In Austin in 2011, the city had an escalating serial rapist. The attacks started out as a man flashing runners along the hike and bike trail along Town Lake, and his flashing quickly turned into sexual assault. I was 29, the same age as Esme, and often walked around Town Lake. I would hear about the attacks from friends, and about a friend of a friend who had been flashed while running. I had always taken my hikes with my fear-aggressive pitbull, and felt pretty safe knowing that she would not let anyone get within a foot of me whether I wanted her to let them or not. Yet, I felt a little uneasy after hearing about the increasing violent nature of the attacks, and I started hiking in a less trafficked area further out of town (somehow this really doesn’t sound like a good idea to me now!)
Four big assaults were reported around central Austin between July 1- September 11th, and each of the survivors described a similar attacker. A sketch circulated around the news and on Facebook, and I bought some mace and started to regret moving into a house for the first time by myself.
On the evening of New Year’s Eve 2011, I went party hopping with a group of friends. My bestie rented a limo so we could all ride from party to party without worrying about finding a taxi (do y’all remember life without Uber?), and we started our night out at the 29th Street Ballroom to see a friend’s band play. If anyone is from Austin, you will know that 90% of your life is spent trying to fit in the band schedules of your closest friends, and this is typically how NYE goes. How many bands can you see in one night? While at 29th Street Ballroom, I was introduced to Esme through a mutual friend, and we briefly chatted about who was playing that night and that she knew my friend’s band. We didn’t talk long, but she struck me as genuine and energetic.
In the early morning hours on New Year’s morning, Esme was murdered in her home not far from 29th Street Ballroom. Details of her murder were not released, but we do know that her killer was on a rampage and attacked and injured a woman 30 minutes before he killed Esme. Hours after Esme’s attack, he then went on to attack another woman nearby in her home. Fortunately, she survived.
News of Esme’s murder spread quickly online. Esme was so loved by the community, was so full of life and kindness, and her loss left so many people in our community devastated. In the weeks to come, our seemingly safe town went into an absolute free fall. No one felt safe leaving their house after dark. Shops were selling out of mace, everyone made a pact with their bestie to join a self defense class, and I pored over articles online trying to figure out what might have happened that night to sweet Esme while trying to drown myself in wine to feel safe enough to fall asleep each night. Who could have done this? What were the police doing to find him? How were they going to keep the community safe?
On January 12, 2012, police found the body of James Loren Brown in his home having completed suicide by asphyxiation in his home not far from Esme’s place. James looked strikingly similar to the sketch from the sexual assaults that took place over the summer, and his DNA matched the crime scenes of the summer attacks, Esme’s murder, and the attacks before and after Esme’s murder. It is not believed that James knew Esme, but he just happened to live a few blocks from her house. After matching his DNA to the seven attacks, APD released very little information about James, Esme’s murder, or the other attacks. This night has often haunted me, and I admittedly have spent more hours than I would like to admit just trying to understand how this could have happened to Esme and to the other women who were assaulted.
I have often thought about Esme’s murder, but have never felt comfortable talking about it because it doesn’t feel like it’s my story to tell. I met her so briefly, and she was clearly so loved by her friends, family, and the cozy community that was Austin in 2011. Even so, her tragic death had an impact on me and my perceived safety ever since. I went from being a careless, often drunk, 20 something to feeling paranoid about walking home by myself, or even being in my home alone. We were the same age. We attended the same party on the same night. I lived close to her home. I spent sleepless, vulnerable nights reading about her life and her impact on the world. What I learned is what a wonderful, bright light was taken from us. I met her so very briefly, but Esme was well known in the music community for all of the amazing work she did. Esme was from El Paso and had moved to Austin in 2004. She worked as a tutor with special needs kids, and volunteered at Girls Rock Camp, a non-profit that teaches girls to play instruments. How cool is that! She was known for having a big heart and being warm and welcoming.
Do you have a hometown murder, scary dating story, a near miss in an Uber, or a good ghost story you would like to share? Tell us all about it here!