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Chilling murder case heats up 40 years later

Eileen Adams, 14, was brutally slain in 1967. New DNA evidence points to a man who may be living in Southern California.

January 21, 2007|John Seewer | Associated Press Writer

TOLEDO, OHIO — Inside a burned-out restaurant near the beaches of South Florida in 1982, detectives found a scruffy drifter wearing a tattered shirt and jeans.

The abandoned restaurant was his home. Hanging from the ceiling were three dolls, their feet bound with string. A nail had been driven into the head of one.

The drifter was Robert Bowman, suspected of killing 14-year-old Eileen Adams in 1967. Her body, discovered just outside Toledo, was mutilated in a fashion eerily similar to the way the dolls were battered.

The detectives, though, didn't have enough evidence to charge Bowman. He was let go.

But a chance meeting last September between a police officer and Eileen's father has reinvigorated an investigation that twice ran cold, and has put Bowman back on police radar.

Although Bowman's whereabouts are unknown, detectives charged him in November with aggravated murder, saying DNA samples linked him to Eileen's killing.

"The more you get into this, the more bizarre it becomes," said police Det. Bart Beavers.

Bowman, who would be 70, was last known to be living in Southern California about three years ago. Before that, he had lived in Florida. Authorities hope someone knows where he is now.

No one knows exactly what happened to Eileen the day she disappeared.

She was last seen riding a city bus to her sister's house after school a week before Christmas 1967. Police think she was abducted en route.

Six weeks later, her body was found near Monroe, Mich., about five miles north of the state line.

She had been sexually assaulted, strangled and tied up with telephone and drapery cords. A nail had been driven into her head.

Much of the story comes from decades-old police records. Original investigators have retired. Bowman's ex-wife, whose name isn't being released, and their daughter wouldn't talk about the case. Adams' family also has not commented.

The trail to the restaurant began after Bowman's ex-wife contacted police in 1981 at the insistence of her new boyfriend.

She told them that in 1967 she and Bowman had just moved into a new house. She began hearing noises coming from the basement but dismissed the strange sounds until she was hanging up clothes there and heard moaning in the adjacent fruit cellar.

She opened the door and found Eileen tied to a wall. She ran upstairs, where she said Bowman confronted her. He told his wife he now had to kill the girl and threatened to kill her as well if she told anyone about what she saw, Beavers said.

"She was scared to death," the detective said.

Police put her under hypnosis and gave her a lie detector test. Her story stayed consistent. They went looking for Bowman, who had owned a construction company before leaving Toledo for Scottsdale, Ariz., and Las Vegas.

He eventually settled in the Miami area, where he owned a business, Brenda Manufacturing Co., that made high-end purses in North Miami. The company, named after his daughter, sold its handbags at Nieman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

But when detectives tracked him down in 1982, Bowman had a scruffy beard and was living in the restaurant.

Bowman would say only that Eileen had been in his home, according to a police report. He said he didn't remember what happened and told police it was up to them to prove he killed the girl.

"It became clear he wasn't going to confess," Beavers said.

Prosecutors back in Toledo decided there wasn't enough evidence to bring charges.

The case went cold until Mike McGee, a Toledo police officer, was invited to Sunday dinner with his in-laws. Residents from a nursing home also attended. Among them was Eileen Adams' father, Larry, who sat next to McGee.

"I've got a case I'd like you to look at," the father said.

Larry Adams, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, began telling the story of what happened to his daughter. Some of the details were vivid and others were faded, McGee said.

Although McGee says he thought Adams must have seen the case on TV, "I could tell by looking at this guy's face that he believed what he was telling me. He made me promise that I'd look into it."

McGee talked to the department's cold-case squad, which looked through the old files and found that Bowman had been a suspect decades ago.

Detectives collected DNA samples from Bowman's ex-wife and their daughter, both now in Florida, and compared those samples with DNA found on Eileen Adams 39 years ago.

Investigators identified DNA on the victim as Bowman's based on a match with a DNA sample from his daughter, Beavers said.

Bowman, who has a heart and sword tattoo on his right bicep, most recently was known to be in Riverside and San Diego in 2003. Police believe he may be living on the streets, where he is known as Bo. He also could be in South Florida or another warm-weather area.

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