Rocky Mountain News photo: Todd Heisler
Lou Smit, left, Scott Fischer, center, and Charlie Hess are cold-case investigators with the El Paso County, Colo., Sheriff’s Department.
By Sharna Johnson: CNJ Staff Writer
A Clovis native who developed a taste for crime fighting as a local newspaper reporter and photographer played a role in a convicted Colorado man’s confessing to the killing of as many as 48 people.
Scott Fischer was part of a three-member cold-case unit in El Paso County, Colo., that coaxed Robert Charles Browne, 53, into detailing an alleged 30-year killing spree that spanned nine states and South Korea.
Fischer’s primary role in the case was transcribing hours of interviews and following the cryptic bits of information Browne gave the team.
Fischer said after transporting former CIA interrogator and fellow cold-case member Charlie Hess to prison meetings with Browne, the investigators would discuss the interviews. He said Hess couldn’t take notes for fear of alarming Browne.
When Browne would give sketchy details of a killing, Fischer and the cold-case team would try to link them to unsolved cases nationwide.
“You could spend months figuring out what he was telling you, then try to match that to a case,” said Fischer, 60, a reserve sheriff’s deputy in El Paso County. “He couldn’t give you a name or who they were. Most of what we did was try to find locations and what he had done to them.”
In the space of four years, the team filled more than 30 three-ring notebooks and countless computer diskettes with information stemming from their conversations with Browne.
The case became a pet project when cold-case member Lou Smit told the others he had been involved in Browne’s homicide arrest and always had a lingering feeling Browne was a serial killer.
Fischer said his passion for police work began in Clovis. He worked at the Clovis News Journal — where his father, Charles, was the publisher in the late 1950s and early 1960s — doing everything from working in the pressroom and reporting to eventually becoming the publisher himself from 1969 to 1973.
As a reporter with the CNJ in the 1960s, Fischer also doubled as a crime scene photographer for Clovis police. He said police had minimal photo processing ability and relied on Fischer because of his access to the newspaper’s photo lab. Fischer said he would be called to document a scene for police, meanwhile getting the scoop for the paper.
He said it was a balancing act.
“I wore two hats — I kept them separate. I would go back to the newspaper and process the photos for both of them,” said Fischer, who resigned in 2000 as publisher of the Colorado Springs (Colo.) Gazette, a sister paper of the Clovis News Journal.
Fischer said he still returns to Clovis to visit old friends. But he always wanted to retire in the mountains, he said, hence the move to Colorado.
— The Colorado Springs Gazette and Rocky Mountain News contributed to this report.