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This episode of Tom Brown's body is brought to you by Audible, Please help support our podcast by going to audible dot com slash TV or text teeb to five hundred five hundred and choose an audio book with a free 30 day trial. Let me tell you what the criminal law is not about disproving evidence proves the case. So at some point, in respect for Tom, I mean, we have to say, even though the result is not what we want, we're going to respect the evidence that there is.
You want to remember, Tom, put up signs here that other parts of his life, a great football player, great family, went to church and. Yes. In the tiny panhandle town of Canadian, Texas, there are two identical signs, they're planted on an empty lot on Main Street, just up the road from a handful of century old red brick buildings.
Each one is four feet tall and eight feet wide at the very top of each sign in bold red letters is the phrase justice for Tom. Below that or two sentences. There is a killer among us. Please pray that Tom's killer is found and brought to justice. In the bottom left is the photo of a teenage boy. He's wearing glasses and he's giving the camera a gentle smile.
That's Tom. In the fall of 2016, 18 year old Tom Brown seemed to have a very fulfilling life. He was class president. He had a lead role in the upcoming school play. He'd advance to the state finals of a public speaking competition, and he was taking a full load of classes and filling out applications for college.
And it's six feet one and 180 pounds. Tom was playing left tackle for the Canadian High Wildcats.
In 2014, in 2015, his sophomore and junior years, the Wildcats had won the division to a state championship title, a major achievement in football crazy Texas. Tom, was it back up during those years, but he had been named a starter for his 2016 senior season?
Hey, this is Wildcat Live straight from Canadian, sponsored by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. And we're here with Tom Brown, offensive lineman.
Here is Tom talking in September 2016 to the sports reporter from the Canadian record, right after the Wildcats had been upset by nearby Periton High School. Talk about the game.
And I really wanted to win this game. I really wanted it to be the turning point of our season. But it wasn't. We've got to do everything it takes to turn the tide and make ourselves who we should be. I always like talking to you, Tom, because you have great perspective and you have great just obvious senior leadership. I mean, you're a leader to these guys and your coaches out there. Tom was a good kid, the kind of teenager who always said, yes, sir, and yes, ma'am, when talking to adults at school, he didn't skip classes and he never caused trouble.
He didn't drink much at the high school parties, added like Marvin, a small sixty acre reservoir east of town. And his friend said he refused to drink at all if he was the designated driver. He got along with everyone, the football players, the drama nerds and the farm and ranch kids who were members of the Four Club. I don't think I knew a single person that truly said, I just don't like that guy. This is Caleb keeping a close friend who first got to know Tom in the second grade.
A lot of people that say that I just don't like that guy about a lot of those football players, but not Tom. I mean, everybody kind of got along with him. He was our president. In his free time, Tom played Xbox and was an avid reader, one of his favorite novels was The Great Gatsby. He was also a movie buff. He loved the cult classic A Clockwork Orange. But he also got a hoot out of Monday Night Raw, the WWE professional wrestling show.
He told his friends that he might someday become a professional wrestler himself, and he wasn't completely kidding. Yeah, he it was jokes.
He was quirky is a little bit of everything.
That's Christian Webb, who had been one of Tom's best friends since middle school.
He was just a really funny guy. He knew how to make people laugh and he loved to do it. And I think that's what attracted people to him and that's what attracted me to him. And he is just a sweet, charismatic guy.
But on the night of November, twenty third twenty sixteen, the night before Thanksgiving, Tom did something completely out of character after a night out cruising with friends, he didn't come home. For two years, in two months, the residents of Canadian searched for him on foot, on horseback, on four wheelers, even in helicopters. The mystery of what happened to Tom became an obsession in Canadian. At the town's gathering spots, residents talked about such things as forensic evidence and alibis was Tom's still alive?
