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Former Hyde Student Ron Posner kills girlfriend?


Former Hyde Student Ron Posner kills girlfriend?

Providence Journal (RI) - Sunday, January 28, 2001
Katherine Brown: A turbulent relationship, a tragic ending
* Katherine Brown and Ronald Posner began dating when they were seniors at Barrington High School. "It was off and on," one friend said. "Either things were really good or really bad."

* * *

PROVIDENCE - Four days before her death, Katherine Brown screamed as she ran up and down the stairs pounding on apartment doors.

Get out! Get out of my apartment! I want you to leave, the neighbors heard her shout. You're scaring me.

Neighbors opened their door and saw the slight, 20-year-old woman facing the young man they knew as her boyfriend, Ronald Posner. He stood in the yellow light of the dingy foyer, watching her.

Brown's voice shook and tears streamed down her face. A raw red mark, like a choker, was around her throat.

The neighbors called the police.

Posner put his hands to his head. Neighbors heard him yell back at her: Look at what you're doing to me. You're going to get me in trouble.

She grabbed her car keys and ran out onto the porch. He followed, softly begging her to let him come, too. No, she cried, I don't want you in my car. You scare me.

The Providence police got the call at 6:56 Sunday night, Jan. 14, and when they arrived, they blocked the driveway of the East Side Victorian with their cruisers. They talked to Brown and Posner in the dark parking lot.

Neighbors watching from their back window were stunned when the officers soon drove off.

A second neighbor called the police, saying "the girl left, but the young man wants to talk to someone."

When the police came back, both Brown and Posner were there. Brown told the police that Posner, not a panic attack, as she had earlier told them, caused the marks on her neck. But don't arrest him, she said. Just take him away. The police described Posner as "nervous and confused."

It was agreed that the police would take Posner to a friend's house on Federal Hill. But as the patrol car drove off, Brown followed.

Before Posner ever got into the apartment, Brown's black Honda pulled up. Posner got in.

And they drove off together.

"I forgave him, I had to," she told a friend hours later. "I really love him."

"I want to be with him."

BROWN WAS with him in her death, the police say.

When they found Brown's body in Posner's Barrington driveway on Jan. 18, Posner stood nearby, his blue jeans and fleece jacket covered in blood. The police removed hair resembling hers from Posner's hands.

Authorities haven't divulged how Brown died. Posner has pleaded innocent to a charge of murder.

For a decade, there has not been a murder in Barrington, a quiet town where the grapevine flourishes like the marsh grass that fringes the million-dollar views.

Virtually everyone in town knew Katherine E. Brown or Ronald A. Posner, or knew someone who did, or knew their fathers hers a noted child psychiatrist, his, the owner of a half-century old jewelry company.

Posner's family lives in Rumstick, which juts out, like an elbow, into Narragansett Bay. Stone walls separate the manor-style houses and cobblestone barns that adorn rolling meadows. Golf-pro Brad Faxon and an executive who entertains Bill Clinton live in the area.

The Browns lived three miles away on Bernard Avenue in West Barrington, a neighborhood styled in post-war, although expensive, suburbia split-levels, ranches, and Colonials with basketball hoops in the driveways.

The Browns moved to Barrington when Katherine was little. They had lived briefly in California; her father would later joke that his daughter had grown into the quintessential California girl, with her straight sandy blond hair and love of sunshine. And her flair for the dramatic.

She took dance classes and won a part, at only 10, in a play being put on by Perishable Theatre in Providence. It was called Harm's Way, and the subject was so mature that her parents weren't sure she should see it, much less act in it. She convinced them.

She filled her room with collages and posted inspirational messages on her mirrors. She had three best friends, and they planned each phase of their lives, with the ending a real-life version of The Golden Girls.

In Barrington High School, she wasn't a standout student or the president of this or that. She played field hockey for awhile and danced in school productions, and loved fun, sometimes inviting everyone she knew to weekend parties at the two-story blue Colonial she shared with her parents and younger brother and sister.

