Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Norman Collins: The Co-Ed Killer

Fortuitous Meeting

Eileen Adams
Eileen Adams

In 2005, Gary Leiterman was convicted for a 1969 murder in Michigan that investigators had originally attributed to John Norman Collins. Sophisticated DNA analysis had revealed Leiterman, not Collins, as the perpetrator. Now the same technology has identified the killer of another girl whose murder some people had also tentatively linked to Collins. The announcement was made on November 27, 2006.

It's another victory for cold case investigations, as well as another indication that unrelated circumstances not fully investigated can influence assumptions of guilt. Collins was convicted of one murder in 1969, but seven more from the previous two years were linked to him by circumstantial evidence. Furthermore, in The Michigan Murders, Edward Keyes tentatively associated Collins with other murders during this same period that had similar behavioral manifestations, ranging into neighboring states. This was one of those cases.

Eileen Adams, a freshman in high school, was abducted from Toledo on December 19, 1967, as she left school. Her frozen body was found in a field in Whiteford Township, Michigan on January 30, 1968. It had been wrapped in a rug and mattress cover, and tied with an electrical cord. The girl had apparently been left alive but bound in such a way that her struggles to get free had tightened a telephone cord looped around her neck and tied to her ankles, which strangled her. Her shoes and coat were missing, and she had been raped. Police believed that her abductor had held her somewhere for up to two weeks before leaving her in the field in southeastern Michigan.

U.S. Map with Whiteford, MI Locator
U.S. Map with Whiteford, MI Locator

Although the case went unsolved for nearly 40 years, Eileen's relatives had not forgotten. According to the Toledo Blade, Eileen's father raised the issue at dinner one day with an off-duty police officer, Sergeant Mike Mcgee. In ordinary circumstances, they'd never have crossed paths, but McGee's in-laws were in the habit of inviting the elderly from area nursing homes to join them; Eileen's father was one of them, and he took the opportunity to tell Mcgee the terrible story.

McGee alerted Lucas County cold case detectives, who'd recently received a considerable grant to investigate murders and sexual assaults, so they decided to re-open the case. They looked at evidence from the crime scene and managed to isolate DNA from semen found on the girl's underwear. They were also already aware of a potential suspect against whom to compare it.

Robert Baxter Bowman
Robert Baxter Bowman

In 1981, the former wife of Robert Baxter Bowman had alerted the police about her suspicions that he had been involved. The police spoke with him, but had no evidence against him, so he was released. In the interim, DNA analysis was discovered and utilized in solving cold cases, many of them as old as this one.

In September 2006, cold case investigators found Bowman's ex-wife and daughter in Florida, and since they had nothing of Bowman's from which to acquire a DNA sample, they used a reverse paternity test on the women to confirm the identification from the semen. Bowman's last known residence, they then learned, was Riverside, California.

If still alive, Bowman is now 70 years old, but his current whereabouts remain unknown. Charged with kidnap, rape, and aggravated murder, he is currently wanted by the Ohio police, and California agencies are participating in the search for him. His last contact with police in that state was in 2003, when he was investigated for two warrants. A Michigan woman who saw Bowman's photo in the news paper in relation to this story told police that he'd tried picking her up when she was a girl, so it's possible that he committed other crimes against children as well.

Bowman might be homeless and thus have no driver's license, employer or home address, but his implication in this case is beyond doubt. Police hope that someone will call in a tip that will facilitate finding the man. The Adams murder the second oldest case in Ohio to be solved with DNA analysis.


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