Was he the victim of a crime? And if so, who possibly would want to hurt him? In the absence of any sort of closure, rumors flourished Tom had been kidnapped by a gang of bikers. He had been ground up in a wood chipper by a local meth dealer. He had killed himself. He was buried in a sewer pipe beneath the town's Frisbee golf course. Finally, in January two nineteen more than two years after Tom disappeared, a sheriff's deputy made a discovery breaking.
Tonight, the 18 year old was last seen November 20 16, investigators from multiple different law enforcement agencies confirm his remains have been found. By that point, Tom's disappearance and death had been investigated by officers from four law enforcement agencies, but no arrests had been made. And even then, even after Tom's remains were found, it would soon be clear that the case was far from over conspiracy.
I'm the only one to kill. I put him in a wood chipper. I had gay sex with him. Some guys called me at the football field at night and they killed Colin football field. I got there and I covered it up. I buried it. They kept telling me that I had talked to Thomas. I knew what happened. I knew where he was that I had found him that night. I moved his body.
Why were we lied to? Why were we misled? Why did this continue to happen? I don't have an answer to it. I've never seen anything like this in law enforcement before. Never, ever. Why in pretty little Canadian did Tom Brown suddenly disappear? And what happens when a whole town gets obsessed with the single tragic story? From Texas Monthly, I'm Skip Hollandsworth, this is Tom Brown's body. Episode one, a pretty little place. I've been following Tom Brown's case from afar, reading articles in the local Canadian newspaper and occasionally perusing a local Facebook group called Moms for Tom, which had been created by Tom's mother, Penny, in some of her friends to maintain interest in the case.
I've been a writer at Texas Monthly magazine for more than 30 years, but I've never seen anything like this. The case had more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie novel, and the speculation was unending. It's a nightmarish story. It's just a complete nightmare. That's Laurie Brown, no relation to Tom. She's the publisher and editor of The Canadian Record, the town's weekly newspaper. It's been owned by her family since the 1940s when I heard about the investigations into Tom's death.
She was the first person I called to since twenty sixteen.
You've done pretty much all the stories on the Thomas Brown case, however, written on Thomas Brown. Yes. When this one started on Thanksgiving and it was not something you thought, oh, I'm going to be writing about this for the next three years. It's funny, you know, six months later, you realize you're still writing about it. A year later, you realize you're still writing about it. And, you know, it just goes on and on and it's gotten all tangled up in social media.
And that's a nightmare. It's just a complete nightmare.
By now, just about everyone involved in the case has fallen under suspicion. Law enforcement officers have interrogated everyone from a former Canadian high school valedictorian to a star running back on the football team. They've given lie detector tests to all sorts of people. The local sheriff, a globe trotting private investigator who came to Canadian to work on the case, even the members of Tom's own family. During one of my conversations with Laurie Brown, she told me she wasn't sure she'd ever get the chance to write an article laying out exactly what happened to Tom.
There were simply too many unanswered questions about the night he had vanished. Too many unanswered questions about why his body had ended up under a tree on the outskirts of town.
When I called Laurie and told her I was planning to do my own story about Tom, I'm trying to figure out how to jump in.
She gave me a curious piece of advice, probably the first joint account to put on a really, really high alert because it's nasty.
Surely I thought Laurie had to be exaggerating. Surely I could come to Canadian, snoop around for a while and get someone to tell me a secret or two that had not yet been revealed, as Laurie herself told me.
It's remarkable. I don't think you can do anything myself.
I even figured I might be able to piece together a few clues and come up with some answer of my own about what happened to Tom, because if you look hard enough, a mystery can't stay a mystery forever. At least that's what I've always believed. Hi, I'm Matt Rebuilder, and I'm John Ewin, and we are staff members here at Texas Monthly. Tom Brown's body is supported by Audible and we're here with a free offer for you today. Using this offer will help you support our podcast and try something new to keep you entertained.
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I recently listened to The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett and I cannot recommend it enough for me.
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And thank you for supporting Tom Brown's body. OK, we're now ready to go. OK, I'm not technologically proficient, my daughter says my brain is technologically calcified. Now, she's 21. She just stares at me. That's OK. At 21, though, they're about to come around at 21. And maybe, you know, this is Salem Abraham.
