Bobby Jack Fowler (June 12, 1939 – May 15, 2006) was an
American and a native of Texas serial killer and rapist active in
the United States and Canada. He died in prison of lung cancer
during a 16-year sentence following a conviction for rape,
kidnapping and attempted rape in Newport, Oregon, in 1996 (for an
attack that took place in 1995).
Fowler was a transient
construction worker who is known to have travelled extensively
across North America. He spent time "rabbiting around" North
America to such places as British Columbia, Florida, Iowa,
Louisiana, Texas, Oregon, South Carolina, Arizona, Tennessee and
During his travels he developed an extensive criminal record
and is known to have committed several violent crimes. An
alcoholic, amphetamine and methamphetamine user Fowler's criminal
record ranged from attempted murder and sexual assault to firearms
In 1969 he was charged with murdering a man and woman in Texas
but was only convicted of discharging a firearm within city
limits. Fowler also spent time in a Tennessee prison for sexual
assault and attempted murder because, in the words of an
investigator, "he tied [a woman] up, beat the hell out of her with
her own belt, covered her with brush and left her to die."
He liked to travel far and wide in beat up old cars, frequently
picked up hitchhikers and spent time in bars and motels. Fowler
believed that women he came into contact with hitchhiking and in
bars wanted to be sexually assaulted.
Fowler is a suspect or person of interest in at least 16
murders in British Columbia and Oregon dating as far back as 1969.
Highway of Tears
Fowler is a suspect in the Highway of Tears murders. His DNA
was found on the body of Colleen MacMillen, one of the presumed
victims. Fowler is also strongly suspected to have killed both
Gale Weys and Pamela Darlington in 1973. The RCMP believe that he
may have also killed as many as ten of the other victims, and
possibly as many as 20.
Potential Canadian victims include mostly First Nation girls
reported missing from Highway 16, a 724 km roadway dubbed the
'Highway of Tears' due to the high number of murders and
disappearances of young women beginning in the 1970s; however,
three of these murders occurred after Fowler's imprisonment in
May 3, 1992, just after midnight, around 1:00 a.m. Sheila
Swanson, 19 and Melissa Sanders, 17 were last seen making a call
from a payphone near the Beverly Beach State Park where they had
been camping. Their bodies were later discovered on October 10,
1992, by hunters in a wooded area near Eddyville, Oregon.
January 28, 1995 just after midnight, around 1:00 a.m. Jennifer
Esson, 16 and Kara Leas, 16 are last seen walking on NW 56th
Street in Newport, Oregon walking toward Highway 101 near Moolack
Beach after leaving a friends house. Their strangled bodies were
later discovered on February 15, 1995, by loggers in a wooded
area, covered up with brush.
Arrest and investigation
On June 28, 1995, Fowler was arrested following an incident
which involved a woman jumping out of a Tides Inn motel in
Newport, Oregon motel window with a still rope tied to her ankle.
She survived the attack and reported her harrowing tale to the
On January 8, 1996, Fowler was convicted of Kidnapping in the
1st Degree, Attempted Rape in the 1st Degree, Sexual Abuse in the
1st Degree, Coercion, Assault in the Fourth Degree, and Menacing.
He was sentenced to 195 months (16 years, 3 months) with the
possibility of parole.
On 25 September 2012 the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and
Lincoln County District Attorney Rob Bovett named Bobby Jack
Fowler as a suspect in three of the Highway of Tears murders. His
DNA was found on the body of Colleen MacMillen, one of the
In May 2006, Fowler died at the age of 66 in Oregon State
Penitentiary from lung cancer.
Bobby Jack Fowler, Suspect In 'Highway Of Tears' Killings,
Linked To Colleen MacMillen's Murder
By Jeremy Hainsworth -
September 25, 2012
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Canadian police
have linked a dead U.S. convict to the killing of a teenage girl
nearly 40 years ago, one of 18 young women who were killed or
vanished along three highways in British Columbia over several
decades. Oregon authorities are also investigating the man for
possible links to four murders in the U.S. state.
