It was a deadly day in Hialeah.
A history teacher, angered over $20 welding bill, shot and killed eight people.
Seven blocks away from Bob Moore’s Welding and Machine Service, an outraged driver who knew the victims ran over Carl Brown, who had pedaled away from the scene on his bicycle.
It was the worst mass shoot in Miami-Dade.
Let’s go back to the day, Aug. 20, 1982, to learn more about the shooter and the tragedy through the Miami Herald archives.
A MAN OF FRIGHTENING CONTRAST
Published Aug. 21, 1982
An all-American history teacher who loved his country and served in its military, Carl Robert Brown, 51, had begun to talk admiringly about Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Russia.
And early on recent mornings he greeted the dawn and woke his neighbors with cries of: “United States. United States. United States.”
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But the once-meticulous schoolteacher who had taught accounting and business courses at Miami-Dade Community College had, in recent years, become disheveled and gaunt.
“He looked as if he were 80 years old,” said next-door neighbor Francisco Avila, 69.
A man of frightening contrast, colleagues say the junior high school teacher was very passive with students. Yet at night, neighbors heard gunshots from the teacher’s Hialeah duplex.
“He seemed to be quite repressed; a lot of anger pent up inside,” said fellow teacher Paul Berard, a science instructor at Hialeah Junior High. “He was angry with the world.”
The anger erupted Friday.
Seething about a disputed $20 welding bill, Brown went to the Garcia Gun Center near his home. He bought two shotguns, an automatic rifle and ammunition.
There is a 72-hour cooling-off period for the purchase of handguns in Dade County, but rifles and shotguns can be bought over the counter.
Brown took one of the shotguns -- a pump-action with a pistol grip and folding stock -- stuffed his pockets with red shells and pedaled off on his bicycle.
He was about to become Dade County’s most prolific mass murderer.
Neighbors and fellow teachers thought Brown was an ex- Marine. He was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1954.
“He kept a military bearing about himself,” said Donald Fussell, vice principal at Drew Middle School, where Brown most recently taught. “He was strong for America, and quite militaristic.”
Born Nov. 26, 1930, Brown graduated from the University of Miami in 1957 and from East Carolina College in Greenville in 1964 with a master’s degree in education.
He worked briefly for Keyes Realty, then plunged into teaching. While full time at Hialeah Junior High, he moonlighted, teaching college courses, from 1964 to 1970.
His marital life was one of discord. A father of three, the youngest a nine-year-old son, his second marriage failed and his teaching career began to come apart in recent years. His second wife told reporters Friday night that she left him because he refused to seek psychological help.
After “problems” on the job, he was transferred from Hialeah Junior to Drew last year. But the transfer did not resolve his problems.
Brown, who rode his bicycle to and from school, “isolated himself,” Fussell said. “It didn’t take a very professional person to determine he was ill. He would just go off into unrelated kinds of conversation with you. He would talk about things completely unrelated.”
Teenagers, quick to seize upon a teacher’s weakness, took advantage.
“All you had to do was come to class, ask one question and he’d talk for the rest of the period about everything,” said Gus Mata, 15, a former student.
“He was off his rocker. You could ask a question about a bicycle tire and he’d talk about how the tire was made and how much air goes into it. I never remember him smiling.”
Students say Brown rambled, talking about his children, mentioning his former wives and discoursing on capitalism and politics.
“He was very prejudiced,” teacher Arlene Rothenberg said. “Anti-black, anti-semitic, anti-everything. I avoided him. If I talked to him he would go into a tirade. None of it would make sense.”
Early this year, the school system had Brown evaluated, vice principal Fussell said. “And they relieved him of his teaching responsibilities and put him on medical leave,” he said.
At home, Brown worked hard at keeping the white-and-yellow duplex he built at 1370 E. Fifth Ave. trim and neat. He owned another house in Hialeah and tenants, current and prior, unanimously praise him as a landlord.
