The Springford murders, part II

Journalist/author needs your help to fill in the blanks in the final years of a troubled young man’s life

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Boulder Weekly

In a case that made national headlines nearly a decade ago, Brent Springford brutally murdered his affluent and doting parents, Winston “Brent” Sr. and Charlotte Springford, at their home in Montgomery, Alabama, on Thanksgiving Day in 2004. Journalist and author Mark Pinsky has studied the Springford case for a number of years, and is in the process of writing a book — Murder & Madness in Montgomery — about Brent Jr.’s descent into madness, and the murder that madness begat. As Pinsky has delved deeper and deeper, he’s found more questions than answers about Brent’s life in the final years leading up to the bloody murders in Montgomery — questions he believes could be answered with the help of those closest to Brent at the time: friends of the family, former classmates, his widow, Carolyn Scoutt, and her now grown children.

It is the search for such persons that brought Pinsky to Boulder Weekly in hopes that sharing Brent’s story might help him find Brent’s missing family and others who may have interacted with Brent during the critical years before he killed his parents.

This is part two of that story.

A beautiful autumn day 

It was the beginning of a beautiful autumn day — Nov. 26, 2004, the day after Thanksgiving — when Michael Shelton arrived at the home of Brent Sr. and Charlotte Springford in the plush Garden District of Montgomery, Alabama. Shelton, along with two other men, came to the restored 1920s home on Hull Street to continue laying tile in the newly renovated kitchen. Well acquainted with the Springford family, having done a number of projects for them over the years, Shelton had keys to the house, as well as alarm codes.

But the tranquility of the morning belied what Shelton and his men were about to find inside.

Entering the home from the four-car garage, Shelton found the alarm reset was not on, and the couple’s Jaguar gone. Brent Sr.’s usually organized office space was in complete disarray. Making their way through the downstairs of the house, the men found more signs of struggle — the library was asunder, as was the living area. They suspected a burglary.

Calling out for Brent Sr. and Charlotte, Shelton and another man made their way upstairs — their feet had barely hit the landing at the top when they saw what was unmistakably dried blood.

Within half an hour, the home on Hull Street was a crime scene.

Blood everywhere 

The first person to see the bodies of Brent Sr. and Charlotte Springford was Michael Shelton’s boss, Jerry Armstrong, owner of Armstrong Construction. Armstrong was also a manager at the Pepsi Cola Bottling Company in Luverne, Alabama, where Brent Sr. was president.

In 2014, Armstrong gave an interview to the Alabama News Network and said that in addition to his professional relationship with Brent, he was also a close friend.

It was Armstrong who Shelton called after finding blood at the top of the stairs in the Springford home. Armstrong instructed his employees to leave the house while he called the cops, then he raced to Hull Street.

He raced to a nightmare, to a scene that would haunt him forever.

“It was the worst day of my life. No doubt,” Armstrong told the Alabama News Network in July 2014, almost 10 years after the murders. “It was a lot of blood — lots of blood. And it was in a couple of different areas. It was pretty obvious that something really, really bad had happened.”

The Springfords had been beaten, quite literally within an inch of their lives. And as they lay dying, gasping for air, their throats had been cut, nearly to the point of decapitation.

A murder like this — affluent, community philanthropists and leaders of a business that brought significant money to Crenshaw County, where the bottling plant was located — nearly sent the town into a pitchfork-wielding frenzy.

“Because this was so horrific and this was so prominent, you can imagine the pressure on the police,” Pinsky says.

And it didn’t take long for fingers to start pointing in the direction of the Springfords’ unhinged son, 28-year-old Brent Jr.

However, Brent Jr. (who will be referred to simply as “Brent” from this point forward) was residing in Colorado at the time, and hadn’t been expected home for Thanksgiving. In fact, no one had seen him, nor was there any evidence at the crime scene that could soundly lead investigators to Brent.

“All they had at the crime scene was a fingerprint in the hallway [that belonged to Brent] and no way to date the fingerprint since he grew up there,” Pinsky says.

Still, Brent was named a “person of interest” by authorities, but it would take days before they could pinpoint his whereabouts.

All eyes on Colorado 

According to news reports from 2004, police hadn’t heard from or seen Brent until the afternoon of Monday, Nov. 29. He was located in Weld County, Colorado, where he shared a home with his wife, Carolyn Scoutt, and her children from a previous marriage. Brent and Scoutt married when he was 24 and she was 48.

At this point, he was officially not a suspect in the crime.

Two Montgomery-based homicide investigators traveled to Greeley to link up with local investigators to conduct the first face-to-face interviews with Brent and his wife.

Police reports of initial interviews with Brent and Scoutt, as well as Pinsky’s subsequent interviews with Montgomery detectives, show the couple denied Brent having any involvement with his parent’s deaths.