And she was becoming known for another quality.

Her father was a noted researcher, studying sexual abuse and other childhood syndromes, as director of child and family psychiatry at Rhode Island Hospital. Larry Brown's daughter, perhaps, had inherited his empathy.

More than one friend called her a rock, a crutch, or a shoulder on which to lean.

By spring of her senior year of high school, someone new was drawn to Brown's compassion: Ronald Posner.

HE WAS TALL and lanky with curly hair. And when Posner arrived at Barrington High School, he was carrying some baggage: emotional troubles and a few run-ins with the police.

Over the previous two years, Posner had begun a downward spiral falling from soccer star at Providence Country Day School to accused thief who victimized his friends' parents.

In late 1997, Barrington police pulled over a car and found Posner inside with stolen goods and drug paraphernalia.

About two weeks earlier, Dr. Stephen Schiff, a Barrington urologist, had reported the theft of a diamond ring his wife had given him for his 40th birthday and a bracelet he'd received from his parents. The items had been stolen from an unlocked locker at the Barrington YMCA.

He remembers the telephone call from the police officer: "He told me, 'We think we got your stuff.' "

Schiff says the police officer gave him a copy of his report which said the officer had found "all kinds of drug paraphernalia" in the car, "and a bunch of other stolen items among which were my ring and my bracelet."

"And then what we heard was the father was making an attempt to make sure everything was paid back," said Schiff. "He was going to kind of take care of things so that this wouldn't go to court" including paying back some charges made on stolen credit cards.

Because the value of Schiff's items totaled more than $500 making the theft a felony police officers urged him to press charges. This is not something to sweep under the rug, the police told him.

Schiff, however, dropped the matter once his ring and bracelet were returned.

Another woman, who asked not to be named, said police returned jewelry that Ronald Posner a good friend of her son's had stolen.

Posner's father, Ralph, also came to her house, she said, and apologized. She said Ralph Posner explained how his son had been stopped by Barrington police and found in possession of stolen property.

"I believe he [Ralph Posner] had a meeting with all of us," the woman said, referring to the others who had belongings stolen.

The woman said Ronald Posner was often in her home. "When he was around us, he was always a polite, nice young man," she said. But after the theft of her jewelry, "My son was just hurt. He felt betrayed by a friend." The friendship dissolved.

"It's very sad," the woman said. "His parents tried. They really tried. But it was very hard to help him."

IN DECEMBER 1997, Ralph and Maria Posner withdrew their son from Providence Country Day, six months before his scheduled graduation.

By January, he was attending Hyde School, a $25,000-a-year boarding school with 300 students in Woodstock, Conn.

"Plain and simple, this is a tough school," Hyde's website proclaims. "We have a highly structured curriculum and a demanding code of ethics. . ."

Families should consider Hyde, the website says, "if they are looking for an environment that will address character development, college preparation and family renewal."

Posner lasted about a year.

"He came midyear and he left midyear," said headmaster Kenneth Grant.

By February 1999, Posner was back in Barrington and enrolled at the town high school.

He grew close to Katherine Brown, but the turmoil continued.

In May 1999, Barrington police were called to the Posner home at the end of South Meadow Lane.

Posner had allegedly slapped his mother, pulled a telephone cord from a wall and smashed a glass table top.

Police arrested him. At his arraignment, a judge issued a no-contact order, keeping him away from his mother.

Weeks later, the no-contact order was vacated and the charges were dismissed.

BROWN KNEW POSNER'S other side. How he liked to get dressed up and go out to dinner, and to laugh. The two shared things creative: she loved photography, he was a talented sketch artist. And they bonded in deep talks often about his problems.

But life was calling Katherine Brown.

In early August 1999, she left Barrington for the University of Maine at Orono, a rural campus 12 miles north of Bangor.

