UPDATE – JUNE 30 2020
Canadian, Texas (population 2,649) is a small, prosperous town in the Texas panhandle. Money from oil, gas, politics and cattle funnel through the two stoplight town. Everyone knows everyone’s business in Canadian, and someone is harboring a huge secret.
Thomas Brown was an 18-year old student at Canadian High School in November 2016. He lived with his mother Penny, who is a teacher in Canadian and his stepfather Chris. Thomas’ brother Tucker was home for Thanksgiving and the two had been enjoying spending time together.
Tom was a popular student and he had many friends. He was a successful football player and enjoyed drama and acting. He had been president of his class for two years.
Wednesday November 23, 2016 seemed like an ordinary night for Tom. At around 6pm, he told Penny that he was going to go and hang out with his friends Kaleb King and Christian Webb. Tom had broken up with his girlfriend Sage Pennington not long before, but they remained friends. He asked Penny for her debit card so that he could put gas in his vehicle. She gave it to him and he drove away.
“Generally, the kids would meet at one of the schools and they’d park their cars there and get into one car and just ride around,” Penny told Dateline. “That night, they met at the middle school and rode around.”
According to the Casefile Podcast, the night went something like this:
- 6pm – Thomas met Kaleb and Christian at the Canadian Middle School parking lot. Thomas and Kaleb leave their cars in the parking lot. Christian drives them around town in her car. One place where they end up to go for a walk is the Canadian Wagon Bridge.
- 11pm – The trio decide to call it a night. Christian drives the boys back to their vehicles in the parking lot. Thomas leaves the parking lot in his car (a red Dodge Durango) at 11.26pm.
- 11.28pm – Thomas is seen on CCTV pulling up at Fronk Oil in Canadian. Bank records confirm that he put gas in his vehicle at this time. “Then, [Thomas] went to Fronk’s Oil and Gas. There are just gas pumps there — no attendants, no convenience store,” Penny said, adding that surveillance footage would later show him pumping gas into his car. “My card was swiped at about 11:28 p.m.”
- 12am – Tom misses his midnight curfew at home. Penny begins to worry as this was very unlike Tom. “Thomas never missed curfew. He would even come home well before curfew, and then he and his friends would play video games,” Penny said. She begins to try to get in contact with him. A text from Tucker was delivered to Tom’s phone at this time but it was not read.
- 12.10am – Penny texts Tom again. Once again, the message was delivered but not read. Just five minutes later, Penny texted Thomas again. This time, Penny says the message was unable to be delivered, meaning Thomas’s phone was likely off. Tom’s brother Tucker leaves their house and begins to drive around Canadian in search of Tom.
- 12.13am – Tom’s phone emits its final ping. This is in the location of Wildcat Stadium in Canadian.
- 2am – Penny calls the homes of Kaleb and Christian in search of Tom. He is not at either property. Penny said of this time “I didn’t call 911 because my husband is a volunteer fireman, so he just gave me a number for the [sheriff’s office] dispatch. It took about 45 minutes for the deputy to respond. He went out to look for Thomas.”
- 3.30am – Pyne Gregory, a deputy from the Hemphill County Sheriff’s department arrives at Penny’s home. Tucker went with the deputy in a patrol car to search for Thomas. Online sources note that ‘Tucker noticed that a normally closed and locked gate to a dirt road was open but the deputy didn’t drive down there. Later Tucker asked to go back to that area but the deputy refused saying he had to go off shift.‘ They arrived back home around 6:00 a.m, not having found Thomas or his car.
- 8.40am – Christian Webb and her father went up in their family helicopter to search Canadian for any sign of Tom or his vehicle. They saw the vehicle from the air at 8.40am and they notified law enforcement. The vehicle was approximately four miles from Tom’s home. “It was found near where our sewage ponds are, which is not near anywhere he would have gone,” Penny told Dateline of the car’s location. Penny added that Thomas’s phone, laptop, backpack, and keys were all missing from the car, though the chargers were still there. There was no sign of Tom near the vehicle. Bloodhounds later tracked his scent to the Canadian River, about a mile east of where his vehicle was found. The trail stopped when they got to the marsh area of the river.