“Brent denied everything, but he was real vague and shaky on enough things, the cops knew something wasn’t right,” claims Pinsky, who has interviewed many of the law enforcement personnel involved with this case. “[Brent and his wife] were back-to-back interviewed in Greeley and the cops are pulling all these tricks — typical, legal cop tricks — when both interviews were over they said, ‘Do you mind if we follow you back to the house to make sure you get home safely?’”

Brent and Scoutt agreed, and invited investigators into their home, where the cops began questioning the children.

“The story was still that Brent had been there all week and he’d had Thanksgiving dinner with them — and then that becomes a little shaky and vague,” Pinsky says.

From Pinsky’s interviews with investigators, we know that at some point during this round of questioning, Brent’s wife ordered her husband out of the house, but continued to support the story that he never left Colorado over the holiday.

But one member of the house, a young man who had become a sort of unofficial foster child, drummed up the nerve to privately tell investigators Brent was not at home in Colorado over Thanksgiving.

And the shaky foundation Brent and his family tried to build as an alibi came crashing down.

Within an hour of investigators leaving Brent’s home, he drove himself to Mountain Crest Behavioral Clinic in Fort Collins where he had received psychiatric care in the past, but the clinic had no available beds. From there he was sent to Poudre Valley Hospital to await transfer to another mental health facility that had room, Centennial Peaks in Louisville.

Brent was seeking help because he was tormented by visions of violence. He told admitting staff he might have done something “crazy.”

“He gives a very damning intake statement,” Pinsky says. “He tells them, ‘I’m having visions of blood, I may have killed my parents,’ stuff like that, so they immediately admit him for a 72-hour lock up.”

Around noon the following day, police arrive at Poudre Valley, where Brent was being held in the emergency room, and attempted to speak with Brent, but nurses forbade any interaction because he had been heavily medicated. However, police learned quickly that Brent’s hospital intake statement was incriminating, to say the least, and they obtained a court order that allowed them to move Brent to Centennial Peaks Hospital, where he was officially arrested.

At this time, Brent’s behavior turned — he shifted from admitting that he may have killed his parents and began calling news outlets in Montgomery and telling them he didn’t commit the crime. His initial call to WSFA News in Montgomery was made on Dec. 2, 2004 — a week after his parent’s murders. In the approximately seven-minute phone call, he claimed he had only just learned of his parent’s deaths and funeral — none of his family members had contacted Brent to inform him and he claimed no one was returning his calls. He said he was overcome with grief.

He also admitted on air, however, that he was in a mental facility in Louisville, Colorado, and that he had been diagnosed as bipolar.

He called WSFA several times.

“I’ve heard that detectives [Mike] Myrick and Davis suspect me for the murder of my parents,” Brent said during one of the phone calls. (Pinsky notes that he is not aware of any detective involved in the case by the name of Davis, and that Brent may have been confused in using this name.)

“I’ve heard they are trying to build a case against me, and I don’t know what this is about,” Brent said. “I cannot believe all of this is happening. Please help as I find out more information that I need to answer. I will call the media and will let them know I am not hiding or avoiding anything.”

At this time, Brent still had no legal representation, and his communications with the media were doing him no favors. The hospital staff at Centennial Peaks eventually put a stop to the media calls, and created a list of people who he could call and fax.

Finally, the Montgomery Police Department got a murder arrest warrant for Brent. Hospital and police records show that at around midnight on Dec. 9, 2004, two Montgomery detectives, two Weld County deputies and two Louisville police officers came to take Brent out of the psychiatric facility and into custody — but they didn’t take him straight to Boulder County Jail, which is where protocol would have dictated him being sent. Instead, they took him to the Louisville Police Department, which was, as most small-town departments would be at such an hour, mostly locked up and silent.

According to Pinsky’s interviews with Montgomery police officers, Brent was taken to a storage room in the Louisville Police Department, given his Miranda rights and questioned for six hours straight.

“Apparently, he hadn’t slept for 24 hours and he was, apparently, still under the influence of psychotropic drugs,” Pinsky says. “He was babbling according to surveillance tapes.”

“I looked at the arrest form for Louisville and they had to give what the condition of the person under arrest was — was there any indication of any mental difficulties,” Pinsky says. “Blank. It was blank on the Louisville arrest form.”

Later, when Pinsky interviewed one of the Montgomery police officers who took Brent to the Louisville Police Department, he asked him why they arrested a sleep deprived, drugged man with no legal representation at a mental hospital.

“‘Weren’t you afraid that what you got from him would later be suppressed?’” Pinsky says he asked. [The officer] said, ‘Yes, I was, but at that point all we had was one fingerprint that we couldn’t use. I just decided to roll the dice. Let the lawyers worry about it later.’”