Avila and his wife, Zoila, live in the other half of the duplex. When he raised their rent by $15 in December, he wrote a letter apologizing for the hike. He was helpful and kind, they said.
A neighbor, however, said Brown, clad only in underwear, would pick grapefruit from her mother’s tree and that he once broke a window while firing a pellet gun.
“I sincerely feel sorry for him,” Zoila Avila said. “He wasn’t a bad person. It was just that he was crazy. It was the desperation from the loneliness he had.”
Brown recently returned from a trip abroad, neighbors said. “He came back worse than when he left,” Avila said. “When he came back, he said that nothing in the United States stood for anything.”
“I think Carl was looking for some help,” said vice principal Fussell. “Nine people should still be alive. The fellow needed help so badly. ...”
WITNESSES CHASED AND KILLED GUNMAN
Published Aug. 21, 2982
A psychiatrically troubled Dade County schoolteacher, vowing to “shoot everybody” over a $20 welding bill, did just that Friday.
When Carl R. Brown, 51, pedaled away on a bicycle minutes later, he left eight men and women dead and three others wounded at Bob Moore’s Welding and Machine Service, 3147 NW North River Dr.
Seven blocks away, near Miami Jai-Alai, the gunman was killed when an outraged motorist who knew the victims deliberately crushed Brown against a concrete light pole with his car.
The schoolteacher died sprawled at the side of the road, his newly purchased .12-gauge shotgun nearby, his pockets full of red buckshot. The rampage is the deadliest mass murder in Dade history.
Most of the victims were strangers to Brown, who, until February, taught American history at Drew Middle School. He had been forced out of his teaching job because of psychiatric problems, school officials said.
“I’m not surprised,” said Hialeah Junior High teacher Arlene Rothenberg, who knew Brown for nearly 20 years.
“He hated everybody. He was a bigot. He should not have been in a classroom. His problems were something that should have been caught a long time ago.”
Brown was a dissatisfied customer who complained Thursday about the bill on a repair job on a lawn mower engine. He cursed and made threats.
“I would like to kill the SOB Americans and you too.” he told welder Jorge Castellanos. “They have better men in Russia.”
Brown, Castellanos said Friday, seemed to be speaking in a Russian accent. Neighbors say Brown recently announced he was “going to Russia, that things would be better in Russia.”
Employers at the welding shop did not take the threats seriously.
Wearing a floppy straw hat and riding his bicycle, Brown returned there shortly before 11 a.m. Friday after buying a Mossberg 500, a shotgun with a 20-inch barrel capable of firing eight shells by pump action, dubbed “The Persuader” by its manufacturer.
Although there’s no waiting period for buying a shotgun, police said this particular model had no sporting uses and is considered a riot gun.
Brown killed owner Bob Moore’s mother, Ernestine Moore, 67; his uncle, Mangum Moore, 78, the bookkeeper; Carl Lee, 47, the manager; Martha Steelman, 29, a secretary; Lonie Jeffries, 53, a crane operator; Juan Trespalacios, 38, a machinist; Pedro Vasques, 44, the shop foreman; and Nelson Barrios, 46, a welder.
The welder whose work infuriated the gunman escaped unhurt. When the gunman announced he was going to shoot everybody, “I ran,” Castellanos said.
Three wounded employees, Carlos Vazquez, 42, a machinist; his son Carlos Vazquez, 17, a helper; and Eduardo Lima, 30, a machinist, also ran for their lives as the gunman pedaled away “slowly, like he was taking a Sunday ride,” a witness said.
Crane operator Curtis Edwards, 52, was on the job when he heard the shots.
“I saw everybody running. Then I saw Nelson, lying there dead. I walked into the welding shop. Pedro was dead in his office. I went into the machine shop and there was another guy dead on the floor. I saw my brother-in-law, Carl Lee, sitting there dead in his chair and I didn’t go any further.”
