Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Another Brush With Murder
Attentive readers might recall the brush with murder that I had earlier this month and wrote about here.
What I didn't mention was that the very same section of the next day's edition of the Columbus Dispatch that reported on that unfortunate incident also contained a story about yet another murder I was much closer to than I realized at the time.
This other murder occurred nearly 44 years ago. It's been in the news again recently because the guy they think did it has finally been brought to trial.
As was the case with the serial killers who were eventually determined to be responsible for the 10 or so murders that were committed in my part of Toledo during the 1970s and early 1980s, DNA evidence has once again played a crucial role in solving old mysteries.
The basic facts go like this:
On December 18, 1967, Eileen Adams, a 14-year-old freshman at Central Catholic High School, boarded a Cherry St. bus and headed north towards her sister's house as she usually did at the end of the school day.
Six weeks later a hunter found her terribly abused body in a Michigan field some 10 miles to the north.
An extended list of other facts make this case pertinent to my own life.
Here are some of them:
Central Catholic was within easy walking distance of all three of my childhood homes (including the one I was living in at the time this murder occurred).
The Cherry St. bus was my main means of transportation for the first 17 years of my life.
For the first three years I was in high school, my school day would begin and end with a ride on the same bus route Eileen took to get to and from her high school.
It seems almost certain that at one time or another I was on the same bus that provided her with her last ride.
On the day she disappeared - a Monday - I would have been 8 years old and walking home from one of the third grade classrooms of a public elementary school also on Cherry St. just about a mile north of Central Catholic.
It's quite possible that I was walking south on Cherry as the north-bound bus carrying Eileen went by....
Of course I wouldn't have known that at the time if it did happen. A bus came along every ten minutes or so back then, so I may have seen as many as four (two north-bound and two south-bound) during any one walk to or from school. If her bus did go by within a few feet of me, there would have been nothing unusual about it to draw my attention or permanently stamp its image upon my memory.
Here's what a typical Toledo bus looked like back then:
And here's a shot of the Toledo bus barn after the buses had had their distinctive red coloring painted over for reasons I can't fathom:
For all I know, Eileen's last bus ride may have been on one of the vehicles in this photo.
Oddly, I can remember as a child hearing about the high school girl who got on "our" bus and disappeared but I can't remember ever hearing about the discovery of her body. In my mind, she seems to have vanished into thin air. I suppose I thought that maybe aliens had snatched her and whisked her back to their home planet. I can't recall ever linking her disappearance with an act of violence until the last few years.
I recently asked my sister (who would have been 18 in 1967) what she remembered about this case. Turns out that she can recall absolutely nothing at all. That's a bit hard for me to understand, but I suppose there's tons of stuff that she remembers that I can't even begin to imagine.
No two people ever experience the world exactly alike - not even identical twins.
There are times I wonder if the members of my family even inhabit the same solar system....
Despite finding Eileen's body and various bits of evidence along with it in late January, 1968, the police were unable to identify any likely suspects.
It wasn't until 1981 that they got a break when Margaret, the ex-wife of Robert Bowman, told them the story about how she went down into the basement of their home on Sylvania Avenue one day and heard strange noises coming from behind a closed door. Opening that door allegedly led to the discovery of a naked girl with tape over her mouth and "hanging like Jesus" from ropes. When Margaret hurried back upstairs in a panic Bowman allegedly declared that now he'd have to kill the girl - and would kill Margaret and their baby, too, if she ever told anybody.
The girl may have been hanging in that basement for as long as two weeks by that point.
After helping him dispose of the body, Bowman's ex-wife allegedly discovered Eileen's school books in the kitchen.
Apparently Eileen had gotten off at her usual bus stop on Dec 18 and Bowman had somehow managed to whisk her away to his nearby home without making a scene....
Margaret's tardy and uncorroborated testimony wasn't enough for the police to make an arrest, but it was enough to prompt them to track Bowman down.
Turns out this one-time successful businessman was by then a homeless drifter who had taken refuge in an abandoned Florida restaurant.
A homeless drifter who had at least one doll tied up and mutilated in much the same way Eileen had been.
Despite that, and despite Bowman's odd statements and curious non-denial, no arrest was made. Apparently they didn't think they had enough to get a conviction.
It wasn't until 2006 that the case was reopened. DNA analysis of the evidence along with publicity generated by America's Most Wanted eventually led to Bowman's being arrested in 2008 in California. He had allegedly been living under a tarp in the desert.
This month, Bowman - now 75 - was finally put on trial.
Last week that trial ended when the jury deadlocked (apparently voting 10-2 for conviction).
A new trial is scheduled to begin in October.
You can read much more about all this here and here (among many other places) if you have the stomach for it....
An unrelated story in today's Columbus Dispatch tells me that murder is becoming less common in the US.
Despite what you might have heard from those who say we're living in an age of accelerating immorality that is sure to usher in The End Times, killings here seem to have peaked at 24,000 in 1991. They declined to 15,000 last year despite a 20% increase in total population.
I would take greater comfort from those figures if single murder cases like this one didn't continue to haunt me.
No matter how hard I try to process them, such cases frustrate my attempts to make sense of the world and erode my sense of security.
They also prompt me to revise my understanding of the past in less than reassuring ways and reduce my confidence in our ability to shape the future for the better.
I got my first pair of glasses from an optician on Sylvania Avenue when I was 12.
The bus route that carried me to improved eyesight was the very same bus route that just as efficiently carried Eileen to her sadistic killer a few years earlier.
Had things been a bit different, she could have been the one getting new glasses in 1971 and I could have been the one found dead in an indifferent field.
Odds are that *someone* is going to end up dead in a similarly indifferent field somewhere sometime soon - and there's very little any of us can do to change that....
If you ever feel like you need to get me a gift for Christmas or my birthday or anything else and you're not sure what I might want or need, please get me a better world.
Posted by DJ at 8:54 PM