WARREN — In his 38 years as Trumbull County prosecutor, Dennis Watkins said he has come across a lot of gruesome murderous acts, but the story of convicted murder Richard Dean Clowers “still today chills my bones.”
Watkins wrote a letter to the Ohio Adult Parole Authority recently, talking about a Trumbull County inmate he “did not personally” convict, but describing Clowers as “The Lying in Wait” murderer.
Clowers, now 71, faces a parole hearing before three members of the board outside his cell at the Belmont Correctional Institution. Prison records show Clowers was sentenced in September 1978 to a 15-year-to-life sentence by then-Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge David McLain.
Watkins said Clowers is one of the rare inmates convicted in Trumbull County of triple murder, causing the June 30, 1978, deaths of William Brainard, 47; his 44-year-old wife, Janice; and their 5-year-old granddaughter, Dawn Waszo.
Watkins tells the parole board Clowers devised a cunning scheme to kill the three and bury them. But his plans were curtailed when a gas well worker making his rounds checked on the rural Bristol home of the Brainards.
The prosecutor minces no words when he tells the parole board what he thinks about Clowers’ latest bid for freedom.
“In my view, Clowers is a human version of a dormant or sleeping volcano. Once a volcano has erupted and spewed its violence, it may go to sleep and wake up years later,” Watkins writes. “However, science tells us that a volcano often becomes extinct over time. It is my hope that inmate Clowers will become extinct when he dies in prison.”
Watkins told the parole board he also submitted two reports that haven’t been submitted during Clowers’ past parole hearings, the last one coming in 2012. He said these records provide a first-hand and credible account and glimpse into the personality of Clowers back in 1978.
The first record was a letter submitted by Brainard family members prior to Clowers’ first bid at parole in 1992 when the inmate was housed at London Correctional Institutional.
The family letter to the board noted Clowers had made death threats against the entire family — and feared these would be fulfilled upon his release. The letter called the inmate a “perfect Jekyll and Hyde.” It stated the man has a proclivity to show his kindness, common sense and caring side to the judges.
The letter also said that victim William Brainard had warned his family if a judge allowed visitation to Clowers’ 5-year-old child in 1978, he would be signing their death warrants.
The victim Janice Brainard had crawled from a shallow, muddy, freshly covered grave before dying. If she hadn’t done that, “no one would have suspected anything for two weeks,” the letter stated — noting Clowers knew the Brainards were planning to go on vacation.
Losing three loved ones at once “is total devastation,” the family wrote to the board back in 1992.
The second record involved the transcript of detective’s interview with Clowers’ ex-wife, Louise, the mother of the slain child.
She told detectives Clowers soured on the relationship with her young daughter almost immediately after they married. He would pick on her and call her a “brat” and even slapped her in the face several times. Children services on occasion took the child out of the home.
After the two had broken up, Clowers still visited his ex-wife while the child stayed at the grandparents. She said she had stayed with the man because “he threatened my family if I would leave him … he threatened my little girl and my mom and dad,” saying she believes he would harm them.
Louise told detectives Clowers knew the grandparents were planning a trip to Illinois for a family weekend, the weekend they were killed.
Watkins ends his letter by telling the parole board: “So let’s make everyone safe in society by following … guidelines under Ohio law and leave him (Clowers) where he is at.”
Laura E. Austen, deputy director for policy and outreach in the Ohio Public Defender office, said her policy is not to talk about inmate’s upcoming parole hearings.