Lee was a father of three, and a grandfather.
Ramon Montero, 52, was working on a machine when he heard a shot, turned and saw the gunman shoot Juan Trespalacious, who was working next to him.
“He shot at me, but didn’t hit me,” Montero said. “I ran like an arrow.” He fled to the back of the building and hid in an upstairs room. It saved his life.
Passing motorist Mac Edwards heard a shotgun blast just before he saw the three wounded employees fleeing in panic.
They jumped into his car as he slowed for a traffic light.
“Get out of here. Get out of here.” they screamed. “A guy with a shotgun is going crazy out there. Get us out of here, quick.”
Two of the bleeding men in his car were screaming in pain, the third was sobbing.
Edwards drove them to the safety of a Shell station a mile away, at NW 36th Street and LeJeune Road, and dialed 911.
All three were taken to Hialeah Hospital and were listed in stable condition.
Rufus Nelson, 51, works at General Metals, across the street from the murder scene. He heard a blast, then “eight or nine more.”
He stepped outside and saw a Moore employe “lying outside. He was shot in the head and the back. He was trying to turn over. It looked like there were three holes in him.”
The gunman, the weapon slung over his shoulder by a strap, was already pedaling north.
Nelson stepped cautiously into the welding shop, seeking more survivors.
He found none.
“They were all dead ... so fast,” he said.
“A man named Pedro was on the floor in the office. A fat guy who ran the place was sitting up in his chair. Dead. It looked like he was shot in the forehead. His face was all bleeding.
“A woman wearing white slacks was lying on her side behind her desk. It looked like she had been typing. All her papers were scattered around on the floor.”
Dazed at the carnage, Nelson stumbled into another door.
“A man was lying on the floor with a hole in his head and his brains coming out. His arm was shot off. Only a little piece of skin held it together.
“I looked in the back room and another one was lying on the floor, face down. He had on a white shirt and a green work uniform. He was dead.”
Trembling and faint, Nelson rushed back across the street to tell his employers that no one inside was left alive.
“I was so frightened,” he said. “I never saw anything like that before.”
A frantic General Metals employe ran to All Florida Metals, a block away.
“He was in hysterics,” owner Mike Kram said.
“There’s a massacre down at Bob Moore’s.” the man cried, asking to use the telephone. As he dialed 911, Kram dashed toward the welding shop.
He met General Metals employe Ernie Hammett, who was frantically trying to flag down cars. Hammett told him six to eight people were dead at Moore’s.
They ran back to Kram’s 1981 Lincoln Continental and drove off in pursuit of the gunman. As they came close to the bicyclist, Kram fired a warning shot to stop him. It did not.
“We were about 15 feet from him,” Hammett said, “and Mark said, ‘I’m going to hit him.’ “
Kram’s car was up close to the bicyclist’s rear tire, he said, when “he saw me and reached for his shotgun.
“Out of reaction — I just ran directly at him.”
The bicycle was hurled against the pole.
Two hundred yards away, Kram stopped and waved down a passing off-duty police officer. Police said no charges would be filed against Kram.
At the murder scene, a welding shop customer, Fred Polis, wept. “They were the loveliest people,” he said. “It’s tragic, it’s so tragic.”
Brown, who apparently died instantly, taught social studies and history at Hialeah Junior High School until last year when he was transferred to Drew.
“It was pretty obvious he had problems,” said Drew vice principal Donald Fussell. “He was relieved of his responsibilities around February 1 and put on a medical leave.
“I would hope that he was under psychiatric care.”
He called Brown “extremely passive in his dealings with kids and everyone else. Everybody knew that he was ill, but not to what extent.”
VIOLENT TRAGEDY BUILT SLOWLY
Published Sept. 5, 1982
When Carl Robert Brown walked into the staff lounge at school, the other teachers found excuses to leave. When neighbors saw him coming on his battered motorized bicycle, they slipped indoors.
