WASHINGTON — A retired 21-year Navy veteran is charged in the abduction and death of 19-year-old Ashanti Billie, who disappeared from a military base in Hampton Roads in September and was found dead in North Carolina.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Norfolk, Virginia, Wednesday afternoon announced a charge of kidnapping against Eric Brian Brown, 45. He faces life in prison if he’s convicted; he’s in custody in Norfolk, Virginia.
On Wednesday evening, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, police charged Brown with murder.
Billie, an aspiring chef, grew up in Prince George’s County and moved to Virginia Beach to study culinary arts.
Federal investigators say Billie was last seen on Sept. 18 in the Hampton Roads, Virginia, area on her way to work at a sandwich shop on Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek. Surveillance video shows her car driving onto the base, but she never made it to work, investigators have said.
Court documents say that surveillance video showed Billie’s car, a white 2014 Mini Cooper, driven by someone wearing clothes similar to what Billie was reported wearing, entering the base a little before 5 a.m. and circling the sandwich shop.
About a half-hour later, the same car, driven by someone with different clothes, left the base, and about 15 minutes after that, the car stopped at a construction dumpster in Norfolk, the court documents said. Billie’s cellphone was found in the dumpster a few hours later.
For the next several days, the court documents said, a car like Billie’s was seen in various places in Charlotte, North Carolina. On Sept. 23, the car was found on Lakeside Drive in Norfolk, parked at an angle with the windows rolled partially down, the doors unocked and the key fob on the passenger’s seat. Some of Billie’s clothes were found in the car; they and the underside of the car showed dirt and debris.
Then on Sept. 29, a man called police after discovering what was later determined to be Billie’s remains near a church in Charlotte. The court documents said that the body was found about 300 yards from Brown’s childhood home, on property owned by, and next to, the church where Brown attended vacation Bible school as a child. The court documents say DNA taken from Billie’s body and clothes matches Brown’s.
The documents said that Brown is believed to be homeless and lived in various buildings in and around the naval bases in the area. He was an information systems technician in the Navy; at the time of Billie’s disappearance, he was a day laborer, and helped build the sandwich shop Billie worked in. As a retired petty officer, he had access to the base, the documents said.
Billie’s co-workers told investigators that Brown was in the sandwich shop every day — one recalled hearing Brown making a crude sexual comment to Billie — and spent so much time in the buildings nearby that they thought he worked at the 24-hour laundromat next door to the shop. They also said he hadn’t been back since Billie disappeared. Investigators identified Brown as a suspect at that point.
Brown wasn’t originally arrested on the kidnapping charges, though.
On Sept. 27, Brown went to the Norfolk Naval Base, where he stayed until the next day in the gym and locker room, as well as a laundromat. Investigators were watching him, and on Sept. 29, he confronted one of the officers.
That night, Brown allegedly solicited a prostitute in Virginia Beach. In the predawn hours of Sept. 30, Brown was arrested by the Norfolk police; they said he was wandering up and down the ramps to Interstate 64. On Oct. 3, he was also charged by the Virginia Beach police with soliciting the prostitute.
In the Virginia Beach jail, the documents said, Brown told another inmate, who had been complaining about a woman who had reported him to the police, that “someone should pay her a visit.” He went on to say “there ain’t nothing like the first taste of blood.” He was questioned about Billie’s disappearance Oct. 10, and said he didn’t know anything about it.
On Oct. 27, one of Brown’s former construction co-workers told investigators that he recognized Brown from the surveillance video of a man throwing Billie’s cellphone in the dumpster, adding that he’d given Brown the clothes the man in the video was wearing. They interviewed Brown again, who was still in jail pending the posting of a bond.
Brown told agents he was on the base on the night before Billie disappeared, but that he blacked out and doesn’t know what he did for several days afterward. The documents said Brown told investigators “he could not say if he did anything” to Billie, and “could not say he did not do anything.”
An analysis of Brown’s cellphone data found that he was on the base from Sept. 14 to Sept. 17, and went back to the base Sept. 19, the day after Billie disappeared. In the days Billie was missing, Brown made internet searches of Norfolk and Charlotte media for terms including “Norfolk police looking for man in connection with homicide,” “missing woman and man,” and “JEB Little Creek Blimpies.”