No Peace For Mother Of Scout Killed In 1970

Posted: December 09, 1991

She swore it wouldn't get to her. Not at the holidays. Not this year.

Yet there was Mary Bowers, chain-smoking Benson & Hedgeses, drafting another letter to Unsolved Mysteries, dwelling on thoughts of psychics, private eyes and tangled theories and sagging under the weight of enduring uncertainty.

It's like that when a child is brutally murdered and the case goes unsolved for 21 years.

"I'll walk away from pity. I lived on it for a long time and I nearly choked on it," said Bowers, a resident of Darby Borough, whose 11-year-old son, Terry, was stabbed to death in 1970 during a Chester County Boy Scout campout.

Two summers ago, Bowers, a gently graying, green-eyed woman who works as a secretary at the Cigna Insurance Co., focused anew on the facts of her son's murder. She had learned through a newspaper story that 25 state troopers - including one assigned to Terry's death - had received special training at the FBI Academy in Virginia in how to solve old cases. "Scout's murder case

from 1970 due for review," the headline read.

"For years I was dormant, afraid to do anything. All I wanted was for my children to be healthy and to be left alone," said Bowers, 55, the widowed mother of five grown children. "Now I want to find out all I can."

Although the Embreeville trooper assigned to the investigation was quoted as saying the evidence "gives good cause for review," he declined a recent series of requests to discuss the status of the Bowers case.

"There's not a damned thing being done as far as I know," said Mary Bowers, who has tried - unsuccessfully, she said - to learn what authorities have done to investigate at least two theories of the case.

The camping trip - on the grounds of St. Basil the Great Roman Catholic Church near the intersection of Route 113 and Kimberton Road in East Pikeland - was supposed to be a routine outing, a chance for tow-headed Terry and 20 Boy Scout troopmates to earn merit badges under the stars.

Around midnight, Terry and four friends unrolled sleeping bags near a campfire at the foot of a grassy slope. Other Scouts from Terry's parish, as well as nine older boys and adult leaders, slept in tents nearby. A Scout remembered seeing Terry sitting up by himself near the campfire about 2 a.m. When someone tried to wake him at 7:30, he was face down, half out of his bedroll, soaked in blood from head to waist. A doctor pronounced him dead on arrival at Phoenixville Hospital. A coroner concluded he had been stabbed four times through the fabric of his green sleeping bag. There was no evidence of sexual assault.

The local fire company drained a pond at the campsite to search for clues. The Valley Forge Council of Boy Scouts set up a hotline and posted a $5,000 reward for information. Twenty-six state troopers spent a total of 6,200 hours on the case in the first year alone.

Nothing helped. After extensive interviews, lie-detector tests and forensic analysis of more than 20 pocket knives, investigators had no murder weapon, no motive and only one witness who saw or heard anything suspicious. A passing motorist remembered seeing two males in their early 20s within 100 feet of the campsite. The motorist also saw a dark-colored car parked on Route 113 around

dawn.

Attorney Daniel B. Michie Jr., a former chairman of the Philadelphia Crime

Commission and board member of the Valley Forge Council of Scouts, recalled recently that the hotline produced no leads. "We became pretty well convinced that it could have been some itinerant," Michie said.

To this day, the murder of Terrence Joseph Bowers Jr. is a complete mystery. The reward for information remains in effect.

One theory about who killed Terry Bowers comes from clients of John Duffy, a well-known criminal defense lawyer in West Chester, and a second cousin of the dead boy.

Over the years, Duffy said, people from the mean streets of nearby Phoenixville have pointed the finger at a Chester County man who has been arrested for various crimes, but never for murder.

In 1981, after a Duffy client spoke to investigators, police interviewed an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Dallas. The inmate claimed to have been present when a man who said he was Terry Bowers' killer burned bloody clothing on the morning after the boy was killed.

Another Duffy client gave a statement to the Chester County District Attorney's Office last year, implicating the same Chester County man in the death. Citing office policy, First Assistant District Attorney Joseph W. Carroll 3d declined comment.

Duffy believes the police have not moved against anyone because a premature arrest and trial could let the alleged killer off the hook forever because of the rule against double jeopardy, he said.

Mary Bowers has her own theory. It hinges on a claim by a man who looked a lot like Terry and was his boyhood friend, she said.

The man, who is 32 and has a history of hospitalizations for mental illness and drug abuse, told her in 1987 that he believed Terry was murdered by mistake. He suspected a former Darby Borough man who had molested him, but not Terry, as a child, he said.

According to this tangled theory of the case, the alleged molester wanted to silence the boy by killing him or having him killed. The boy was scheduled to go on the scouting trip but backed out at the last minute, said Bowers. His lookalike, Terry, was killed instead.

A trooper at the Belmont barracks said he took a statement from the man and forwarded it to the Embreeville trooper in charge of the case. No one will say whether the statement has been investigated further. A reporter's phone messages for the 32-year-old man, left at his mother's home, were not returned.

Mary Bowers knows this theory is far-fetched. She knows the credibility of a man who has been hospitalized for serious psychological problems may not be the best. Still, she wonders if his emotional problems stem from guilty knowledge. And she tells herself that even a deranged man can tell the truth.

"His memory could be faulty just like anyone else's. His observations and impressions could be faulty," said Jon J. Auritt, a Media lawyer who has represented the man on other matters. "It's my belief that (he) has never tried to fabricate."

Experts say as many as 40 percent of homicides involving children are never solved. Time may heal all wounds, but it generally is not on an investigator's side.

"Of quite a few thousand cases I know of personally, not one was solved after 20 years," said Nancy Ruhe, executive director of Parents of Murdered Children, a national support group of 30,000 members. "For the parent there is always the thing that the killer is still out there."

The first few years after Terry's death were awful, recalled Bowers. The stress, she believes, caused her husband's early death of a heart attack at 47.

It wasn't until many years later that she found some peace through Compassionate Friends, an organization for parents of deceased children, and

Families of Murder Victims, a Philadelphia group founded in 1980 by Frank and Deborah Spungen of Bala Cynwyd, whose 20-year-old daughter Nancy was stabbed to death by the late punk rocker Sid Vicious inside New York's Chelsea Hotel.

"People like Mary can find some peace in the knowledge that closure for them may mean living the rest of their lives not knowing," explained Deborah Spungen. "That doesn't mean there isn't a little door inside them that flies open" from time to time.

"Your close relatives don't want you to be hurt again. So they say, 'Put it in God's hands,' " said Mary Bowers. "Well, I put it in God's hands, and he just kept handing it back to me."

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