She arrived three weeks before the semester began to participate in Running Start, a program for students who make it into college, but who may benefit from more guidance than other freshmen.

She got a jump on her credits, taking a mini-course, Literature of the Sea. On weekends, the Running Start group camped at Baxter State Park, in the shadow of Mt. Katahdin. She was nervous about rock climbing, but she did it, just as she camped in the rain. Once the semester started, the Running Start participants met weekly to talk about the adjustment to college life.

She hung pictures of Posner, and her friends from Barrington, in her tiny dormitory room. But things had changed.

"They weren't officially together when she was here," said Sarah Waller, 20, who met Brown through Running Start. "But they still talked."

And Brown talked about him, a lot. Waller had never met Posner. But she had mixed feelings about him.

"She would talk about all the fun things they did together. But he'd randomly call her up and accuse her of doing things that she didn't do," she said. "Then other times he would call her up and say how much he missed her and hated being without her."

When Waller asked her friend how she could stand the roller coaster, Brown explained that Posner had emotional problems. His family was wealthy, she'd say, but not warm.

"She tried to help him. He was just a really messed up kid, and when he'd do stuff . . . she thought he wasn't doing it on purpose," Waller said. "That was the kind of caring person that she was."

Posner planned to visit her in Maine once, but the trip fell through. When Brown returned to Maine from spring break, she told her friends she had spent every minute with him.

"It was off and on," Waller said. "Either things were really good or really bad."

Brown loved the college parties, but she could do without the classes or the Maine winters.

She was 19. She wasn't sure what her role in life was, recalled Angela Cole, her Running Start advisor. She didn't really want to be in college. She wanted to travel, to see Europe. She was a dreamer. She had goals and right then, they didn't center on a syllabus.

"She struggled in some ways with having to conform, to be in a box, it just wasn't who she was," Cole said. "Not that she was rebellious she was just really a free thinker."

Last summer, Brown sent Cole an email. She was going to take time off, then perhaps go to the University of Rhode Island. Cole was concerned, worried that once out, she would not return to school.

Brown called her friend Waller, too. She said she was "really happy." It had been a nice summer, things were good with the boy she called "Posner."

But what of him? In early September, Posner enrolled at Dean College in Franklin, Mass., and withdrew on the same day.

Then, on Sept. 10, there was trouble.

At around 9 p.m., Seekonk police responded to a 911 call at the Motel 6 on Rte. 114A. They found Brown sitting on a bench crying, her face swollen. She was reluctant to talk.

But after a desk clerk told an officer how a male guest assaulted her, Brown admitted her boyfriend punched her. Posner was arrested and charged with domestic assault.

Weeks after his arrest in Seekonk, Posner enrolled in the "Benchmark Young Adult School" in Redlands, Calif., according to a Massachusetts prosecutor.

The school's website describes its mission as helping young, at-risk adults with emotional and behavioral problems.

Most of the students who enroll in the school's year-long program, "do not want to be here," the school's website says. "Many have been living rather comfortably, skipping school, partying with friends and taking liberties with family values, among other disruptive behaviors."

Posner, 20, was still attending the school in December, when his domestic assault case came to court. The judge continued the case until this June, pending Posner's performance at Benchmark, said the state prosecutor.

Back in Rhode Island, Brown was again on her own. She turned 20, and at a Thanksgiving party told friends she was ready to go back to school and work hard. She made plans to take classes at the Community College of Rhode Island.


BROWN BECAME CLOSE friends with Kip Eaton, a Barrington High classmate who lives in Providence, where he attends Johnson & Wales University.

"She was always, I could tell, deep down a little sad, but she would never show it," Eaton said. "She wasn't sure exactly where her life was headed, or her relationship with Ron."'

Waller, her friend from the University of Maine, noticed something wrong, too. She spoke to Brown in early December. She sounded down. But when Waller pressed, Brown said she was fine.