Toward the end, only his young son would listen to Brown’s bitter monologues, long ago dismissed by friends, family and a psychiatrist as the harmless ramblings of a confused mind.
But even 10-year-old Andy knew something was terribly wrong with his father on that last day. They woke up early after sleeping on the patio on lawn chairs, side-by-side, next to the swimming pool Brown built himself years ago.
Andy’s father started again: “He told me he was going to kill all the homosexuals. I didn’t say anything to him. Then I said, ‘Do we have to?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I mean, he looked serious.”
The boy watched his father climb onto the bicycle with its oversized tires and wire basket and pedal away from the neat stucco duplex. His father was muttering to himself and lugging his 12-gauge shotgun they’d purchased together the day before.
When Andy Brown was born, his father was teaching social studies at Hialeah Junior High School, owned a profitable group of low-rent apartments and taught college business classes at night. Every Sunday, he took the family to the Hialeah Alliance Church.
On that last day, though, much had changed: Brown had lost his job, disowned two daughters, divorced two wives and lost much of his property. Most days he rode his bicycle around the neighborhood, collecting empty cans and scraps of aluminum.
Thirty minutes after he left his worried son on that Friday morning, Aug. 20, Brown’s unraveling ended at a welding shop where he had taken his bicycle motor for repair earlier in the week.
Shouting his homicidal fury over a cash-only policy, Brown stalked through the shop and sprayed the place with gunfire. When he stopped, eight people were dead and three others wounded. A motorist chased him and shot him dead.
In the ensuing shock and confusion, Brown’s son was shuttled from relative to relative. Andy Brown caught a glimpse of the bold headlines in the newspapers. He saw his father’s picture on the news. But his family told him only that his father had died in a traffic accident.
Finally, three days later, the boy began dialing telephone operators, police, anyone he could reach to ask the question no one may ever explain fully:
“Do you know what happened to Carl R. Brown?” he wanted to know. “Can you tell me what happened to my father?”
What family and friends agree upon is that Carl Robert Brown, born in Chicago Nov. 26, 1930, the son of a house painter, product of a military academy, a champion boxer in the Navy, changed drastically in the last decade of his life.
When he moved here from Chicago in 1955 to study business at the University of Miami, he was a gentle, crew-cut, easy-going Midwesterner with dreams of growing wealthy. Soon he married Nancy Worthington, a student at the university. They had two daughters, Susan and Anita.
Brown tried selling real estate and took a job filling vending machines before he began teaching history at Hialeah Junior High School in 1962. His early teaching career was unremarkable. Evaluations show that he was little more than an adequate teacher. But he was popular, likeable, even jovial.
“He would do anything in the world for you,” said William Johnson, another teacher. “One day I told him I was painting my house. That’s all I said. That afternoon he was standing out in front of the place with a paintbrush in his hand.”
Brown’s first teaching job paid $4,550 a year. But it wasn’t enough money for the life he wanted. He started buying dilapidated buildings in Miami’s black sections and remodeling them after work.
He built his own home at 1370 E. Fifth Ave. in Hialeah. He put the kidney-shaped pool in the fenced-in front yard and turned the house into a duplex.
His daughter, Susan, now 25, remembers her father vividly. “The hardest worker I’ve ever known,” she said. “He wouldn’t ever pay anybody to do anything. He would do it all himself. Everything.”
A disciplinarian with his daughters, Brown constantly lectured them -- as well as other neighborhood children -- on the importance of education and the perils of sex. The lessons left a lasting impression on some.
“Before I even started noticing girls, he used to tell me never to touch any of his daughters,” said neighbor Jerry McCartin, now a 21-year-old construction worker. Said Cathy Donaldson, 21, another neighbor: “He always sort of scared me. But when I was young, I loved him to death.”
The tranquil life of Carl Brown did not last long. His wife left him in the early 1960s and took the two young daughters to Colorado. She wanted her Ph.D. in education. Brown disapproved and they were divorced in 1969.
