1996 Brownwood native murder investigation remains unsolved

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BROWNWOOD, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – There have been no answers or developments in 26 years since the murder of Juan Leon Laureles, leaving his family desperately searching for answers.

Growing up, Leon Laureles and Arlene Harbison were inseparable. Laureles was Harbison’s uncle, even though they were only two years apart.

They spent almost every day together growing up, playing in the same band in high school, and becoming more and more siblings every day.

(Courtesy of Arlene Harbison) Leon Laureles

Harbison said when she had children, Laureles moved in and took over the Kroger Cemetery shift, helping to care for the babies while she worked.

“He was everything to me and now he’s gone,” Harbison said in tears. “It’s still just as difficult for me as it was that day.”

Until the night of May 10, 1996, when Laureles was on her way to work but never arrived. Colleagues alerted local police after waiting for the happy Laureles to come through the front doors.

Shortly after, Laureles’ body was found on Route 2126 from Farm to Market in Brownwood. He had been shot in the back of the neck, lying on the dirt road, dead as his 1988 Ford Thunderbird caught fire.

“I don’t know exactly where he was shot, I don’t know what type of weapon was used, I don’t know if any shells were found or if they were tested because they never told us said,” Harbison said.

She said that since that day, the battle for information about her uncle’s murder has been an uphill battle, but no suspects or evidence has come to light for more than two and a half decades.

(Courtesy of Arlene Harbison) Leon Laureles

“I’m very angry,” Harbison said. “I’m very frustrated because his case went cold almost immediately.”

Harbison said she believes her beloved family member was killed in an act of hate, as she knew Leon Laureles was not an openly gay man, but was just entering into a more public.

“There were other people who made it very clear how gay people were treated at the time,” Harbison said. “He wasn’t just gay, he was a Hispanic man in a very conservative small town. That was the reason he wasn’t openly gay, that would have been very bad.

She said, however, that regardless of her sexuality, everyone Laureles knew loved her good heart and willingness to help others. She said he was easily the most liked person.

After 26 years of searching for answers, Harbison said he had little hope left for justice for his uncle.

“I have accepted that no one will be arrested or charged for his murder, but I just want answers,” Harbison pleaded. “I just want to know what really happened to him and I want to know why.”

Harbison said she felt the case went cold just days after her death, but speaking with the Brown County Sheriff’s Office, they said the case was still very open and doing still under investigation.

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