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Domestic Homicide

       July 27, 2014 5:17 PM

 Good Cop Bad Cop


In October 2002 Tacoma Police Chief David Brame gained national attention during the Beltway Sniper shootings. Brame believed the suspects, John Muhammad and John Malvo, had murdered a Tacoma, Washington, woman.

Less than a year later, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame drew a different kind of attention.

On April 26, 2003, as their two young children watched from a nearby car, David Brame murdered his wife, Crystal Brame. 

A History of Domestic Violence

Just 15 months earlier on January 17, 2002, Crystal had pinned the chief's badge to David's uniform at his swearing-in ceremony. Crystal's mother later said it broke her heart to see this. Crystal appeared to be happy, she said, "But we knew different.”

Court documents later revealed that David had choked Crystal at least four times. After each incident, he sent her flowers the next day with a card signed "Your Secret Admirer.” Crystal said he used this to provoke new fights, accusing her of having an affair.

Accidents Happen

On February 15, 2003, David wanted Crystal to join him and his police department friends at a local restaurant. She said she didn't feel well and refused to go. As Haley, 8, and David, 5, sat in the living room watching TV, David berated her. "You're going to make us late. I'm the chief. I can't be late.”

"I'm not going,” she replied.

David asked where his blue turtleneck was. When she said it was in the closet, he told her to show him. She went into the walk-in closet. David followed her, shut the door and said, "You'll do what I tell you to do. Get dressed or I'll dress you myself.” Then he took his department-issued .45-caliber Glock off a shelf and held it out to her. "Here,” he said. "Hold it. I want to show you something.”

Crystal, who had majored in criminal justice at the University of Washington, believed he was planning to kill her. If her fingerprints were on the gun, he could kill her anytime and who would question him? He was the police chief. "I'm not touching that gun,” she said.

Pointing the gun at her, he said, "Remember one thing, Crystal. Accidents happen.”

On February 24, 2003, Crystal filed for divorce, took the children and moved in with her parents, Lane and Patty Judson. David's threats continued. Her lawyer urged her to get a restraining order, but Crystal feared this might make things worse. David was the police chief, and his older brother and a cousin were on the Tacoma Police force.

A Family of Police

Born and raised in Tacoma, David Brame was a standout athlete in high school, a member of the 1975 championship basketball team. Following in his father's footsteps, after graduating from college in 1980, David applied for a job with the Tacoma police.

But he failed the psychological exam. The psychologist described him as "defensive” and "deceptive.”

However, he managed to pass a second test and joined the Tacoma police force in 1981.

Blond, blue-eyed and handsome, not to mention tall, rugged and fit, David looked like the perfect cop.

He was well-liked by his peers and his performance reviews were positive, but a female colleague saw a different side.

"He was the police.”

One night in 1988, the woman agreed to have dinner with him, but when she drove him home he invited her inside and sexually assaulted her. Ignoring her pleas to stop, he carried her to his bedroom, threw her on the bed and showed her the gun on his nightstand. "He said I needed to do what he wanted me to do,” she said.

She tried to fight him but couldn't. After he raped her, David began to cry and said he was sorry. The woman left, but she didn't call the police. "He was the police. I was afraid. I didn't know if they would listen to me.”

Eventually, she told Tacoma police officer Reggie Roberts, one of David's childhood friends. Shocked, Roberts set up a meeting at his home between Brame and his accuser. "She was crying,” Roberts recalls. She told David, "You raped me.”

"I know,” Brame said. "I'm sorry.” He promised to get counseling and asked them not to tell anyone. But Roberts, convinced Brame had raped the woman, said: "This is a felony crime. Either you go to internal affairs or I will.” But when Roberts reported the rape, Brame denied it. Internal Affairs officials said Brame's admission at Roberts' house was worthless because he wasn't given the Miranda warning and dismissed the case. 

Three years later, Brame met and married Crystal Judson.

Crystal Judson

Like David Brame, Crystal grew up in Tacoma. After graduating from high school with honors, she attended the University of Washington, majoring in criminal justice. When she married David Brame in 1991, Crystal was 23, nine years younger than David.

Soon her friends and family noticed a change in her demeanor. Like many abusers, David was controlling, demanding to know where she was at all times.

A petite brunette, Crystal was five feet tall and weighed 105 pounds, no match for her husband who was 6'1” and weighed 175 pounds.

Their first child, Haley, was born in 1995. David doted on her, but his abusive behavior continued. In 1997 Crystal spoke to a lawyer about a divorce but changed her mind when she discovered she was pregnant. David Jr. was born in 1998. At right: Crystal, Haley and David

David quickly rose to prominence in the Tacoma Police Department. When the chief retired in 2001, David applied for the job and got it. At the ceremony, Crystal pinned the Police Chief badge on his uniform, but their marriage was crumbling.

