Long before he became the prime suspect in the killing of his half-sister, Ronald A. Beck was known to throw violent tantrums and exact petty revenge when he didn’t get what he wanted, newly filed court records reveal.
Beck’s first wife said he had assaulted her with a piece of a bed frame. His second wife said he had choked her, chased her with a knife and beat her when she was too slow to cook dinner or fetch him beer. A cousin said he had “abused every woman he was ever with,” and that he routinely dumped his ashtray onto the floor when he was upset.
Beck, 49, was arrested on a second-degree murder charge Monday afternoon at his trailer in the Evergreen Mobile Home Park in Mead – the same residence where detectives say he strangled his half-sister with the strap of a duffel bag on May 10, 2017.
An affidavit filed this week in Spokane County District Court details the lengthy investigation by sheriff’s Detective Scott Bonney, which involved DNA tests, a review of cell tower data and interviews with more than a dozen relatives, neighbors and other witnesses.
Bonney wrote that the investigation “exposed a historically long pattern of domestic violence perpetrated by Ronald Beck against the victim and other women; specifically, Ronald often became physically abusive when the women in his life did not meet his subservient expectations.”
The homicide victim, Brenda Brown, also 49, had lived with Beck and her other half-brother, Mitchell Beck, for about a year and a half, volunteering as their caregiver, another relative said. Both brothers have Huntington’s disease, a rare and incurable hereditary condition that deteriorates nerve cells in the brain and causes muscle dysfunction.
The disease can affect emotions and mental functioning, too, but relatives said they believe Beck thinks clearly and is in control of his actions.
“He’s mentally stable, trust me,” a cousin, Mark Beck, told The Spokesman-Review. “He’s all there.”
Mark Beck was often the relative who showed up to help when Ronald Beck abused his ex-wives, according to the affidavit. He’s also the one who found Brown’s body that evening more than 18 months ago.
Mark Beck said he went to check on Brown because she suffered from diabetes and had been sick with the flu for several days. When he arrived at the trailer, he stopped in the front yard to tidy up some garden hoses that lay in a tangled heap, then went inside to ask Ronald Beck for help, according to the affidavit.
Mark Beck immediately saw signs that something was wrong. Paper towels and cigarette butts were strewn across the kitchen floor, “a common practice employed by Ronald when he gets upset,” the affidavit states. Ronald Beck had also locked himself in his bedroom, something he didn’t often do.
Mark Beck said that when he finally got Ronald Beck out of his room, he took him outside to fix the hoses, and then went to check on Brown. He peered into her bedroom but did not see her because her body lay on the floor between the closet and the foot of her bed, out of view from the doorway, the affidavit states.
He went back outside and told Ronald Beck that Brown had apparently left, but Ronald Beck insisted she was still inside. Ronald Beck went inside alone, then returned outside and informed Mark Beck that she was lying on the floor. Both men went inside yet again, and when Mark Beck realized she was dead, he quickly ushered Ronald and Mitchell Beck out of the room and called 911 around 6 p.m., the affidavit states.
Paramedics and sheriff’s deputies responded. Brown’s body was naked except for her underwear and was face down on the floor. Detectives reported no signs of theft or a break-in, and Ronald and Mitchell Beck said no one had come to visit her since relatives last saw her the previous evening.
Mark Beck said that when he discovered Brown’s body, he didn’t even notice the duffel bag strap cinched around her neck. According to the affidavit, the cord from her curling iron was also draped over or wrapped around her neck.
“When I heard the officer say that there was something wrapped around her neck, I immediately thought Ronald did it,” Mark Beck said. “Really, I don’t have a doubt in my mind that it was him.”
Between 1996 and 2004, Beck was jailed for several domestic violence incidents involving his second wife, according to the affidavit. At one point during that period, he was convicted on two counts of felony assault on family members in Flathead County, Montana. His ex-wife told detectives that “Ronald held animosity for his half-sister … because they had different mothers, and Ronald’s mother meant everything to him.”
Friends and relatives told detectives that Ronald Beck had punched and grabbed Brown in the past, sometimes leaving bruises. Weeks before her death, Brown told several people that he had hit her again, according to the affidavit.
In interviews with Detective Bonney, Beck admitted he had antagonized Brown by dumping out his ashtray and by plunging her toothbrush and curling iron into dirty toilet water. He also admitted they had recently gotten into a “shoving match” and that they fought again the night before she died, the affidavit states.
One neighbor reported hearing a woman screaming inside the trailer that night. Another neighbor said she saw Brown driving her van, with one of her half-brothers in the passenger seat, at about noon the day she died.
Investigators collected DNA samples from the crime scene, as well as samples and fingernail clippings from both brothers. The affidavit states that detectives could not definitively rule out Mitchell Beck from the list of suspects, but Ronald Beck was the only relative known to argue with and physically assault Brown.
And, during a body inspection six days after her death, Ronald Beck was unable to explain to detectives how he had received small scratches on his hands and neck, according to the affidavit.
April Brown, a cousin of Brenda Brown, told The Spokesman-Review that she and another relative visited the trailer shortly after the body was found. With deputies at the scene, she said Ronald Beck stepped into the kitchen after smoking a cigarette, looked at them and asked, “Am I going to go to jail for this?”
April Brown said some family members have been frustrated because it took so long for deputies to arrest Ronald Beck. Detectives repeatedly told them they were waiting for DNA results to come back from a state forensic lab, she said.
“Why did it take so long to nail him when they had all that evidence and everything that night?” she asked. “Why did it take that long for this one DNA sample to come back?”
Mark Beck, however, said he doesn’t fault detectives for the length of the investigation. Rather, he credits them for sticking with it and seeking accountability for Brown’s death.
“At least now the family knows she’ll get the justice she deserves,” he said.
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