Brown himself earned a masters in counseling from East Carolina University, Greensboro, N.C., in 1964, and became a student counselor at North Dade Junior High. But he didn’t do well, and after three years his supervisor transferred him back to teaching at Hialeah.
He married again in 1971, and Robert Andrew was born a year later. But within three years Brown and his second wife, Silvia, were separated. Dade Circuit Judge Ira Dubitsky asked the wife what was wrong at the final divorce hearing in 1978.
“Well, he has certain goals and they don’t agree with mine...,” replied Silvia Brown, who took custody of Andy in the divorce. “He’s a very dedicated man to his business and apparently that interferes with our life, home life.”
Much later she would have a different explanation. “He was crazy,” she said.
In the late 1970s, Brown lost his sense of humor, his friends say. His passionate anti-Communist and patriotic views became strident. The once reserved instructor would talk, almost obsessively, about anything to anyone who would listen. Most people wouldn’t.
“After a while, you just didn’t want to be around that,” said Bobbie Bowen, a fellow teacher. “If he would come into the teachers lounge, I’d find some excuse to leave. You didn’t want to hear it.”
Brown started calling and writing letters to newspapers in 1979. Cynthia Bevans, managing editor of The Miami Beach Sun Reporter, remembers Brown’s voice over the phone as calm and confident. But his letters to her were a bizarre series of dire predictions and boasts of superpowers.
“Las Vegas, Nevada, will be flooded with water,” he proclaimed. He declared himself the rightful heir to “Mary, Queen of Scots” and called himself “The Christian King.” He called Mafia godfathers “heathen peasants.”
Susan, his daughter living in Louisiana, tried to persuade her father to seek help. When he refused, she called health-care agencies in Florida hoping to have her father hospitalized.
“They said there was nothing they could do. It had to be completely voluntary,” she said. “It seemed like he just started drifting away.”
Jerry McCartin, who grew up with Susan and Anita, saw Brown in a Hialeah neighborhood store not long ago. “I said ‘Hello’ to him. I don’t think he recognized me. Finally, he said, ‘Hi,’ and I asked him how Anita was. He said, ‘I don’t know about Anita. I don’t care about Anita.’ I’ve disowned them all.”
School counselor Robert Strapp once caught a ride with Brown on I-95. “He just kept looking in the mirror, driving like crazy,” Strapp said. “I couldn’t believe it. When I left him off, I told him thanks for the two rides: the first and last I’ll ever take with you.”
Eventually, Brown gave up driving cars. He rigged a motor to a black-painted, Mohawk bicycle and outfitted the vehicle with speedometers, chrome lights, locks and thick rubber-handle grips.
Never late, Brown arrived at school each day, his books and papers stuffed into the wire basket. Everyone from his students to the teachers knew something was wrong.
“For the last couple of years, it was obvious he had problems,” said fellow teacher William Johnson. “You’d be talking to him and he would change the subject five times, right in the middle of sentences.”
Joe Cofer, a Miami Springs barber, visited Brown several times to talk about his son Joey’s progress in his class. “He told me I should take a big insurance policy out on my son. He said most kids usually run away from home and then you can cash the policy in,” Cofer said.
Cofer reported the episode to a counselor. “He was telling me, ‘Pay no attention to that guy. He’s crazy,” he said. “I said, ‘Yeah, and he’s up there teaching kids.’ “
School officials, who insist Brown’s personnel records cannot be made public, transferred him to Drew Middle School the first semester of 1981. The reason for the shift, they say, was that Hialeah’s dwindling enrollment left the school with too many teachers.
Even before classes began, word spread through Drew that their new history teacher was a troubled man. The school has a buddy system, pairing new teachers with experienced ones. No one would take Brown.
“I’d see him walking and talking to himself,” said Al Scott, a science teacher and the union steward at Drew.