He's known as the richest person in town. When I arrive in Canadian, he's the first person I visit. I'm at his company's office, which takes up the second and third floors of a century old downtown hotel. He's wearing a three hundred dollar Brioni dress shirt paired with blue jeans and hiking boots. He's in his mid 50s. He's trim and energetic. Salem has eight kids.
So we would have had of our eight children there within 11 years. So all in life. One thirty. Thirty one year marriage. Thirty two year marriage, almost.
Salem's family has lived in Canadian for more than a century. His great grandfather, Nahin, was the Lebanese immigrant who came to Ellis Island in 1913 and made his way here to this remote northeastern pocket of the Texas panhandle.
And for the Lebanese great grandfather of mine, you'd say, OK, how do you start off in a little village in Lebanon and you end up here? And the family history, the oral history of the families always, oh, no, Canadian was a happening place, you know, and he travel up and down the railroad. I mean, he he was in Salt Lake City, Utah. He went to South America. And then in Argentina, he had tried a lot of different things.
And it's like, oh, no, right here. And so he kind of shopped around for really five years. He'd taken three trips over. And and then he finally says, OK, it goes back, tells his wife and two kids, I found a spot and this is it. Now, he opened a dry goods store to serve the area's ranchers and cotton farmers and the family prospered. Salem came along for generations later. He went to Notre Dame University and got a degree in finance.
He considered heading to Chicago. Instead, he went back home to Canadian to marry his high school sweetheart and raise a family. Salem also launched his own hedge fund, which in time became a global sensation with more than six hundred million dollars in assets, all from a town so small few Texans had even heard of it.
Most of the townspeople don't come back to being Canadian. It's a nice enough place to grow up. It's got great schools and you say, you know what, Canadians not so bad. We're all a bunch of folks that have, for a large part of us, have grown up together and our parents grew up together and our kids are grown up together and we're all friends and we all root for each other and we want the best for each other.
I figured a multimillionaire money manager would have little desire to gossip with a nosy reporter, but when I showed up at his offices, he dropped what he was doing to talk about Tom going so far as to show me on Google Maps the exact place where Tom had disappeared.
And we go sit back down. Yeah, so but. Well, but let me let me just show you this.
So his car was parked here, right here by this tree. And this everybody talks about this road.
This road was not really I could tell Salem was fond of Tom. He told me he was Tom's flag football coach when Tom was in elementary school. He told me that one of his daughters, Anne Marie, was the same age as Tom the year Tom was president of the seventy one member senior class and Marie was vice president.
The president in the class in Canadian is more to get that you give a speech. It's usually a funny speech. It's something fun. And so what, Tom? What it shows to be elected president of the class is you're well-liked and you can give a funny speech. All of our impression when times are good kids. Sweet kid. He's a kid that was he's well liked. Among the many properties that Salomon's in Canadian is an empty lot, where the two Justice for Tom signs are planted.
Salem allowed the bombs for Tom Group to plant the signs there so the public interest in Tom's death wouldn't wane, but it's caused him plenty of grief. OK, we're back on the record.
So clearly, there's a group of people in town that do not like those signs that includes members of Salem's own family.
And so I've got my father. He's a big promoter of the town. He's got the Citadel Art Gallery and he's got his house in the house, is going to be on the tour of homes. Well, the week before he even found out has gone and was taken down since he didn't like them up.
Yeah, I think there's some of the people in town, they want to move on and they think, well, this this won't define Canadian. You know, we just need to move on. But my way of looking at this is this is part of our history.
It's happened and it's a big deal. And now I think as a community, we need to decide how we respond to this.
We need to deal with it. We need to figure it out. We need to solve it, and then we can move on. But until then, we can't.
And before I leave his office, Salem gives me a warning. See, here's the problem with all this.
