TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Cindy Brown remembers when she decided to divorce Bobby Joe Long, the serial killer facing execution as a result of a murderous spree that claimed 10 women's lives and terrorized Florida's Tampa Bay area in 1984.
The man who was her childhood sweetheart and the father of their two children is set to receive a lethal injection Thursday at Florida State Prison in Starke. Brown said she believes Long, now 65, is getting what he deserves.
"This is something that in my heart should have happened many, many years ago," Brown said. "It's been a long time coming. I hate to see anybody die, but he's done the things that he's done. You made your bed; it's time to lay in it."
Brown, who divorced Long in 1980, still vividly recalls an increasingly violent man. One day, he grabbed her, choked her and slammed her head into a television, knocking her unconscious with a gash to the forehead.
"When I came to, I was on the couch. Of course, he was there, crying. 'I'll never do it again. I'm so sorry.' Then the next words were, 'When you drive yourself to get your stitches, if you tell them what really happened, I'll kill you when you get home," Brown recalled Wednesday.
After the divorce, Long went on a violent rage against women that also included dozens of rapes. The spree earned him 28 life sentences and the death penalty for one of the killings, that of 22-year-old Michelle Simms. The execution would be the first under Gov. Ron DeSantis, who took office in January.
After the beating that sent Brown to the hospital, she said, she loaded a shotgun, pointed it at Long and planned to kill him. But she didn't go through with it. She said not pulling the trigger has haunted her since, knowing the lives he later destroyed.
"I have forgiven the man for what he did to me — the name calling, the physical violence, everything else ... I don't think I will I ever forgive him for what this has caused my children, nor will I ever forgive him for what he did to those girls, whether they be the murder victims or the rape victims," she told The Associated Press.
Artiss Ann Wick was the first woman killed, in March 1984. Nine more victims followed until his arrest eight months later.
Most were strangled, some had their throats slit, and others were bludgeoned. He positioned most victims in a gruesome way. One rape victim who survived, a 17-year-old snatched off her bicycle while riding home from work at a doughnut shop, helped lead police to Long. Though blindfolded during the ordeal, she recalled the car and details about Long.
After his arrest, Long confessed to that and other crimes and admitted to being "The Classified Ad Rapist," the moniker investigators gave while trying to solve dozens of rapes. Long would go through classified ads and make appointments to see items for sale. If a woman answered the door and was alone, he'd rape her.
Brown was living in the Miami area while Long was killing women. Though she still feared him, they spoke regularly because he had visitation rights to their children. She would turn on the TV news every morning while getting ready for work. One morning she was on the phone with Long when news reported another one of his victims was found.
"I said, 'Bob, you always tell me to be careful, but what's going on out there in Tampa?'" Brown said. "And he said, 'That's why I tell you, because you never know.'"
It wasn't long before she received another phone call from Long. She could tell by his voice there was something wrong.
"You know the girls in Tampa?" Brown recalled Long saying.
Her first thought was that Long's then-girlfriend, named Barbara, was one of the serial killer's victims.
"Oh my God! They killed Barbara!,'" Brown recalled saying.
"He said, "No, I killed the girls." And I told him, "Bob, that's not funny. Don't joke like that. It just isn't funny." And he said, "I'm not joking,'" Brown said. A Hillsborough County sheriff's sergeant than took the phone from Long and confirmed that yes, he had been charged.
Said Brown, "That was when my whole world turned upside down."
While she agrees Long should be executed, she knows it is opening up wounds for her son and daughter and the families of those killed.
"Every one of the victims and the victim's families are in my prayers. I know it's a tough emotional roller coaster for them, and I am so, so sorry," she said, choking up with tears. "I understand it's not my fault, but tell me heart that. Make my heart believe that."