“In classes there was just a lot of disorder,” said social studies chairman Ruth Moore, Brown’s supervisor. Students sat on their desk tops, talked out loud, sometimes even wandered off without Brown noticing. A student’s single question would launch the new teacher into unintelligible parables and tirades on sex and homosexuality.
Race was another volatile topic. He sometimes boasted that his years as a inner-city landlord made him a trusted friend in black neighborhoods. To others, Brown was a blatant racist.
His conversations would “degenerate into racial stuff ... ugly stuff, blaming them for everything that was wrong with the world,” said Bob Scheerer.
Scheerer met Brown at a nighttime television repair class at Miami Springs High School last year. Brown got his TV set for class from a junk pile. “Brown would start talking to the instructor in class -- and just keep talking and talking,” he said.
In October 1981, a month after he moved to Drew, Dade school officials decided Brown probably was unfit to teach. They began a lengthy adminstrative process that included classroom observations and a visit to a psychiatrist. In February 1982, Brown was suspended.
“I have to say I feel good about how the school system handled this,” said Donald Fussell, assistant principal at Drew. “You can’t help but think what could have happened in a class of 30 kids — with half of them out of control.”
Out of work, Brown sat at home, drinking beer out of cans in brown paper bags. Sometimes he carried dirt and rocks in coffee cans and tossed it at neighbors’ doorsteps, cursing them when confronted.
During the summer, neighbors noticed Brown disappeared from his duplex. Relatives received postcards from Europe. As in summers past, Brown toured the world by himself, from Africa to South America. This time, upon return, he told people he had been to Russia and China.
This impressed Dr. Robert Wainger, a school-appointed psychiatrist who saw Brown for the second time two days prior to his rampage. To travel alone in a foreign country, he said, indicates stability. He found no inclination toward violence -- an assessment almost everyone shared.
Brown’s behavior, nonetheless, became progressively more peculiar. He often left his front door wide open when he left. His three-bedroom home, void of most furniture, was littered with his tools and toys for Andy’s occasional visits.
When his son came for five days in August, Brown talked incessantly about things that made little sense to the boy.
The child, articulate and perceptive, quoted his father: “The Russians are homosexuals and stealing oil and everything. That Russians are bear-like and Cubans are pigs. Their faces are kind of like pigs ... He said that one of these days he’s going to get a shotgun and shoot all these people.”
The day before the shooting, Brown took his son the three blocks from his house to Garcia Gun Center, 1204 E. Fourth St., and bought two shotguns and a rifle.
The boy recalls: “At the gun store, there was this guy with a beard. He was trying to buy a handgun, I think a Magnum or something. I don’t know. He asked the man at the counter for something cheaper. My dad goes, ‘That’s a Russian man back there. He doesn’t want anything to be cheaper.’ “
Once home, father and son watched television. Andy listened as his father talked about loading the weapons. The next morning he watched his father drive away on the bicycle. Andy ran to a neighbor’s house and pounded on the door. No one was home.
“I waited at my dad’s house for an hour for him to come back,” Andy said. “He wouldn’t come back.”
It was three days after the tragedy when the boy called the telephone operator, then finally the newspaper, asking what had happened to his father. Calmly, almost matter of factly, he talked about what he knew and what he thought had happened. He had most of it right.
After 30 minutes, someone took the phone from Andy Brown. A reporter later found his mother at her home and told her about the call.
For days, Brown’s body lay unclaimed. Finally, Susan Brown arrived from Louisiana. Her sister, Anita, 22, stayed home in North Carolina. She was paralyzed from the waist down in an automobile accident four months ago.
Susan, feeling “just terrible for those people, terrible,” paid $290 for a simple service in which her father’s body was cremated. From a boat, his ashes were scattered into the ocean.
“But that was not my father,” she said. “My father was not that man. He just snapped. Everybody has a breaking point and he just broke. It could happen to any one of us.”