By early December, she told Eaton that Posner would be coming home soon and that she was looking forward to it. She'd even helped him get the money to fly back to Rhode Island. But Eaton had his worries.

He knew that Posner and Brown seemed to get along well sometimes. "Happy? Oh yeah, they seemed very happy at times," he said.

But he knew about the night at Motel 6, and he knew how Posner would sometimes talk to her.

"He'd yell at her and say, I know you're doing this. I know you're doing that," Eaton said.

Around the time of Posner's return from California, Brown hit a milestone: her first apartment.

Angell Street on the East Side pulses with vitality. The old houses-turned-cramped-apartments seem quaint beside the Starbucks, a sushi bar and bookstores that offer discussions on Plato.

The two-story house at 410 Angell St. is half a block from Brown University's soccer field. It is tan with burgundy trim and a gray side porch. The foyer is drab with stained carpets; even the basement has been made into a living space.

Brown moved into apartment 1, a one-bedroom on the first floor, paying about $725 a month. It was only about 10 miles from her parents' house, but it was hers. She fixed it up, with family photos and a tiny kitchen table.

Posner and Brown spent time with Kip Eaton, whose Federal Hill apartment was the hub of a small community of Barrington graduates who moved to Providence after high school. Posner bragged to Eaton that he'd managed to break out of Benchmark "multiple times."

Eaton, 19, thought that Posner was acting strangely.

"I'd say, 'Hey Ron, could you look out the window and tell me if it's snowing?' " Eaton said. "And he'd look at his watch and say, 'It's 7:30.' "

"He'd sit there, his eyes all fogged out. Mentally he just wasn't right."

Brown was worried, too. She told Eaton she didn't know what was going on.

"She said he frightened her a little bit," Eaton said. "I specifically remember her saying that."

At about 7 p.m on Sunday, Jan. 14, Loren Williams and his roommate were watching television in the apartment across the hall from Brown. They heard arguing and yelling. And then, the pounding on doors.

They opened their door to see Brown standing in the foyer, crying and telling Posner to get out of the building. He stood with his back to the door leading outside. Her back was to the stairwell. They said she looked small next to him.

"She was a tiny thing, she could not have been more than 100 pounds," said Williams, a middle-aged man who's lived in the building for three years. "She was crying and screaming and you could see this red mark around her neck. It was very raw."

"It went like this. It went all the way around," his roommate said, wrapping his thumb and forefinger around his throat.

The light in the foyer is dim and Williams strained to see if her skin was broken. It didn't look like it was.

"She was pale, very white," said Williams' roommate, who didn't want to give his name. "She looked like the life had been drained out of her. What struck me is that she was so scared that even when we were standing there, she kept running up and down the stairs knocking on doors."

The neighbors called police and tried to talk to Brown, but she was focused on Posner. They said it was as if she couldn't hear them.

Posner, the neighbors said, seemed to want to brush the whole thing off. She's just "freaking out," he told them.

The upstairs neighbors came into the building and asked what was going on. The woman tried to get Brown to go upstairs with her.

Posner asked Williams if he'd called police. When Williams said yes, Posner and Brown ran back into her apartment.

The neighbors yelled: "Leave the door open!"

She did.

When Brown came out, she had changed from a white blouse into a turtleneck sweater. Posner wore a windbreaker. He followed her out of the building.

Williams and his roommate pulled up their shade and crouched near the window so they could hear. Posner was trying to shepherd her down the stairs.

"He was saying 'I'll go with you, I'll go with you,' " Williams said. "It was horrible."

When police arrived, Brown said the marks on her neck were self-inflicted, from a panic attack. She told police that she took Effexor for her panic attacks, but hadn't taken the medication in a week. The police left after about 30 minutes.

But minutes later, at 7:32 p.m., a second neighbor called. "Weren't we just there?" the dispatcher asked. The caller said Brown had left, but that the "male subject wants to talk to police."

When the police returned, both Brown and Posner were in the foyer, with neighbors nearby.