There's all there's a lot of lying and it's hard to know who's right and who's not. And there's pieces of this. I don't know who is lying or just misinformation based on the wrong evidence.
Seems like I don't know who. All right. I'll leave you back your numbers. All right. I'll keep you informed. All right. Good luck. After leaving Salem's office, I walk across the street and up a half block to the offices of the Canadian recording where Laurie Brown is waiting for me. OK, Laurie Brown.
So we're off to where we're going to hit all the high points.
The Thomas Brown murder mystery, as you no doubt can hear, Laurie's got that dry humor, which typifies West Texas. She's in her late 60s and she's a bit of an oddity in conservative Canadian.
Hanging on the wall of her office is a friend front page of The New York Times announcing Barack Obama's victory in the 2008 presidential election.
But regardless of her political leanings, Laurie clearly loves her little hometown. OK, so we just turned to we just turned off on a complex road. This is a rodeo complex. So we're passing the rodeo grounds picnic area. But you may not camp out here. If I want to tell you, our Laurie shows me all around town, Canadian really is a pretty place set next to a flowing river surrounded by rolling hills and miles of prairie. It's dotted with churches and cafes where locals drop in and greet each other by name.
There's a couple of banks. A rodeo arena, a downtown movie theater reminiscent of Larry McMurtry is The Last Picture Show. The high school football stadium seats three thousand fifty nine spectators. That's about three hundred and sixty more than the entire population of Canadians. And on Friday nights, you can see the stadium lights from far away. And now we're at the historical marker. Why is it historical? I guess we're about to find out. This is where the first rodeo.
So there used to be a professional rodeo out here.
Nineteen eighty to nineteen forty one. Yeah.
This was supposedly the first rodeo in Texas ever rodeo.
Oh, here we go. But this is Paka says it has the first rodeo. Yeah. I didn't realize the Canadian is trying to make the same claim, trying to. We wouldn't think of it as trying. All right, let's go. Hate to say goodbye to the original rodeo in all of America. I want you to carefully research this. Like a lot of Panhandle towns, Canadians started out as a railroad stop today. It's remarkable how little the town has changed.
It's a long way from just about anything. The only nearby city is Amarillo. One hundred miles to the west, Canadians. Twenty seven hundred residents are somewhat cloistered, but they've done well for themselves. Lori drives me past the local art museum, the skate park, the disc golf course, and the two storey brick houses owned by the town's wealthy oil and ranch families. She cheerfully lets me know about Canadians annual Caffery Cookoff, where townspeople get together to feast on fried cattle genitalia, a delicacy in these parts.
It's obvious Laurie loves her job when we stop by a deli called Alexanders to grab a sandwich. She says hello to just about everyone inside. She chats with one woman who promises to send photos of her cattle to run in an upcoming issue of the paper. She asks the cashier how her family is doing.
We've been hiding out in the country, but later she also admits to me that the Tom Brown story has taken something out of her.
And I just never felt like I could get anywhere close to what really happened.
And it quickly became obvious to me that a lot of people weren't telling the truth, that their stories changed, that their story came very self-serving, that they were trying to divert attention to other people or cast suspicion on other people.
It never made sense to me.
And the more time that passed, the more frustrating was that we still knew so little. So I've covered this for over three years and never dreamed that I'd be covering it still. And I'm still pretty baffled by the whole thing.
I'm sorry. You're absolutely the greatest. Well, I don't know. You're so good at this.
When Laurie drops me back off in my car, I'm sure have a lot invested in the story and she rolls down her window and makes a final quip. And yet, hey, she says, when you find out what happened to Tom, will you let me know that tomorrow? Here is what we know about the case in the weeks before Tom disappeared. There were a few things he did that raise some eyebrows. In October, he quit the football team after being demoted back to second stream, but he didn't seem all that upset.
