A retired Navy veteran and Charlotte native has been arrested in connection with the death of a 19-year-old Virginia woman whose body was found behind a Charlotte church in September, the FBI and government prosecutors say.
Eric Brian Brown, 45, was charged by federal officials with kidnapping in the disappearance of Ashanti Billie, who was reported missing from a Norfolk, Va., military base on Sept. 18. He was later charged by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police with murder.
Billie’s body was found in a wooded area behind the East Stonewall AME Zion Church on Grier’s Grove Road in Charlotte, about 300 yards from Brown’s childhood home, authorities say.
According to a statement Wednesday from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Norfolk, Brown is a homeless 21-year Navy veteran who lived in various buildings on and off Naval bases in the Tidewater area of Virginia.
He was also a day laborer who helped build the Blimpie’s restaurant on the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek where Billie worked.
Witnesses reported seeing Brown visiting the Blimpie’s daily, where on several occasions he tried to flirt with Billie. One witness recalled hearing Brown make a crude sexual comment to the Virginia Beach teen, the statement says.
Before dawn on Sept. 18, the day of Billie’s disappearance, her car was seen circling the restaurant with Billie at the wheel. Thirty minutes later, video showed a figure in light clothing at the wheel when the car left the base. It later stopped at a dumpster in Norfolk. There, a few hours later, construction workers found Billie’s cellphone.
Her car was recovered in Norfolk five days later. Inside, investigators found a piece of the missing teen’s clothing. The undercarriage carried dirt and vegetation, as if it had been driven off-road, the government statement says.
A week later, investigators in Charlotte interviewed several witnesses who described seeing a car like Billie’s at several locations in the city not far from where her body was found. She had been left on property owned by East Stonewall AME Zion, where Brown attended Vacation Bible School as a child, prosecutors say.
As part of its investigation, the FBI tracked Brown’s whereabouts through his cellphone and internet data, the release said. He was on the Naval base from Sept. 14 through late Sept. 17, when his internet data usage stopped. According to entry logs, Brown returned to the base on Sept. 19.
That day, according to prosecutors, he went online to search Norfolk media sites using key words such as “police looking for man,” and “missing woman and baby.” On Sept. 21, according to authorities, he also searched Charlotte media outlets.
When he was interviewed by law enforcement on Oct. 27, he told the FBI that he was on the Naval base Sept. 17, then blacked out and had no memory of the following two days. Asked about the abduction and murder of Billie, Brown said he could not remember if he did anything to the teen, the release said.
DNA evidence may have filled in some of the gaps.
According to the government’s statement, investigators found DNA samples on the hooded sweatshirt that Billie was wearing when her body was found in Charlotte that match Brown. So did a second sample taken from her shirt.