Williams said he opened his apartment door when the police officer knocked. Williams said he could see the young couple behind the officer, arguing softly in the hall.

"The officer asked us what we heard because he said he was getting 'lies from both of them,' " Williams said.

Brown pulled down her turtleneck and told police that Posner had tried to strangle her. But she said she did not want him arrested.

An officer told her that she did not have to make the complaint, that he could.

"Or I can," another neighbor said.

The officer called the sergeant at the station and said he needed a domestic violence reporting form. Someone drove it over. He checked that an assault had taken place, describing it as "grabbing," and then gave the form to Brown to fill out her portion. She signed it, but did not mark on the diagram of a female body where she was hurt. She left blank the questions about who had hurt her.

The officer wrote in his report that there were "conflicting stories" and did not make an arrest.

Brown told police they could take Posner to Kip Eaton's house, in Federal Hill.

Brown followed, picking up Posner before he ever got inside. She drove him home to Barrington.

Later that night, Eaton and two friends went to Brown's apartment. She had scratches and black and blue bruises. She was so messed up, he said, he wanted to cry.

"Me, in my life, I had never witnessed anything like that," he said. I begged her . . . I said: 'You know Katie, he's done it twice now, he's only going to do it again. You've got to make a clean break.' "

She told him that she had already forgiven him.

"We all tried . . . I don't know, she just really loved the kid," Eaton said. "The bottom line was that she was a great girl who got mixed up with a kid who had a lot of problems."

"I really just wish I'd gone after him and told him to stay away from her."

A couple of days later, the talk at Eaton's place was how Posner said he had heard voices the night of the chaos on Angell Street.

"That comment did it for me. I was like 'wow,' " Eaton said. "After the first time, I thought maybe this was a one-time thing . . . but after the second time . . . I told her not to bring him around anymore."

On the night before she died, Brown went to Eaton's alone. She said she and Posner had just walked up Angell Street to a sushi bar.

"She said they had had a good night," Eaton said.

Then came Thursday evening, Jan. 18.

About 8 p.m., Posner appeared on the doorstep of his Rumstick neighbor, Pat Fowler. She thought he had been in a car accident, by all the blood on him. But another neighbor with him told Fowler no, "he thinks his girlfriend's dead in the driveway."

The state medical examiner has not released the cause of death, but a court affidavit states that Brown suffered a "major head injury of unknown origin."

Brown's body lay between the Posners' garage and her car, the 1998 black Honda, which police found with the headlights still on.

At her memorial service, Katherine Brown's father remembered her laughter and creativity.

Sometimes, he said, she was too good of an actress.

"She hid what was inside."

RONALD POSNER awaits his fate now behind bars, in a state prison dormitory with 12 double-bunked cells. On Friday, he will appear at a hearing on the question of his mental competency. Since his arrest, a judge has agreed to allow Posner to receive some form of medication while in prison.

Last Friday, Posner's lawyer C. Leonard O'Brien, said: "This is a terrible, terrible set of circumstances for everyone, particularly the Brown family and we very much respect what they are going through and the grief they are feeling.

"All I can say on Mr. Posner's behalf is that we hope people keep an open mind and allow the case to make its way through the system before they make their decisions."

Last Thursday morning, Posner's sister, Vicky, stepped out into the driveway of the family's house on South Meadow Lane. Three white candles marked where Katherine Brown's body lay a week earlier.

Vicky Posner said of her brother, "I know he loved her. He really did."

"When they were over here, they were happy. He was a nice kid. He just started hanging around with the wrong crowd."

The Posners weren't home on the night Brown died, Vicky says; her father had taken a relative out to dinner.

When Ralph Posner came home, "He came home to this."

* * *

REMEMBERING: Jane Wallis, a family friend, looks at a photograph of Katherine Brown after setting it up for her memorial service last week.

Journal photo / KRIS CRAIG


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