The Disappearance of Regina Brown (Connecticut)

Nearly four decades after a Connecticut flight attendant and mother disappeared without a trace, investigators don’t seem any closer to solving the mystery.

But ask anyone who knows anything about Regina Brown’s life, and they’ll tell you exactly what they believe happened and who they feel is responsible for her disappearance…If only they had the evidence to prove it.

If you have information relating to the 1987 disappearance of Regina Brown, please contact the Newtown Police Department at (203) 270-4237 or the anonymous tip line at (203) 270-8888.

The Life of Regina Brown

Regina Brown, born Regina Fontenot, grew up in rural Ames, Texas on a sprawling stretch of farmland shared by many of her extended family members. Her family’s Creole heritage was a big part of her upbringing, as was her faith. She went to Catholic School through 12th grade and then onto Texas Woman’s University to earn her degree in clothing design.

She worked a few jobs after graduation, staying close to home and her close knit family, but Regina knew she was ready for something beyond the confines of her small town life. Those who knew her best described Regina as a free spirit, a “try anything once” kind of person, and she loved an adventure. What better place for a wanderlust soul than jet setting across the map? Reina trained to be a flight attendant and worked her very first route for American Airlines in February of 1977.

The next four years of Regina’s life were spent in the friendly skies keeping passengers safe and happy. She found a best friend in her fellow flight attendant, Hope Lambert, and they were as close as sisters. Regina told Hope everything, they spent holidays together, and Hope would name her future daughter after Regina.

There was someone else Regina met during her time as a flight attendant, too. Someone who would become another major part of Regina’s life. Willis Brown Jr. was a pilot for American Airlines and he and Regina had eyes for each other almost immediately.

Theirs was a whirlwind romance. Willis had recently finalized a divorce with his first wife, but there was no time wasted between him and Regina. Within a few months, Regina was pregnant with her first child and then a few months after that, on June 24, 1982, Willis and Regina were married. They settled into a ranch-style home at 18 Whippoorwill Hill Road in Newtown, Connecticut, about an hour outside of New York City. Their son was born on New Year’s Eve of the same year.

In a short span of time, Willis charmed everyone in Regina’s life. Her parents were thrilled she found a man who seemed so devoted, so intelligent and hardworking, and well, he was financially impressive, too. Yes, he was almost 20 years older, yes, he was divorced with four kids already, but he was everything Regina wanted. Her pregnancy so soon after they started dating was unexpected but Willis kept saying he was thrilled to have a son after four daughters from his previous marriage.

But something changed between Willis and Regina not long after they said “I do”. Regina would later testify that the generous, affectionate Willis changed seemingly overnight. Willis grew cold. And then he got angry.

The baby was only a few months old when Willis asked for a divorce and moved out of the house in early 1983. He accused Regina of adultery and believed he was not the biological father of the baby boy. Willis was convinced that the boy’s father was his best friend who lived in Arizona. Willis saw the guy play with Regina’s hair when they were all driving around together one day. It was proof enough for him.

Edward Ericson writes for the Hartford Courant that Regina didn’t believe in divorce. She denied Willis’s accusations of infidelity and begged him not to file the paperwork, instead encouraging him to see a marriage counselor with her. Willis agreed.

They tried at least one session, but Willis fired the counselor soon after. Regina decided to keep going on her own though…And Willis suspected that Regina was having an affair with the counselor. So, he again threatened divorce in August of 1983 and told Regina she needed to get out of the house and move back to Texas with her family.

But Willis dropped the divorce conversation when Regina told him she was pregnant again. Regina stayed in their Connecticut home, without Willis. Her daughter Reina was born in February of 1984, but Willis also denied he was her father.

According to reporting by Tracy Breton for the Providence Journal, the same night Regina got home from the hospital, she called a domestic violence hotline to report that Willis had beaten her. Willis took the phone from her hand and told the volunteer that the baby wasn’t his and that he just caught Regina in bed with his best friend. Then he hung up the phone. Whatever help Regina was calling for that night, she wasn’t able to get it.

Later blood tests on both Reina and Regina’s son proved that Willis Brown Jr. was in fact their biological father, but it didn’t matter. Willis continued to accuse Regina of cheating on him, and started telling people she was using drugs.