- It later emerged that between 1.30am – 6am a truck matching the description of Tom’s vehicle is spotted on CCTV at numerous locations around Canadian. At 5:56 am Tom’s car is captured on footage from the Hemphill County recreation centre. It turns off US route 60 (North 2nd Street) and heads east on 6th Street. It enters the wastewater area, drives up a small hill, parks in a remote area on the downside of the hill, underneath trees – about 500 yards from the Oasis Cove Apartments complex. This is where the car was found abandoned.
The search for Tom
The search for Tom began immediately after he disappeared. From dawn on November 24, people were looking for him. The first break in the case came when Tom’s friend Christian Webb and her father spotted his vehicle from the air while doing a helicopter search of Canadian.
The truck had been abandoned on a dirt road that leads to a water treatment facility. A window was down and the doors were unlocked.
“No sign of a conflict, an assault, an abduction, nothing, nothing to suggest any of that,” said Hemphill County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Brent Clapp.
A search of the vehicle showed that none of Thomas’ personal belongings were in the car. What was found in the car was very interesting though – a blood droplet, an empty 25 caliber bullet casing and a debit card, belonging to Tom’s friend, Michael Caseltine. Someone had urinated on the ground outside the vehicle.
The search by police of the vehicle was very short, which has led to questions about how thorough it was. The vehicle was returned to Penny on the SAME DAY it was found. No forensic testing was undertaken on the vehicle, but the bullet casing and the blood had been removed.
In the days and weeks after Tom disappeared, the water treatment plant where his vehicle was found was drained. The nearby 63-acre Lake Marvin was surveyed with sonar. The Canadian River was searched into Oklahoma. Every search came up empty.
In a curious move, Sheriff Nathan Lewis asked Penny for Tom’s phone passcode, even though his phone had not yet been recovered.
An online facebook community called Moms4Tom was created. This page was created to raise awareness of Tom’s case and to spread the word throughout social media.
Two months after he disappeared, a North Plains electrical worker spotted a wet and soggy backpack on FM 2266 (Lake Marvin Rd). It was on the other side of a barbed-wire fence along the road that leads to Lake Marvin. The backpack was found nearly 4 miles from the spot search dogs lost trace of him during their initial searches in November.
“It had to have been placed there after the fact, because they searched that area, they searched it up and down that day and days after,” said Tucker Brown.
Sheriff Nathan Lewis believes it had been there a while.
“It had an indention in the ground where the backpack was sitting. It was wet inside and out, pages were almost molded at that point,” said Lewis. “We did not find his cellphone.”
Thomas’s school-issued laptop computer was still inside, but hadn’t been used. And because of the bag’s condition, it didn’t provide any clues. One set of indistinguishable footprints also led up to the backpack.
Penny was not made aware of the discovery of the backpack by the Sheriff’s office until five days after it was found.
Tom’s family enlisted the services of a private investigator, Philip Klein, from Klein Investigations. Philip has worked on other high profile cases such as the case of missing child DeOrr Kunz and the case of missing grandfather Michael Chambers.
In October 2017, Klein conducted a search around Lake Marvin Road, near where Tom’s backpack was found. On October 14, 2017 a gun holster was found. During this search, a cell phone was also found. The lady who found the phone took a photo of it and later told Penny that the phone she found was rose gold. Thomas’ phone was plain gold. Penny has never seen the phone that was recovered but according to the Hemphill County Sheriff, the phone that is now to this day still at the crime lab is Tom’s. Penny does not believe this. Could this discrepancy have something to do with why Nathan Lewis asked for Tom’s phone passcode before a phone was found?
Following the months of conflict between the Sheriff’s office and the Brown family, on January 26, 2018, Sheriff Nathan Lewis put in a formal request to the Texas Attorney General’s Office. He asked that they take over the official investigation into Tom’s disappearance. Penny had created a petition on change.org with the following mission:
“To leave no stone unturned and to bring to bear every resource the State of Texas has to solve the case of Thomas Brown,” the petition reads, “we respectfully request Hemphill County Attorney Kyle Miller and/or Hemphill County Sheriff Nathan Lewis to turn the investigation and subsequent prosecution if warranted over to the Texas Attorney General offices and let’s use our tax dollars to find Thomas rather than be an adversary of his family.”Moms4Tom on change.org
The petition received over 10,000 signatures and the case was turned over to the Texas Attorney General in February 2018.
