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Man convicted in 1967 Ohio schoolgirl slaying

By John Seewer
October 28, 2011

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TOLEDO, Ohio—A man accused of snatching a teenager on her way home from school in 1967 and holding her captive for days in his basement before killing her was convicted Friday of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Robert Bowman, once a successful businessman, was found guilty of the death of 14-year-old Eileen Adams in his second trial in a case that had stumped investigators for more than four decades even after his ex-wife told police she saw the girl alive and "hanging like Jesus" in their basement.

Bowman, 75, addressed Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Gene Zmuda moments before the judge sentenced him and after hearing the victim's sister describe how Adams' death emotionally tore the family apart.

"I recognize the pain and suffering I've just heard," Bowman said. But "I'm not responsible for that. I feel no remorse."

The teenager was sexually assaulted, tied up and a nail was driven into the back of her head before her body was dumped in southern Michigan, prosecutors said. The high school freshman was either strangled or died from a blow to the head that cracked her skull.

Adams' sister Maggie Kirschman was 8 when Adams went missing about a week before Christmas.

"We all waited for a Christmas miracle waiting for Eileen to come home," she told the judge.

She said there was "no forgetting" for her and her six other siblings, two of whom have died. Her parents also died in recent years.

Her sister's death led her father to drink and her mother to pray, she said.

"Mom and Dad became strangers to the rest of us," Kirschman said.

She said the family knew Bowman was responsible in the early 1980s after his ex-wife came forward.

"It was as if there was nothing we could do. It made us all sick," she added.

Bowman disappeared in the 1980s into a life on the streets in Florida and California.

Detectives first tried to link him to the slaying in the early `80s, but they didn't have enough evidence to bring charges until a cold case squad reopened the investigation five years ago. New DNA evidence connected Bowman with the killing, and police arrested him near Palm Springs, Calif., in 2008.

Another jury in August failed to reach a verdict in the case, which forced the retrial.

Bowman's former wife was a key witness in both trials, testifying that she found Adams naked in their fruit cellar after the girl disappeared just before Christmas in 1967.

Margaret Bowman said she was hanging laundry when she thought she heard rats in the cellar. She said she opened a wooden door and saw a girl with her arms outstretched and bound, "hanging like Jesus."

She said she ran upstairs and that her husband confronted her, saying he now had to kill the girl. He also threatened to kill his wife and their newborn daughter if she told anyone, she said.

That same night, she testified, Bowman made her go with him as he dumped the body just north of Toledo, across the state line in Michigan.

Robert Bowman, who took the witness stand after not testifying at his first trial, accused his ex-wife of lying and said investigators manufactured evidence against him.

He denied any involvement in the killing.

"That isn't something I would do," he said.

Outside the courtroom, assistant county prosecutor Chris Anderson suggested that Bowman's testimony hurt his defense.

Anderson said the differences in the second trial was that jurors heard more details about Bowman's life as a hustler who moved around the country and saw how he toyed with detectives when he took the stand.

"You could see what type of person he was," Anderson said.

During the trial, defense attorney Peter Rost tried to cast doubt on Margaret Bowman's account. He said that she waited 14 years to tell her story to police and that she stayed with Bowman for over a decade, moving with him to three different states before leaving when his business failed.

Even after she went to detectives in 1981, they still didn't charge Bowman. Rost also said that the DNA evidence did not conclusively point to Bowman.

Bowman had owned a construction company in Ohio and later a business that made high-end purses in Florida and sold its handbags in Nieman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue stores.

But when police detectives tracked him down in Florida in 1982, he was living in an abandoned restaurant, wearing a tattered shirt and jeans and a scruffy beard.

Hanging from the restaurant ceiling were three dolls, some with their feet bound with string. A nail had been driven into the head of two dolls -- eerily similar to how a hunter had found the body of Adams.

Bowman talked with police, but he then dropped out of sight.

Nearly three more decades passed when Eileen Adams' ailing father had a chance meeting with an off-duty police officer and asked him to take another look at the killing. Her father died two years later, three weeks after Bowman was arrested.

Cold case investigators in 2006 discovered that DNA evidence from semen on the victim's thermal underwear linked Bowman to the crime, they said. Police soon after charged Bowman even though they had no idea where he was living or even if he was still alive.

He was profiled on the "America's Most Wanted" and police in southern California arrested him when he was spotted riding a bicycle. His attorney said he had been living under a tarp in the desert.

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