By Tyler Lyn Sorrow
Wesley Brownlee, 43, was arrested early Saturday, Oct. 15, in connection to the murders of six men and deadly assault of one woman in the Bay Area. Stockton Police believe they arrested him ‘mid-hunt’ and said, “He was on a mission to kill.” So far, the man arrested has been linked to six murders in the Bay Area, but Stockton Police Department believes there may be more.
Stockton Police announced they were looking for a serial killer on Sept. 30, and Brownlee was arrested 16 days later. The earliest known victim was killed in April 2021 in Oakland, approximately 80 miles away.. The Stockton victims were all Hispanic males except for one man and the unhoused woman attacked last year that survived her brutal assault. Brownlee is currently charged with three counts of murder, one count of felony firearm possession and one count of felony possession of ammunition. The San Joaquin District Attorney’s Office says they intend to charge him with the other three murders in the future and his next court date is scheduled for Nov. 14, according to the San Joaquin Sheriff’s Office.
All attacks were committed in a four mile radius within Stockton, apart from a woman attacked south of the epicenter, and a man killed last year in Oakland.
As News Breaks, Credibility is Questioned
209 Times is a self described grassroots news organization that originally broke the story on Sept. 28, citing an investigation and information from confidential sources. They also said the official briefing would be given within a few days by Stockton Police Department, but until then they would hold off on divulging all they knew for fear of compromising the case.
209 Times covers news in the 209 area code, which includes Stockton, Modesto, Tracy, Merced, and Turlock. When the outlet originally broke the story in late September, their investigative report was heavily panned by news sources prompting a video statement by 209 founder Montecuzoma Sanchez defending their reporting, doubling down on the contentious claims.
Sanchez, has previously been accused of character assassination by a former Stockton Record newspaper columnist, however, as the LA Times wrote in August, he presents himself, and 209 Times by extension, as a reputable news source.
His detractors accuse him of unethically writing himself into his own articles as if he’s an observer. He’s been the subject of more than one exposé article, and 209 Times has published their own article stating The LA Times attacked their outlet to “provide political cover for disgraced former mayor of Stockton, Michael Tubbs.” While it cannot be confirmed whether Sanchez’s reputation was the reason other news organizations didn’t take the report seriously, it can’t be discounted.
On Sept. 30, Sanchez was validated when Stockton Police held their own press announcement at which Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden confirmed they believed they had a serial killer at large preying on Hispanic men alone late at night.
A Survivor Speaks, 209 Scoops
On April 16, 2021 the first of the Stockton victims was attacked outside her tent when she went to investigate the sound of crunching gravel.
Her attacker shot her, and with little recourse she charged him. He shot her a total of ten times and then left her for dead. A couple later found her on the side of the road and saved her life by calling 911. The only survivor said, “They basically treated me as if it was a drug deal gone bad, as if I knew something that I wasn’t sharing.”
In an exclusive interview with 209 Times the only surviving victim said she had been mistaken for a Hispanic man in the past, a detail that potentially could have helped them recognize a pattern sooner, but she says the police never got back even after requesting updates on her case. It would take 18 months for them to follow up with her and that interview took place the same day she sat down with 209 Times. It is unknown whether the connection between the timing is related.
Several of the victims are reported to have faced homelessness or were unhoused at the time of their death, an important fact when taken with the surviving victims’ experience reporting her attack. Homelessness is an ever growing concern in the Bay Area, and police have been criticized before for their handling of cases involving unhoused members of society.
Twitter Talks True Crime, Absent Empathy
Prior to the arrest, online discourse showed some social media users had a polarizing response to the news. A since deleted tweet by Bailey Sarian (@baileysarian) expressed shock and concern for her Stockton followers. Sarian is a popular True Crime YouTuber whose show centers around makeup tutorials and true crime cases. She boasts a hefty 441k followers on Twitter.
A startling number of her followers were unconcerned because the victims were men. In at least one case, a Twitter user tweeted back to the Original Poster, “Let him keep going,” while another said it was aspirational. (Images of discourse withheld out of respect to the victims and their families.)
The true crime genre has come under fire more than once as being exploitative of victims and their families. Many have pointed out how it traumatizes the victims’ family all over again, forcing a spotlight on them, whether they consent or not. A dialogue regarding how to responsibly create and consume true crime has opened up in recent years.
A Suspect is Arrested, and Charged
Brownlee would be arrested sixteen days after the original announcement on Oct. 15. at a press briefing announcing Brownlee’s arrest McFadden was confident they had gotten their man. He said,”
“Officers made contact with him, he was wearing dark clothing and a mask … He was also armed … when he was taken into custody. We are sure we stopped another killing.”
Brownlee has been assigned Public Defender Allison Nobert, and she quickly submitted a gag order request after language used by District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar, and others, at an official press briefing announcing the arrest. In the filing she claims the language used has harmed her client’s chances of receiving an impartial jury.
“This individual thought he could come to our community and do harm — not in our house,” the District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar said. “You do not get to come into our house and do this kind of crime.”
The Deputy District Attorney Elton Grau argued that the press briefings were mostly a statement of facts and multiple states have contacted Stockton Police about similar cases they have. A gag order would make it virtually impossible to either work with those states or continue to investigate here without being able to talk about the case.
Ultimately the judge struck down the gag order. Had the request been granted it would have been an anomaly as gag orders are typically reserved for someone who is at risk or underage. It isn’t unheard of but it’s also not common.
So far we have received very little information from police or prosecutors assigned to the case about evidence pointing towards Brownlee as the perpetrator behind the killings. Requests to speak with both Stockton Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office have gone unanswered.
There is a lot we still do not know about the suspect and details regarding the crimes are still coming forward. Despite having arrested their only suspect the police urge anyone who has any information to reach out to them at 209-937-8167 or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.