BURLINGTON, Vt. - For 32 years, Iris L. Brown's family lived in limbo, not knowing what happened to her after she got into a car with a man one night in 1976.
Now, they know: The man convicted of kidnapping her has now confessed to strangling the 27-year-old Vermont woman and dumping her remains along Interstate 89, police said yesterday.
Offered immunity by cold-case investigators, William J. Posey, 61, told Burlington police in an interview last week in Butner, N.C., that he killed Brown in a fight that started with him trying to talk her into helping him sell cocaine.
Posey, who was sentenced to life for Brown's kidnapping and later pleaded guilty to the 1980 murder of an Illinois woman, has a vascular disease and is under treatment in a wing of a prison medical center reserved for terminal patients.
Posey, who would not talk about Brown's disappearance when Detective Lieutenant Emmet Helrich interviewed him there five years ago under similar circumstances, agreed to talk this time.
He shed a single tear as he told Helrich and Detective Brad Trombley that his previous story - that they had driven to Springfield, Mass., and that he left her there - was a lie.
"After a little bit, a couple questions, he told us the events," said Trombley.
Brown, a native of Enosburg Falls, was last seen leaving her Burlington apartment with Posey, who told her he had gotten a telegram from her boyfriend saying he was to be released early from prison in Danbury, Conn., and that they were going to meet.
But that was a ruse. Once Posey got her in the car, he tried to persuade her to help him sell cocaine, and the two argued en route to a stop in Waterbury and then at a location near the Shelburne Museum.
There, Posey told the investigators, he got out of the car, pulled Brown out, and strangled her before putting her body back in the car and driving south on an interstate highway, where he dumped it at an undisclosed location that even he cannot remember. A search is planned.
"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."
Finding out what happened made for mixed emotions, she said. "We knew he was the killer. We just didn't know the when, the how, the where, the why," said Roslyn Brown, who had an emotional hug with Joy Hopkins, of Burlington, a friend of Brown's, at police headquarters yesterday.
"This cocaine thing, she was not a cocaine user, she was not a drug user," Hopkins said. "That should be out there right now. She got into his car under false pretenses," Hopkins said.
The investigators made the trip to North Carolina carrying letters from Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan and Vermont US Attorney Thomas Anderson saying he would not be prosecuted.
"It wasn't a hard call," said Donovan. "It came down to giving her family the opportunity to find out what happened. He's already serving a life sentence."