Crystal's fears had grown

Gig Harbor police: Report tells of her call to psychologist on eve of shooting, and husband's belief his career as police chief 'is over'

September 23, 2003 

The night before she was shot, Crystal Brame left a long message for her psychologist telling him she was "afraid for her safety, now more than ever," according to a Gig Harbor police investigation released Monday.

David Brame, Tacoma's police chief for 15 months, also foresaw a gloomy future as his divorce from Crystal and her allegations of domestic abuse made headlines. He told a colleague the morning of April 26 "his career is over" and that he was "finished," according to the nearly 300-page investigation.

"I don't know how much more I can take," the chief told Jim Mattheis, the department's public information officer, during a phone call about 8:30 a.m.

Less than seven hours later, David and Crystal Brame randomly met in a Gig Harbor parking lot. He pulled his department-issued handgun, fatally shot his wife in the head and then killed himself.

On Monday, Gig Harbor police released the results of their investigation into the high-profile homicide-suicide. The document includes medical reports from paramedics and interviews with witnesses and the Brames' two children, Haley and David Jr.

It also details the evidence collected - clothing, a booklet titled "What Children of Divorce Really Need" found in Crystal's car, the groceries in David Brame's car and $1,830 in cash.

Gig Harbor police next week will release an audiotape of the message Crystal left with her psychologist, Dr. Max Knauss, and photos of the crime scene.

The Gig Harbor report concludes what's been known from the beginning.

"David Brame acted alone, killed his wife, then himself," Gig Harbor Police Chief Mitch Barker said.

But it leaves unclear exactly how the two came together in the parking lot and what happened in the last seconds before Brame fired his gun.

None of the 13 witnesses interviewed saw how David and Crystal met that afternoon.

Investigators know the two drove separately into the parking lot. Brame spotted Crystal, told his two children to remain in his car and confronted her.

Brame sat down sideways in the driver's seat of his wife's Toyota Camry as she stood outside the open driver's side door and leaned into the driver's seat.

They were within arm's reach of each other - less than two feet apart - when Brame shot Crystal in the back of her head, just above and behind her left ear. The bullet traveled downward and stopped in her mouth.

The angle of the shot was extreme, Barker said.

"She was looking down at her knees," he said. "It was a very oblique angle."

But investigators can only speculate whether Brame grabbed his wife, then shot her, or if she tried to duck away.

"That we will never know," said Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer, whose agency aided in the investigation.

One witness told investigators he heard a "high-pitched, funny-sounding voice." His eyes followed the noise and spotted a woman outside a black car.

"The woman was leaning down into the car and had her face close to where his face was," the man wrote in a statement. "She had been in this position for several seconds before the shots."

He heard her say, "Oh no, don't." Then he heard two gunshots.

Other witnesses told investigators they heard two loud bangs and moments later, heard children crying and screaming near Crystal's Camry.

"My daddy is a policeman and he is very mean to my mommy," Haley Brame, 8, told a bystander. "I think my daddy has killed her. Please help my mommy. They're in a divorce."

Haley and her brother were interviewed at Harborview Medical Center the night of the shootings. Both talked about what they believed happened.

The Gig Harbor police report provides some new details about what led up to the shootings, including:

•Crystal Brame called the Gig Harbor Police Department in early April and talked to a police records specialist who didn't recognize her name.

Crystal Brame told the specialist she was in the middle of a divorce and that her husband would soon be served with a restraining order. Crystal said her estranged husband had been abusive to her in the past and had kept a loaded gun in their bedroom.

"She said that she was afraid of her husband and wanted to know what she should do if he showed up at her parents' house," the specialist stated. "I advised her to call 911 immediately if that happened. Crystal seemed calm, but concerned and thanked me."

The specialist said she was later told that Crystal Brame was the wife of the Tacoma police chief.

•Crystal told her friend Nancy Otto she was concerned Brame might have a set of keys to her car. Crystal went to a dealership to see about rekeying the car.

Otto also told investigators she believed Crystal hired someone to check her house after Brame moved out to see if it had been bugged.

•The day after Brame moved out of the couple's Gig Harbor home, Crystal walked through the house with two neighbors. On the dining room table, she found a newspaper left open to the obituary columns.

"This is another one of (David's) mind games," Crystal told neighbor Anthony Shepard.

Crystal also found a fortune cookie message that read "Expect a surprise" and a book on the kitchen counter about a husband who killed his wife.

Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268
stacey.mulick@mail.tribnet.com

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