TOLEDO, Ohio – Clothes worn by a schoolgirl strangled in 1967 recently revealed DNA evidence that links her killing to a drifter arrested in California three years ago, a prosecutor told a jury Thursday.
Investigators have been trying to connect Robert Bowman, now 75, to the slaying since the early 1980s. But they didn't have evidence until a cold case squad tested the girl's thermal underwear five years ago, said assistant Lucas County Prosecutor Chris Anderson.
Bowman, who had been a successful businessman in Toledo before disappearing into a life on the streets in Florida and California, is charged with murder in the death of 14-year-old Eileen Adams. Investigators think Bowman kidnapped her, held her captive in his basement for as long as two weeks and then killed her.
He has pleaded not guilty and faces life in prison if he's convicted.
Adams, a high school freshman, was last seen getting off a bus about a block from her sister's Toledo home, Anderson said during opening statements of the trial on Thursday. She was supposed to go there after school but never showed up.
Her sister, Mary Ann Brimmer, testified that she stood at the front door waiting for Eileen to arrive at her house just like every other day. "She'd never been late before," Brimmer said.
The body was found six weeks later in southern Michigan, about 11 miles from the bus stop. She had been tied up with telephone and drapery cords. A nail had been driven into her head.
Bowman's attorney said that prosecutors don't know where or when the girl died and that the DNA evidence doesn't conclusively point to Bowman. "You can't say with precision what happened," said defense attorney Peter Rost.
Bowman's former wife is expected to testify that she found Adams alive in their basement in the days after the girl vanished. Margaret Bowman said during a pretrial hearing last year that she opened the door to a fruit cellar and found the girl naked and bound with ropes.
She went to police in 1981 and told them that she tried to help the girl, but her husband came home. She said he told her that he had to kill the girl and threatened to kill his wife if she told anyone what she saw.
That was the first time anyone connected Bowman to the killing.
Bowman's attorney said Thursday that Margaret Bowman didn't go to police willingly years ago. "You'll have to decide how believable she is," Rost said.
Detectives tracked Bowman down in Florida in 1982 but didn't think they had enough evidence to bring charges. He was living in an abandoned restaurant, wearing a tattered shirt and jeans and a scruffy beard.
Bowman, his attorney said, had become involved in an offbeat religion and gave up all of his material things.
Inside the abandoned building, there were several dolls — one was hanging from the ceiling with twine tied around its ankles and another had a nail driven in the back of its head, Anderson said.
Three more decades passed until cold-case detectives took DNA samples from Bowman's ex-wife and their daughter and compared those samples with DNA found on Adams' clothing.
Police charged Bowman even though they had no idea where he was living or even if he was still alive. He was profiled on "America's Most Wanted" and police in California arrested him in 2008 near Palm Springs after he was spotted riding a bicycle.
His attorney said he had been living in the desert under a tarp.