Thu. May 23rd, 2024

Vincent Brothers was a beloved vice principal in Bakersfield, California. When his wife, children and mother-in-law are murdered, the community were shocked that Brothers was a suspect — especially since the weekend of the killings, he wasn’t even in town.

In July 2003, Joanie Harper’s best friend stopped by Joanie’s house to see her and the kids. Joanie’s mother, Earnestine Harper, was living with her as well. She was concerned that Joanie, the kids, and Earnestine had not been seen since they were at church on Sunday.

Vincent Brothers wasn’t around as he had flown out to Ohio to visit his brother, Melvin, over the holiday weekend and had yet to return. The family friend found a sliding glass door open and discovered Joanie, her mother Ernestine, 4-year-old Marques, 23-month-old Lyndsay, and 6-week-old Marshall dead.

It’s said to be the worst crime in Bakersfield, California’s history.

Police determined that the family was killed sometime Sunday afternoon after they returned home from church. They had settled down to take their afternoon naps which were customary for them to do.

Joanie and the children were in her bed while Earnestine was in her room on the other side of the house. The killer entered the home and started in Joanie’s bedroom shooting her two times in the head. Then they shot Lindsay in the center of her back.

There were no signs of forced entry. Earnestine must have heard a noise and come into the hallway to investigate. She had a 38 revolver in her hand for protection but never got to use it. She was shot 2 times in the face and dropped in the hallway right outside her bedroom door.

The killer returned to Joanie’s bedroom and shot Marcus and then fired a final shot into the baby’s back. Every shot fired was intended to inflict a fatal injury.

The killer did not leave the scene right away. But went back to the kitchen and taking a knife from a butcher block. They returned to the bedroom to stab Joanie multiple times in the back. He or she unscrewed the TV connections but laid the TV gently on the ground.

The killer dumped Joanie’s purse on the laundry room floor but took nothing of value even leaving money behind. They seemed to want police to think that someone had broken in and didn’t want to be identified so they killed any witnesses.

The killer went back into the bedroom and covered the bodies with blankets and pillows. The blankets and pillows were brought in from other rooms.

The next day, Brothers was arrested on suspicion of murder. He was a well-respected vice principal and a mentor to troubled youth.

However, Brothers was released within hours. Police spent the next several months investigating the case.

As the police dug further they discovered that Brothers was no longer living in the home and had moved out in April 2003. Joanie was also planning to divorce Brothers for the second time and go after child support for his three children. They discovered Bhistory’ history of violence against women and started looking closely at his alibi.

Meanwhile, Brothers spent that time Bakersfield dodging news reporters. Stories of Brothers’ seamy side such as marriages, spousal abuse, and misbehavior at the school came to light. Some of the professional misconduct became public after The Californian newspaper successfully sued the Bakersfield City School District for personnel documents.

Finally, Brothers was arrested again April 30, 2004, when he walked outside the house where he and Joanie once planned to move.

Brothers’ attorneys floated a novel theory a few months before the trial that Joanie was killed by a lesbian lover. The prosecution called it ridiculous.

Bugs found on Brothers’ rental car became star witnesses for the prosecution during the trial.

The prosecution said they prove Brothers drove the car to Bakersfield to kill his family. The defense said the bugs could have been found anywhere.

It was at Fremont Elementary that Brothers met Joanie. She was the campus supervisor for security at the time. Vincent and Joanie were married after the birth of their first child, Marques. The marriage was annulled in September 2001 due to Brothers’ infidelity. Their second child Lyndsey was born in 2001.

Brothers’ and Joanie secretly remarried in 2003 and 4 months later Marshall, their third child was born. Joanie confided to friends that her marriage was once again in trouble. She was afraid that Vincent “might try to get rid of me.”

In March, Franklin School Principal Carla Tafoya testified Brothers asked her to marry him the same year his first son was born, in 1998. They dated on-and-off until she broke things off in 2002.

But weeks before the family was killed, Tafoya and Brothers had sex one more time, she testified.

Brothers took the stand, in a rare move for defendants, and denied killing his family. He said he loved them and was traveling the Midwest when the murders happened.

Brothers said he got into a car crash in Ohio with a boy on a bicycle the day his family was killed.

In a Perry Mason moment, the prosecution tracked down the man it believed was really in the crash and got him to testify.

On May 29, the day a jury voted Brothers should face death, guards exposed a suspected escape attempt by Brothers. They said he wriggled out of his leg restraints and had paper clips in his hair that he could have used as keys.

The former elementary school vice principal was sentenced to death September 27, 2007 by Kern County Superior Court Judge Michael Bush. He is one of the few with little criminal history and a master’s degree to be put on death row in the oldest prison in the state.

California’s executions have been halted because an Governor Gavin Newsom believes the use of lethal injection, the state’s method of choice, is cruel and unusual punishment.

The last execution in California was January 17, 2006.

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By Buffy Gunner

Independent Journalist + Business Owner | Lover of all things true crime. Mantra: Only YOU can be YOU. | Los Angeles Born |