This is not the last time Brent was likely placed in a bad position by the police. Defense team sources claim that on Jan. 1, 2005, while Brent was in the Boulder County Jail, he wrote another confession, again in agonizing detail. The defense team believes that document was intended to be turned over to a defense attorney, instead it wound up in the hands of a sheriff’s deputy.

From the transcript of his first confession at the Louisville Police Department, it is clear that investigators were leveraging Brent’s deep devotion to Carolyn Scoutt, who they did not know at this time was legally Brent’s wife.

“They kept implying that if he didn’t give them what they wanted, they were gonna go after [Scoutt,] involve her somehow,” Pinsky says. “And this seemed to push him over into implicating himself in great detail.”

Brent admitted he had been in Alabama on Thanksgiving Day, waiting for his parents when they came home from lunch with his mother’s family. Though he no longer had a key to their house, Brent had broken in through the one window that wasn’t connected to the alarm system. Then he waited, an ax handle nearby.

The Montgomery district attorney who would later push to have Brent sentenced to death, Ellen Brooks, told the Alabama News Network that when Brent’s parents didn’t immediately die after the beating, their son grabbed a knife from the kitchen and nearly severed their heads.

“As he (Brent) put it,” Brooks told the television station in 2014, “[he] ‘didn’t want to hear them breathing anymore.’”

Though he was to give slightly varying accounts later — sometimes there was a discussion with his parents before he bludgeoned them, sometimes not — he was clear that he committed the murders.

In a taped confession after his arrest, Brent said his father had threatened to sell the Colorado home Brent shared with Scoutt and her children. Brent said he thought if he “surprised them” he could keep them from severing ties.

Another motive for the crime was far more… mystical. And frightening.

“His story, in various versions, was that a demonic spirit named Akasha appeared to him several weeks before [the murders] and was ordering him what to do,” Pinsky says.

The name Akasha has some antecedence in Sanskrit, which is the language of Hinduism, where it is defined as a basic element akin to fire, earth and water. But one can also find reference to Akasha in contemporary pop culture — Anne Rice’s novel The Queen of the Damned features a vampiric creature named Akasha.

It seems unlikely, given Brent’s propensity for spirituality and Eastern philosophy, that his version of Akasha would have come from such a shallow place, but his account of how he “met” Akasha was rather earthly.

During an interview with Mary Kottenstette, a paralegal in the Boulder County public defenders office, Brent claimed to have met a man at Whole Foods in Boulder who called himself Akasha. Brent was clear that the “meeting” made him feel good — indeed, it made him feel blessed. Eventually, it was Akasha who told Brent that something good would come from visiting his parents, and it was Akasha who said this trip should be made in secret by bus.

“God only knows where Brent got the name Akasha, but that was his story,” Pinsky says.

“Somebody made him do it, and in his story it was a malevolent spirit. Others suspected a more earthly intervention… ”

A fight for life 

It took time before Brent was extradited to Alabama, but he was eventually flown back to Montgomery in police escort in February 2005.

“He had a couple visits from his wife while he was in Boulder County Jail, then when he was sent to Montgomery County Jail, his wife never visited but twice sent him a very strange note saying, ‘We support you. If you get the death penalty we’ll come out to be with you,’” Pinsky says.

The state appointed Brent two private attorneys — Jay Lewis and Bill Blanchard. Both were prominent in Montgomery and both had defended in capital murder cases before.

“They began trying to save this kid’s life, essentially,” Pinsky says. “The first line of defense was not guilty by reason of insanity — if they could sell it.”

But it was a hard sell. Brent had purchased a mask and gloves before going to his parent’s home on Thanksgiving Day, making the killings look planned.

Even so, the defense continued, for a time, to build the case that Brent was mentally ill before he committed the murders. They traveled out West to talk to doctors who had seen Brent and diagnosed him as bipolar. They eventually brought in Pinsky’s sister-in-law, Susan Wardell, a social worker and attorney who they hoped could help keep Brent from being sentenced to death. It was Wardell who, years later, would tell Pinsky about this case of an intelligent, altruistic young man who seemingly went off the rails and murdered his parents.

“The feeling was that Brent never would have done this on his own,” Pinsky says of the defense team’s belief. “It made no sense. He went to Montgomery to talk to his parents about reconciling, to keep the money going. Brent [told investigators], ‘I didn’t want my family thrown out in the cold.’ Well, killing his parents wasn’t going to stop that process. They’re dead, they can’t send any more money.”

The only logical way that murder could have been viewed as a path to keeping the Colorado home and the money flowing, is if someone thought that Brent would inherit his parents’ estate if they were murdered. Which would be true only if the murder went unsolved.

The Springford property in Montgomery was a multimillion-dollar estate, and according to Brent Sr. and Charlotte’s will, it was to be split 50/50 between their two children.