He told the coach he was sorry, but he just didn't want to stand on the sidelines for the rest of the year. And in November, he raised a few more eyebrows when he broke up with a girl he had been seeing named Sage Pennington. But as far as anyone could tell, he didn't seem upset by that either. Sage was a year ahead of time in school. A freshman at West Texas A&M University in Kanyon, a two hour drive away, Tom explained to his family that it was hard to keep up a long distance relationship.
But he said that he and Sage had promised to remain good friends. Then came November, twenty third Thanksgiving Eve, Tom made plans to go cruising with his friends before he left his house, he borrowed his mother's debit card, telling her he needed to fill up his 2009 red Dodge Durango. He then drove to the Canadian middle school parking lot where he met Caleb King in another high school buddy named Michael Castleton. Michael and Caleb piled into Tom's Durango.
Nothing really out of the ordinary. It was just a normal life in meet. Him and Caleb were all driving around just talking. He didn't seem upset and sad about anything. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
That night, Tom followed his typical route, a series of streets that his friends called Tom's Loop.
We go up past the community center around by the high school football field, kind of out of town, over like the old folks or whatever it is. And then he does pretty much that same loop over and over again. Around eight p.m., the trio headed back to the middle school parking lot to meet Christian Webb. Michael said he was calling it a night and he left in his car. Tom and Caleb hopped in with Christian. Christian, like Sage, was a year older than Tom and Caleb, she's outgoing and very smart.
She was Canadian High School's valedictorian that previous spring and she was attending Oklahoma State on a scholarship, studying microbiology and playing the piccolo in the marching band.
The first time I came back from college to Canadian was Thanksgiving.
She said that when she saw Tom, he was in great spirits.
You know, he seemed really happy. Everything seemed fine.
And here's Caleb. He was fine. He was talkative. Yeah, he's laughing. He was having fun.
I mean, he there was no sign of him being upset at all that we all kind of discussed it, how much we wanted to get out of Canadian and experience new places and go to college.
At one point that evening. Thomas Christian, if he could play a couple of songs he liked by the popular band The Avett Brothers. One was called live and die. The other was no hard feelings. When my body won't hold me anymore and it finally. That's my free. We'll all be ready. When my feet one walk another, my my lips get. My hands be steady later in the evening, Tom and Christian and Caleb got out of Christian's car and walked up and down what the locals called the walking bridge, an old wagon bridge just outside of town that's now part of a hike and bike trail.
It was cold in the upper 30s. There was a brisk breeze coming from the southwest. Tom was wearing a thin black pullover, a black Canadian Wildcats T-shirt, faded jeans and tennis shoes.
It looked like he was having fun and just enjoying being himself and hanging out with us, you know, not afraid of what other people thought or just being himself.
And he was comfortable on that on The Walking Bridge. Christian took his photograph. Tom smiled. The picture came from a video, actually, just for fun, and it just happened to be the last video taken of him and the last photograph, the three of them returned to the middle school parking lot between 11 and 11, 15 km left for his house.
Kristian and Tom stayed in the car and chatted a bit longer. They talked about Tom coming to visit her at Oklahoma State later that spring, and they made plans for Tom to stop by her house the next day to play pool.
I said it was really great to see you again, Tom. And he said the same thing back to me. And just kind of the way she sounded kind of like he was sad to see me go. I was kind of what I think about it. It's kind of heartbreaking just because that's the last thing he said to me.
Christian then pulled out of the parking lot and Tom drove away in his Durango and then he vanished.
Next week on Tom Brown's body, I will speak at this point in time. And somewhere in that situation, I could be wrong. I mean, I've been wrong about a lot of this, but I you here somewhere. Tom Brown's body is a Texas Monthly production executive producer is Megan Krait, produced and engineered by Brian Sandefer, who also wrote the music. Jaquet Neko is our editor and Paul Knight is our fact checker. Audio assistants are Sean Cronin and Imogene Hopper.
Our theme music is No Hard Feelings by The Avett Brothers. I'm your writer and host Skip Hollandsworth. If you like the show, please leave us a review on Apple podcasts. Thanks for listening. See you all next week.