Things got bad. In April of 1984, Regina called the police after Willis tried to choke her. He was arrested but the charges were later dropped in favor of Willis seeking psychiatric help. According to Willis’s later testimony, the advice of the doctor was to leave the house anytime he felt like an outburst was coming on, and Willis said that’s exactly what he did moving forward. They stayed together, but Willis still wasn’t living with Regina and he was away most of the time, either on long trips for the airline or staying on Block Island where he ran a moped and bicycle rental business during the high season. He also had an apartment in Queens, New York.

So, for the next two years, Regina worked when she could and took care of the two babies, sometimes with the help of a live-in babysitter. Willis visited on occasion, and he gave Regina money here and there to help with the kids, but not much. The following summer in August of 1985, Regina welcomed her third child, another daughter. Again, Willis denied paternity of the baby. He believed the girl’s father was actually a major league baseball player who Regina met while working a flight and later testified that he filed a lawsuit against the man for financial support for the child.

Regina was embarrassed and exhausted by the repeated accusations. She insisted all of the children were Willis’s and that she’d never been unfaithful to him, and there was never any evidence that she used drugs. But Willis again filed for divorce on November 27, 1985, listing in his complaint that Regina had committed adultery quote “with various persons at various places” end quote and the three children she had between 1982 and 1985 weren’t his kids.

As the divorce proceedings began, Willis decided he wanted everyone to know the kind of person Regina really was. In February of 1986, Willis wrote what would later be referred to as his “book”. The 21-page letter described Regina as a pathological liar and a manipulative woman with a criminal mind. He warned anyone who met her not to be fooled by her “pretty face” and “soft voice”. When he was finished, Willis mailed the letter to Regina’s family, friends and to her bosses at the airline.

Regina was humiliated, but more than that, she was scared. Willis was controlling and unpredictable. She confided in her best friend Hope Lambert, and they held prayer circles at Regina’s house, asking for God’s protection over her and the children.

Despite his repeated claims that the children weren’t his, Willis occasionally visited them at the house and brought them things. On July 1, 1986, Willis stopped by with new shoes for the two older kids and said he wanted to talk to Regina about something. According to Regina’s later testimony, Willis confronted her while she was standing in the bathroom. He was upset because he saw the babysitter who regularly took care of the kids kiss the children on their mouths. As Willis tells it in his testimony, he’d warned the babysitter not to do that, but she did it anyway, right in front of him. He wasn’t happy about it.

Regina didn’t respond to him immediately, and started to walk out of the bathroom into the hallway. That’s when she says Willis balled up his fists and raised his arm at her. Then he lunged for her neck and said, “Regina, this is it, you’re dead.”

Regina testified that her vision clouded at that moment until everything went dark. When she regained consciousness she was laying on the bathroom floor and she could hear the children crying. Willis was now walking towards her with a length of rope. He stepped into the bathroom with Regina and closed the door, sitting down next to her, apparently more subdued.

Regina asked Willis why he did it, what caused him to attack her like that. Willis responded that he must’ve been in shock…And then he started begging Regina not to call the police. He told her he’d lose everything if she called the police. But then said, “I might as well hang myself and kill us all.”

Regina insisted she wouldn’t call the police, promised over and over that she wouldn’t have him arrested, but she also begged Willis to get some help for himself. Eventually, he relented and promised to get help. When Regina felt safe enough to leave the bathroom, she went to the phone book to find the number of a psychiatrist, one who had observed Willis a few years earlier as part of the court order.

Before Willis left the house that night, Regina told him she was going to leave with the kids and go to Texas. He gave her money for the flights and she left four days later. She and the children stayed in Texas for three weeks. While she was away, Regina called to check on Willis and see if he’d made an appointment with the psychiatrist. Willis asked Regina, “For what?” It was clear he hadn’t kept his promise. He later testified that he didn’t think he needed to see the doctor.

Three months later in September of 1986, Willis threatened her again.

Testimony shows that on September 3, for whatever reason, Willis was at the Connecticut house making phone calls. When Regina checked in with him before she planned to leave the house with the kids, Willis seemed annoyed out of nowhere, and his annoyance quickly escalated to anger. They argued – Regina asked Willis what this was really about. She suspected he had a girlfriend at the time and it was the girlfriend that was causing him problems. But Willis then waved a bag of white powder at Regina, saying that he found her cocaine stash and was going to turn it over to police. He walked out the door and got into his car, but before he pulled away he told Regina, “I want you out of this house. If you’re not out when I get back, you’re dead.”

