeo and outdoor events.
Once home to the Wyoming Frontier Prison, Rawlins is now home to a Level IV-Level V maximum-security penitentiary. Capital punishment is legal in Wyoming, but has no prisoner has been executed since 1992, when the state executed killer Mark Hopkinson. He was the first execution the state had ordered since the 1960s.
Crime rates in Wyoming tend to be below the national median, both for violent and property crimes, and this leads people to feel safe when they're here. But Wyoming is a state that, as I mentioned, is sparsely populated, and there are still a lot of wide open spaces and uninhabited miles in the state where it would be all too easy for a person to vanish without a trace.
THE MISSING: Four young women and girls went missing from Rawlins in 1974, beginning on the 4th of July weekend.
Carlene Brown - Brown was 19 years old, 5'-5'3" tall and weighed 100-120 pounds. She and a friend, Christy Gross (who I will profile below) went missing the night of July 4th. The two women, best friends by all accounts, attended the Little Britches Rodeo together and disappeared from there. The car they arrived in together was later found in Worland, Wyoming, over 150 miles away. Carlene has never been seen since.
Christy Gross - Gross was 19 years old, and was similar in looks to Carlene. Both girls wore their dark hair parted in the middle and had brown eyes. Christy, in photos at least, looks a bit darker-complected than Carlene. I don't have a physical description of her as far as height and weight go, and details about her are almost nonexistent online.
Deborah Meyer - Meyer was 14 when she disappeared from Rawlins on August 4th. She was visiting a family member at an apartment building. She was planning on walking to a local movie theater, but it's unknown if she made it there. She never made it back home and was never seen again. She was 5'4" tall and weighed about 115 pounds, making her similar in size to at least Carlene. She had brown hair and eyes as well. She has a small circular growth on her left ear, and wore a full set of dentures when she disappeared.
Jaylene Banker - Jaylene (spelled 'Jayleen' in some reports) was just 10 years old when she disappeared on August 23 of 1974. She was visiting the Carbon County Rodeo in Rawlins when she got separated from a friend and was never seen alive again. The reaction when she disappeared was quite different from the ones of the other women, and a massive effort was made to find her, to no avail.
THE INVESTIGATION: As was a fairly common practice in the disappearance of young people in the 1970s, Carlene and Christy were both initially classified as runaways and Rawlins police did not take their cases as seriously as they probably should have. Carlene was known to pit her divorced parents against one another and would live at times with her mother in Colorado and at times with her father in Rawlins. She was known to leave when it suited her, but in the past had always come home before too much time had passed.
Jaylene's body was found in a field some time after she disappeared, and Christy's skeleton was found in Sinclair, Wyoming nine years later, in October of 1983. Sinclair is a fifteen minute drive from Rawlins. She'd been killed by two blows to the skull and was identified through dental charts and a ring found with her bones.
Since then, police have continued to investigate, but a stunning lack of evidence and the intervening years have made their job a tough one. A DNA technician from the University of North Texas, Janet Franson, began attempting in 2012 to use DNA to track down the missing girls and their potential killer, along with a pair of forensic anthropologists, an odontologist, and a fingerprint expert. But without bodies, there's little to go on.
Further hampering their investigation is the fact that Carlene Brown was adopted as an infant, and her birth family is unknown. Her adoptive family has since passed away, father Carl, mother Catherine T. Goutsch, and brother Rick. Rick was adopted as well, so none of her family's DNA would have helped in the investigation.
THE SUSPECTS: The list of suspects, much like any evidence in these cases, is horribly short, but interesting nonetheless.
The first and most likely suspect is Royal Russel Long, a resident of Rawlins in 1974. He worked part-time in carnivals and was a long-haul trucker as well, giving him access to great stretches of highway and long hours to fill. He was known for offering jobs to young women unloading truckloads of stuffed animals and other goods, when there was in fact no goods to unload at all. He did this with two girls from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The girls and their boyfriends accepted the job offer and Long let the boys out at a truck stop, saying he would take the girls, Charlotte Kinsey and Cinda Pallette, to the next stop to find the truck he'd "hired" them to unload. The girls have not been seen since. It's possible he did the same thing to the girls missing from Rawlins. He was charged with murdering both Pallette and Kinsey, but due to lack of evidence, the charges were eventually dropped. He did plead guilty to the 1984 kidnapping of Sharon Baldeagle of Eagle Butte, South Dakota. Sharon was 12 when she vanished, and her body has never been found. Long was was serving his sentence in her disappearance when he died in prison in 1993. There is no solid evidence Long was involved with the Rawlins disappearances, but he did live in Rawlins at the time. He died in prison in 1993.
Another less likely suspect is notorious serial killer Ted Bundy. It's well-known that his 'type' was attractive young women with dark hair typically parted in the middle, and his known victims were between the ages of 12 to 26, so technically all these girls and women fit. But there's little to no corroborating evidence to lend credence to this theory. Bundy is suspected to have committed over 100 murders of women in many areas of the United States. He was in Utah and Colorado in 1974-1976, where he committed several murders. Rawlins is a 6 1/2 hour drive from the border of Utah and less than 5 hours from Colorado, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that he could have spent time there during those years. There is no concrete evidence of any connection between Wyoming and Bundy, however, so this theory must be taken with a grain of salt.
THE AFTERMATH: It's been 44 years since the summer of 1974, and there are still no answers in what happened to any of the women and girls who vanished. Cold cases are solved every day, though, and it's possible this one can be, too. Many family members have passed away since 1974, and witnesses, no doubt, as well. But someone out there could know something that could crack such a case wide open. Plus, if Carlene Brown's birth family would come forward, their DNA could help in the investigation.
If you have any information about the Rawlins Rodeo Murders, please contact the Rawlins Police Department at (307) 324-4503 or the Carbon County Sherriff's Office at (307) 324-2776 or toll free at (866) 324-2776.