A Disaster Waiting to Happen

When Crystal filed for divorce in February 2003, David used his connections to fight her. He insisted she attend marriage counseling with the police chaplain, brought his subordinates to divorce hearings and sought legal advice from city attorneys. Amazingly, he told several subordinates about his scheme to lure Crystal into a sexual threesome with a female officer.

At work, David could barely function. Claiming he was the abused party, he constantly talked about his domestic problems, saying Crystal was unstable and out to get him. His administrative assistant, Jeannette Blackwell, said, "It was all about Crystal, all day, every day. And he made Crystal out to be crazy.”

The Birthday Present

On April 24, 2003, Crystal turned 35. That night David called her from Las Vegas, where he was attending a work-related seminar. "I have a really big birthday gift for you,” he said. "But you'll have to wait until I get home. I have to give it to you in person.”

The next day a story about their divorce, including the domestic abuse allegations ran in the local paper, The News Tribune. Tacoma's Human Resources officials met with city attorneys to discuss the situation. Some wanted to take his badge and his gun and put him on administrative leave; city attorneys later disputed this.

City Manager Ray Corpuz, photo left, refused to take any action.

When David returned from Las Vegas, Lt. Bob Sheehan drove him home from the airport. Brame went on a tirade about Crystal and the divorce.

Sheehan dropped him off, called Corpuz and said, "This babying of Brame needs to stop.” If Corpuz didn't do something, Sheehan said, he would.

Corpuz replied, "That's fine. Somebody needs to do that.”

A Tragic End

On April 25, a Saturday, David drove Haley, 8, and David, Jr., 5, to a shopping mall to run an errand. Unfortunately, Crystal was also at the mall. When David saw her in the parking lot, he told the children to stay in the car and approached Crystal's car.

Crystal got out of her car. David got into the front seat, pulled Crystal onto his lap and shot her in the head. Then David Brame shot himself.

Their children heard the gunshots and ran to their mother. Haley grabbed her mother, screaming, "Daddy shot Mommy, Daddy shot Mommy.”

Witnesses quickly took the children to a nearby store. Hours later David died at the hospital. For several days, Crystal clung to life, but on May 3, she died.

The Best Mom in the World

Haley insisted on adding a few words to her mother's obituary. Her mother, Haley said, "always let us have play dates with our friends and she was the best mom in the world

Lee Whitehall, one of Crystal's high school teachers, said, "She was the student any teacher would want, the daughter anyone would want.” A childhood friend, Brad Chatfield, said Crystal was always concerned about the welfare of others. Calling her a terrific mother, he said, "She was just successful in everything she did.”

The Fallout

Amid allegations that he ignored the warning signs, City Manager Ray Corpuz resigned.

Crystal's parents, Lane and Patty Judson, at right holding photo of Crystal, filed a $75-million wrongful-death lawsuit against the city of Tacoma, seeking information about the actions of the police department and city officials. They wanted to be able to tell Crystal's children what happened.

In September 2003, they settled the lawsuit for $3-million when the city agreed to their conditions, one of which included establishing a domestic violence counseling program for all city employees.

Care to comment on this case? Please add your thoughts in the comment form.


"Tacoma Death Linked to Sniper Suspect,” 10-28-2002, ABC News

"10 years later: Looking Back at former Tacoma Police Chief David Brame,” Sean Robinson, The News Tribune, 4-21-2013

"Tacoma Confidential” and "A Dark, Unstable Past,” 9-25-2003, Rebecca Leung, CBS News

"Crystal Brame mourned: 'She was the best mom in the world,'” Elaine Porterfield, Seattle Post Intelligencer, 5-9-2003

"Washington city shaken by chief's murder-suicide,” Jessica Kowal, Chicago Tribune, 5-18-2003

"City to Settle in Police Chief's Murder-Suicide,” Los Angeles Times, 9-25-2003

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[ Posted by Carly, November 17, 2015 9:49 AM ]
     Hi this is going to sound so bizarre. But I knew Karen a years back I think she dated my father. I need to know if this is really her could anyone that knew her better be willing to email me and talk to me about it a little I only have a few questions. Thank you

[ Posted by admin, November 17, 2015 12:52 PM ]
     Hello Carly. Thanks for the comment. I can't help you, but perhaps someone else who reads the post and sees your comment will respond.


posted by SUSAN FLEET   July 27, 2014 5:17 PM  Domestic Homicide 


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