On January 9, 2019, human remains were discovered in an area near Lake Marvin Road.. The Texas Attorney General’s Office (OAG) and the Texas Rangers responded. Following forensic testing, on January 16, the remains were identified as belonging to Tom.
The remains were found in an area that had yet to be searched by Klein Investigations. “That area had been flown by helicopters… the south part of that area had been run by our guys, by trace sergeant and her dog,” said Klein. “They had run to the south side of that area but he had not gotten to the north side yet. So it wasn’t a matter of a missing by law enforcement or us at all, it was just a matter of that area hadn’t been searched.”
It has since emerged that the remains were actually found by Pyne Gregory, Hemphill County Sheriff’s Office Deputy. According to the Unfound Podcast group, Gregory found the remains while he had been searching for deer antlers while on Hemphill County time. You have seen Gregory’s name before. He was the one who took Tom’s brother out to search on the night that Tom went missing (!)
Something stinks in Hemphill County
It is hard to put into words just how unprofessional and ‘shady’ the conduct of the Hemphill County Sheriff’s office has been in relation to the disappearance and death of Tom Brown. I will attempt to list the occurrences here in chronological order (please contact our facebook page if you have anything you think needs to be added).
- According to the Unfound podcast, there had been incidents between Tom and Nathan Lewis, before Tom disappeared. Canadian residents have come forward since Tom’s disappearance to tell Penny that the believed Nathan Lewis was harassing Tom. Former Hemphill Sheriff James Pearson has also been in touch with Penny to corroborate the harassment claims and he has posted publicly about them:
- It took the Sheriff’s Office almost one hour to respond to the emergency call when Tom went missing.
- When they finally did respond, and Gregory went searching with Tucker Brown, Gregory did not search thoroughly. Tucker has said that a usually locked gate was unlocked and Gregory did not want to drive and search the area. This ended up being the area where Tom’s car was later found.
- Shortly after the car was found and with a minute amount of investigation (as listed above), Nathan Lewis called Penny’s husband Chris (Tom’s stepfather) and said that he suspected Tom had killed himself. He asked Chris to not tell Penny, but Chris told her anyway.
- Ten days after Tom went missing, Penny was shown a photo of him where he was getting gas on the night he disappeared. Nathan Lewis showed her that photo and Penny confirmed it was Tom. Philip Klein has also seen the photo and it was reported to exist in the Houston Chronicle. Penny always thought the photo was taken by a person as it was a close up photo, not dash cam or CCTV footage. Nathan Lewis now denies that this photo ever existed. The Texas Rangers also have never seen this photo.
- According to the Unfound podcast, two sheriff’s vehicles are seen on CCTV in the area where Tom disappeared, right about the time he was last seen. None of the officers have admitted to being in the area that night. The Sheriffs’ vehicles are shown on CCTV at least 8 times between 11:42 and 6:23 am.
- You may remember that a debit card belonging to Michael Caseltine was found in Tom’s car after he disappeared. Michael and Tom were close friends. On January 21, 2019, just days after Tom’s remains were discovered, Jeff Caseltine (Michaels’ father) committed suicide with a gun. Jeff’s suicide was reported to the media by the Sheriff’s office BEFORE the medical examiner had released their findings.
- When Tom’s backpack was discovered, two months after he disappeared, it took Lewis FIVE days to inform Penny that it had been recovered. He tried to tell her at this time that he believed Tom had walked away which contradicts what he told her husband.
- Pyne Gregory (who ‘searched’ for Tom and who ‘coincidently’ discovered his remains) was fired from the Hemphill County Sheriff’s Office in May 2019. Gregory has a documented criminal past but he was finally let go following a letter from the County Attorney that addressed his credibility.
- Volunteer searchers on Lake Marvin Road allegedly found bones in a bucket (!) and were instructed to turn them over to a Deputy. There has been no record of this being investigated.
