TOLEDO, Ohio — The ex-wife of a man accused of killing of a schoolgirl in 1967 recounted at his trial Monday that she was hanging baby clothes in their basement four decades ago when she heard muffled sounds coming from a fruit cellar.
She opened a wooden door, she said, and was stunned to find a young girl naked and suspended by ropes.
“Hanging like Jesus,” Margaret Bowman told jurors.
Robert Bowman, now 75, is charged with murder in the death of 14-year-old Eileen Adams, who vanished on her way home from school. Investigators think Bowman kidnapped her, held her captive in his basement for as long as two weeks and then killed her.
Detectives first tried to link him to the slaying in the early 1980s, but they didn’t have enough evidence to bring charges until a cold case squad reopened the investigation five years ago. New DNA evidence, they said, connected Bowman with the killing, and police arrested him near Palm Springs, Calif., in 2008.
Bowman has pleaded not guilty and faces life in prison if he’s convicted.
Margaret Bowman, one of the key witnesses against him, offered a chilling account Monday of discovering the girl after hearing what she thought were rats in the cellar.
“What else would be in a basement?” she said.
Instead, she said she found a girl with her arms outstretched and bound, tape covering her mouth. Bowman said she knew the girl was alive because, “I looked in her eyes.”
“I was horrified, I was screaming, I was shaking,” she said. “I didn’t know what to think.”
She said she ran upstairs and that her husband confronted her, saying that she was getting into his business and that he now had to kill the girl. He also threatened to kill his wife and their newborn daughter if she told anyone, she said.
Bowman said she never went in the basement again. “That was enough,” 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. The body was found six weeks after Adams disappeared.
Bowman said that at some point she discovered school books on a bench or a table in the kitchen. She said she opened one of the books and saw the name Eileen Adams written inside.
Bowman said she didn’t go to police until 1981, after she left her husband and returned to Toledo.
Detectives tracked Bowman down in Florida in 1982. Once a successful businessman who sold high-end handbags in Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue stores, he was living in an abandoned restaurant near Miami, wearing a tattered shirt and jeans and a scruffy beard.
They talked with him about the girl’s death but weren’t able to charge him.
Three more decades passed until cold-case detectives took DNA samples from Bowman’s ex-wife and their daughter and compared them with DNA found on Adams’ clothing.
During the trial’s opening statements, defense attorney Peter Rost told jurors that Margaret Bowman didn’t go to police willingly years ago. “You’ll have to decide how believable she is,” he said.
On Monday, however, he didn’t press Bowman about why it took her 14 years to go to police.
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