The next day, on September 4, 1986, Regina filed an emergency request with Danbury Superior Court for temporary exclusive possession of their family home on Whippoorwill Hill Road in Newtown. The request was ultimately granted. Willis had to remove all of his personal belongings and was restricted from entering the house or having physical contact with Regina until further court order. And that bag of white powder? It was later found to be baby cereal.

Regina was no longer holding onto the hope that Willis would seek help and that their marriage could be salvaged. Through the fall of ‘86 and into spring of 1987, divorce proceedings pushed forward. Documents show that Regina requested Willis submit to a blood test to establish paternity of the children, once and for all. Just as she knew they would, each paternity test proved that Willis Brown Jr. was in fact the father of Regina’s son and two daughters.

In March of 1987, even though there was a restraining order in place, Willis was at the house in Connecticut on a few separate occasions. Edward Ericson reports that during one of those visits, Willis asked Regina to co-sign on a home equity loan so he could pull some money out for his moped business, but Regina refused to sign. Willis also later testified that he was at the house another time in March to drop off a check to Regina, presumably for child support, and he was there again either on March 24 or 25 to look for some tax documents he kept at the house, he said.

But we don’t know exactly what happened when Willis was at the house in late March of 1987. We don’t know the specific interactions between Willis and Regina or if there was any contact at all, but we know that the next time Regina talked to her best friend Hope Lambert, the message she relayed over the phone was cryptic and her tone was frightened. It was clear to Hope that Regina was in fear for her life.

Regina Brown’s story continues on Dark Downeast. Press play for the full episode wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode Source Material

  • Interview with Reina Brown, biological daughter of Regina Brown and Willis Brown Jr.
  • Divorce Filings: Willis N. Brown, Jr. vs. Regina F. Brown, Superior Court – Judicial District of Danbury
  • Flight attendant’s disappearance probed, AP/The Journal News, 10 Apr 1997
  • Police seek stewardess missing from Newton home by Virginia D. Sederis, Hartford Courant, 11 Apr 1987
  • Await ID of a body in Queens by Alton Slagle, NY Daily News, 11 Apr 1987
  • A Missing Person: The disappearance of Regina Brown by Tracy Breton, Providence Journal, 09 Jul 1989
  • Pilot files Chapter 11 bankruptcy by Tracy Breton, Providence Journal, 11 Jul 1989
  • Police search island for missing woman, AP/The Hour, 28 Sep 1989
  • Block I. searched for body of Regina Brown by Tracy Breton, Providence Journal, 28 Sep 1989
  • Block Island search for state woman’s body suspended until Monday, The Day, 29 Sep 1989
  • Search for Regina Brown to continue by Tracy Brreton, Providence Journal, 29 Sep 1989
  • Search for missing woman ends, The Day, 03 Oct 1989
  • Reasons for search disclosed in affidavit by Tracy Breton, Providence Journal, 06 Oct 1989
  • The Other Pilot’s Wife by Edward Ericson, Hartford Courant, 10 Jun 1990
  • Regina Brown, 22 Years Later-Police Take Up A Very Cold Case by Andy Gorosko, The Newtown Bee, 01 May 2009
  • A mother vanishes overnight by John Pirro, The News Times, 09 Jul 2011
  • Regina Brown Cold Case Gets Exposure On Facebook By Andrew Gorosko, The Newtown Bee, 27 Feb 2016
  • Police Revisiting Disappearance Of Regina Brown by Andrew Gorosko, The Newtown Bee, 03 Jun 2016
  • Police Continue Probe Into Regina Brown’s Disappearance by Andrew Gorosko, The Newtown Bee, 01 Jul 2016
  • Son Takes Dad on First Official Flight as a Pilot After Following in His Footsteps by BOTWC Staff, Because of Them We Can,  07 May 2019
  • Regina Brown Cold Case File: Newtown Police Department
  • Willis N. Brown, Jr., Plaintiff, Appellant, v. Hearst Corporation, D/b/a Wcvb-tv Channel 5, Defendant, Appellee, 54 F.3d 21 (1st Cir. 1995)
  • Charley Project: Regina Brown