- On July 1, 2019, Penny and the Moms4Tom team put up billboards around Canadian. These billboards were almost immediately vandalized. The phrase ‘There is a killer among us’ had been cut out. In November 2019, a charge of trespassing was filed and an arrest warrant issued for Dr. Malouf Abraham, in relation to the disappearance of two signs taken from a vacant lot at Main and Fourth Streets sometime on October 12, 2019. The motivation for Dr Abraham to remove the signs is unknown.
On August 21, 2019, Penny released a statement with questions that she would like answered in regards to the handling of Tom’s case:
Justice Failed The Texas Panhandle on August 21, 2019
I. Tom Brown Case in Canadian, TexasMoms4Tom
A. Please look back to June 2015 when Nathan Lewis was not with Hemphill County Sheriff Office, but stopped Tom and friends while they were walking and made Tom get in the vehicle with him. Mr. Lewis was unprofessional. He cussed at Tom. He failed to notify the Hemphill County Sheriff Office and was reprimanded for his actions.
B. Please explain why it took a deputy an hour and fifty minutes to respond from the time dispatch was called to arriving at Tom’s mothers home. There were no calls indicated from 11:20pm Wednesday to 2:30 am on Thursday.
C. Tom’s Durango was found at 8:45 AM on Thursday. No gloves were worn by officers gathering items from truck. Urine was outside the truck area, not collected. Vehicle was returned to Tom’s mom, Penny around 5 pm on that same day. Inadequate job with the vehicle and scene.
D. Nathan Lewis told family members that Tom was gay and ran off with an older man. Nathan Lewis told the family it was suicide. No evidence to back these two “theories” up.
E. Tom was a good kid and Lewis knew this was not normal behavior for Tom. Why didn’t Lewis call in the Texas Rangers Thursday morning when the Durango was found. The Texas Rangers have more resources.
F. What training did Nathan Lewis have prior to November 2016?
G. Deputy Pyne Gregory, explain why he was looking for deer antlers on County time (tax payers money) and on Federal land when he found Tom remains? Hunting for deer antlers on Federal land is that legal? Deer did not shed antlers in Canadian, TX until March and April of this year. (yes, normally it is January abc February but due to the mild winter it was later) It was confirmed on January 15, 2019 that the remains that Gregory found were Tom.
F. Why did Lewis and Gregory deny volunteers and the private investigators access to searching the area where Tom’s remains were found?
G. Where is the photo that Lewis showed Penny of Tom pumping gas? It disappeared?
H. The death of Mr. Caseltine, an elementary teacher, on January 21, 2019. Please have someone else investigate this other than what Lewis and Gregory did. Lewis reported to the media on that it was a suicide. With investigations into his work competency, why didn’t he call in the Texas Rangers to investigate this death. Mr. Caseltine’s son was very good friends with Tom and Lewis knew that. I’ve never seen a suicide be reported so quickly to the media. At the least, unprofessional and incompetent (before medical examiner results).
I. What is the status of the case that the DA handed to the AG regarding Lewis that is not related to the Tom Brown case?
J. Both Gregory and Lewis were being investigated by the Texas Rangers. How does these investigations effect cases they worked on prior, during and after the investigation? Could the ruling on cases be over turned? What is the county’s liability?
In August 2019, the Texas Attorney General announced that it was suspending the investigation into the death of Tom Brown. They said all evidence had been analyzed and no ruling into Tom’s cause of death could be made.
Throughout the investigation, evidence has been discovered and obtained by various agencies and thoroughly analyzed. There is no viable evidence that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that foul play led to the death of Thomas Kelly Brown. This included evidence related to manner of death, cause of death, or evidence of a specific suspect. – Office of the Texas Attorney General
Klein Investigations released the following statement in regards to the Attorney General statement.
In November 2019, Klein Investigations released another update:
In November 2019, Nathan Lewis resigned from his post as Hemphill County Sheriff.
There is no way to finish off this post – it’s still ongoing and we hope for justice for Tom. If you have any information on the death of Tom Brown, please send it to Klein Investigations (and not Nathan Lewis!)