Pinsky claims that in his interviews with defense team members, they revealed that Scoutt spoke with the defense team numerous times in a general manner about her inheritance rights. And according to Pinsky, recorded Boulder County Jail conversations between Brent and his wife show Scoutt raised the question of inheritance to her husband, but he cut her off. Pinsky has a handwritten letter from Brent to Scoutt in which he explained to his wife that he had fear that such comments would sound bad if the call was being monitored.

This wasn’t the only time Brent tried to protect his wife. Written correspondence from Brent to his defense team appears to demonstrate his primary goal was to protect his wife, and in many ways, this created grief for Brent’s attorneys.

“In emails, in particular between three members of the defense team, there’s increasing frustration because … Brent didn’t want them to talk to [his wife]. And he would say she wasn’t being respected when they did go to talk to her. He would not allow her to be called as a witness.”

However, Scoutt’s devotion to her husband was waning — as the years wore on, Scoutt ceased communications with Brent.

Despite complications —Brent’s ardent protection of his wife and Scoutt’s deteriorating communications with her husband — the defense team needed her help in getting Brent to accept a deal that would change his plea from not guilty by reason of insanity to guilty, saving him from the death penalty by giving Brent life in prison without the chance for parole.

The defense team essentially dictated Scoutt the letter and she sent it to Brent, who finally accepted the plea bargain.

After four years, a change of venue and countless hours trying to control Brent’s erratic behavior, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Dec. 4, 2008. He was sent first to Kilby Correctional Facility for a 90-day evaluation, then to his new permanent home at Donaldson Correction Facility in Bessemer, Alabama, where the state’s most violent and mentally unstable criminals are housed.

In a letter to his lawyer, Brent asked if he could arrange to be put in a cell block with all white men over 60 because he wanted a placid environment.

“It was like he was calling the Marriott. He just didn’t get that wasn’t the way things operated, but it wasn’t because he was a grabby kid, it’s just that he had everything,” says Pinsky. “Even his unanticipated needs were met. And then when he asked for things his parents almost never turned him down until the very end.”

Brent spent five years in prison, but on Oct. 8, 2013, he was found unresponsive in his cell and taken to Brookwood Medical Center in Birmingham where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy showed the cause of death to be a toxic dose of Tylenol.

We don’t know why Brent killed his parents — was it an evil spirit named Akasha who sent him to Montgomery or was he manipulated by someone else, someone more real, as many of the law enforcement officers and defense team members involved in the case believe? Did Brent talk to his parents to try to save the house and keep money flowing to his wife and her children, or did he leave Fort Collins intent upon murder? We may never know for sure, but it is possible that a little more clarity may emerge if author Mark Pinsky is finally able to locate the friends and family he is hoping to find.

• • • •

Breaking: Another body enters the picture 

Since Boulder Weekly began working on this series approximately two weeks ago, an unusual and disturbing event in Wyoming has come to light. On June 24, a 60-year-old man by the name of Richard Campbell was found dead of a gunshot wound at 1074 Old Highway 85, just 10 miles from downtown Newcastle, Wyoming.

The property where Campbell’s body was found is owned by Carolyn Scoutt, Brent’s widow.

Despite the investigation still being open, officers from the Weston County, Wyoming Sheriff’s Department were able to provide Boulder Weekly with some details about the case.

While Sgt. Patrick Watsabaugh could not provide an exact number, he says that Campbell had been living on the property for between 9 and 10 years. His investigation, he says, has not yet revealed how the two became acquainted.

“This was not a cohabitation with Carolyn Scoutt,” says Sgt. Patrick Watsabaugh, the lead investigator for the case. “They lived in separate residences that share the same numerical [address].”

Watsabaugh’s investigation has not yet determined whether Campbell was paying Scoutt rent or rendering maintenance-like services in exchange for a place to live.

Campbell’s body was found face up on a bed in his residence. The firearm, a Brazilian copy of a Winchester Model 92, was found lying on top of the body.

At this time Campbell’s death is being investigated as an unattended death until the coroner’s report is completed.

Watsabaugh says that police have interviewed Scoutt, and she is not a suspect at this time. Weston County Sheriff Bryan Colvard says there is an insurance policy for Campbell in which Scoutt is named as a beneficiary. However, the sheriff ’s office does not yet have that insurance policy in hand.

“It looks like an apparent suicide, but there’s so much involved,” Colvard says. “I don’t think there’s any doubt in some people’s minds that [Campbell] did pull the trigger, but there’s so much more involved that leads us to believe… there’s more to it, that’s what I can say.”

At least for now, it would seem that author Mark Pinsky knows where to look for at least one of the people he hopes can finally shed some light on those critical days leading up to the Montgomery murders.