DNA tests linked Bobby Jack Fowler to the 1974
killing of 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen, who was last seen
leaving home to hitchhike to a friend's house, said Royal Canadian
Mounted Police Insp. Gary Shinkaruk. Her body was found on a
logging road. Police called it the oldest DNA match in Interpol's
Fowler, who died in prison in 2006, is a strong
suspect in two of the other Canadian cases and a person of
interest in seven others, but has been eliminated as a suspect in
the remaining eight, Shinkaruk said.
Fowler was convicted in 1996 of kidnapping,
assault, and the attempted rape of a woman he met at a bar in
Oregon. He died of lung cancer at 66 while serving a 16-year
sentence. A transient laborer with a long criminal record in the
U.S., Fowler had worked in Prince George, British Columbia in the
1970s. Police are seeking the public's help in finding out more
about Fowler's time in Canada, where he did not have a criminal
Canadian police announced in 2007 they were
conducting an extensive review into 13 deaths and five
disappearances connected to three highways in British Columbia.
The cases date from 1960 to 2006 and involve hitchhiking women who
were last seen within a mile (less than a kilometer) of the three
highways. One of those highways has become known as the "Highway
of Tears." It runs about 450 miles (722 kilometers) between Prince
George and Prince Rupert in British Columbia.
MacMillen's brother, Shawn, described her as
sweet and innocent and said he still had no words to express how
terribly she was wronged. He thanked investigators.
"We are simply stunned and very grateful for
their hard work," MacMillen said. "It has been a long wait for
answers, and although it is a somewhat unsatisfactory result
because this individual won't have to stand trial for what he did,
we are comforted by the fact that he was in prison when he died
and he can't hurt anyone else."
Shinkaruk said Fowler remains a strong suspect
in the killings of Gale Weys and Pamela Darlington, both 19. Weys
was last seen hitchhiking from Clearwater, British Columbia on
Oct. 16, 1973 and was found dead six months later. Darlington was
killed and found in a Kamloops, British Columbia park on Nov. 7,
1973. They have not ruled out Fowler in other murders.
RCMP Staff Sgt. Wayne Clary said they believe
no single killer is responsible for all the Canadian cases. Police
said they have very strong persons of interest in a few other
cases, but are not yet able to bring evidence forward.
Rob Bovett, the district attorney in Lincoln
County, Oregon, said Fowler is a person of interest in four
unsolved killings of teenage girls there in the 1980s and 1990s.
Two of the girls, Jennifer Esson and Kara Leas,
both 16, were last seen walking on a street in the coastal city of
Newport, Oregon, in 1995. Their bodies were found almost three
weeks later in a wooded area north of town.
"He's a suspect in our 1995 case. I haven't
linked him – he's a suspect," Bovett said. "What makes him a
suspect is his history, his M.O. and his location."
Investigators are working on getting new DNA
analysis for the double homicide, Bovett said. He also encouraged
anyone with information on the case to come forward.
He said Fowler is a "person of interest" in the
1992 deaths of Sheila Swanson, 19, and Melissa Sanders, 17. They
disappeared in May 1992 and their badly decomposed bodies were
discovered five months later in a wooded area near Eddyville.
Bovett said investigators may not be able to
get DNA evidence in that case.
Fowler was arrested in June 1995, five months
after Esson and Leas went missing. He was convicted of the
kidnapping and attempted rape of a woman who he met at a bar and
took to a Newport motel. She escaped by jumping – naked and with a
rope tied around her ankle – from a second-story window.
Canadian police said Fowler used drugs such as
speed and was often violent.
"He was of the belief that a lot of the women
he came in contact with, specifically women who hitchhiked and
women who went to taverns and drank, had a desire to be sexually
assaulted," Shinkaruk said.
Associated Press Writer Steven DuBois in
Portland, Oregon contributed to this report.
Bobby Jack Fowler