For 32 years, Iris L. Brown's family lived in limbo, not knowing what happened to her after she was kidnapped in 1976.
Now, they know, police said Tuesday: The man convicted of kidnapping her, now seriously ill in a prison medical center, has finally confessed to strangling her and dumping her remains along Interstate 89.
Offered immunity by cold-case investigators, William J. Posey, 61, told Burlington police that he killed Brown, 27, after he lured her into his car with a false story and then tried to talk her into helping him sell cocaine. He strangled her after an argument broke out, he said.
A search is planned, although Posey was unable to give more than a general idea of the location in Vermont where the body was dumped, authorities said.
"'Closure' is a word that people reach for in situations like this," said Brown's sister, Roslyn Brown, 52, of Enosburg. "It does not mean a terrible experience comes to an end. For over 32 years, our family has suffered through an incredible gamut of emotions."
"We knew he was the killer," she said. "We just didn't know the when, the how, the where, the why."
Posey was sentenced to life for Brown's kidnapping and later pleaded guilty to the 1980 murder of an Illinois woman. He was interviewed by investigators last week at the federal prison in Butner, N.C. Suffering from a vascular disease, he is under treatment in a section reserved for terminal patients.
He shed a single tear as he told Detectives Lt. Emmet Helrich and Detective Brad Trombley that his previous story wasn't true. Helrich had made a similar effort five years ago, without any luck.
Made up story about a telegram
Brown was last seen leaving her Burlington apartment with Posey, who told her he'd gotten a telegram from her boyfriend saying he was to be released early from a prison in Connecticut.
His previous story was that they had driven partway to the Connecticut prison, getting as far as Springfield, Mass. He said he then turned around and returned, leaving her in Massachusetts, after finding out the boyfriend wasn't getting out after all.
Now, he admits that the story about the boyfriend was a ruse and he wanted to get Brown involved in selling drugs, detectives said.
"After a little bit, a couple questions, he told us the events," Trombley said.
Joy Hopkins, a friend of Brown's, shared an emotional hug with Brown's sister at police headquarters Tuesday and said Brown would not have been interested in dealing cocaine.
"This cocaine thing, she was not a cocaine user, she was not a drug user," Hopkins said Tuesday. "That should be out there right now."
The investigators made the trip to North Carolina carrying letters from county and federal prosecutors saying he wouldn't be tried if he confessed.
"It wasn't a hard call," said Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan. "It came down to giving her family the opportunity to find out what happened. He's already serving a life sentence."