2 bodies found in freezer

Date: 2007-09-30

2 bodies found in freezer

Calvert Co. mother is held in deaths of adopted daughters, 9 and 11

September 30, 2008
Nicole Fuller

LUSBY: She walked barefoot along the gravel road, her pink nightshirt stained. The girl wore her hair in pigtails, each fastened with a pink barrette, her dark hair so matted it looked as if it were in dreadlocks.

Phillip Garrett, smoking a cigarette on his neighbor's front lawn in the Calvert County neighborhood, called out to the girl.

"My mother beats me. She just beats me to death," the 7-year-old, covered in bruises and cuts, responded, according to witnesses and police.

Those startling words Friday night set off an investigation by the Calvert County sheriff's office that resulted in a grim discovery Saturday at the girl's home - children's remains in a large freezer in the basement.

Renee D. Bowman, 43, a former Rockville resident and the adoptive mother of the girl and two others, was ordered held without bond yesterday on first- and second-degree child abuse charges.

Bowman admitted beating the girl found Friday night, saying she had "lost her temper" and hit the girl with a "hard-heeled shoe," according to Calvert County Detective Sgt. Michael Moore Jr.

Confronted later with the evidence of remains in the freezer, Bowman said she had stored the bodies of her two other adopted daughters in the freezer since she moved from Rockville in February to the rented, tan, single-story rambler in the 200 block of Buckskin Trail in Lusby, Calvert County sheriff's officials said. The case is being investigated as a homicide, Moore said.

"It's a tragedy," he said. "Children don't get to vote on where they come in this life. You would pray and hope the system would have helped them. All we can do is hope the system doesn't let down this little girl. She's a 7-year-old and has been brutally victimized.

"She has been put through hell."

The surviving girl has open sores and lesions on her buttocks and lower thighs, marks on her neck made by a cord, rope or other item and bruises on her hands and lips, police said.

Montgomery County police said they are awaiting a determination from the state medical examiner before any charges are filed. Because the remains were encased in a large block of ice, autopsies have not yet been performed. They are scheduled today at the state medical examiner's office in Baltimore.

Officials from the medical examiner's office did not return phone calls last night.

Calvert County authorities are also interviewing a man, whom they declined to identify. They said he had a relationship with Bowman and lived at the Lusby home "on and off." Moore described the man, whom he said was not the girl's father, as being "very cooperative." Moore declined to say whether the man was a suspect in the investigation.

Bowman, who adopted the three children in Washington, D.C., after serving as their foster mother, was receiving state benefits for the three girls, two of them biological sisters, according to Moore, who added that she did not have a job.

D.C. officials said at a news conference that Bowman adopted the oldest girl, who would be 11, in July 2001. Three years later, she adopted a girl who would now be 9 and her 7-year-old sister.

The surviving girl was being treated yesterday at a Washington hospital.

D.C. social services officials did not return several calls yesterday seeking comment.

Lt. Paul Starks, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Police Department, said that a preliminary investigation revealed Bowman may have lived in the Aspen Hill area before moving to Calvert County. Detectives are trying to put together a timeline of events and determine when the girls were last seen and whether they attended Montgomery County schools, authorities said.

Bowman's previous home on Vandalia Drive in Rockville was empty yesterday, its walls and floors bare. Like the other five houses on Vandalia Court, it's a one-story brick residence with a carport and shrubs in the small front yard.

Some of Bowman's former neighbors said they recall a man also living in the home and said the couple didn't socialize much.

"We would see them coming and going," said Shirley Kapp. "We never saw a child over there, but I understand there was."

A man who lives across the street recalled that the neighbors moved away in the middle of the night.

As the news media descended yesterday on the narrow street in rural Lusby where Bowman lived, several neighbors became emotional.

"I'm dumbfounded," said Chrissy Vaselaros-Stevenson, 33, who lives nearby. "I'm just trying to comprehend. It's heartbreaking. You think about young kids. How can you not feed your kids? How can you kill them?"

Neighbor Nancy Sears, 60, wept softly as she sat on her front patio. She could see the front yard of the Bowman home, surrounded by yellow police tape, with a police officer parked in the driveway. Sears said she had assumed that just a man and a woman lived there. She said the woman frequently was outside with two dogs: a black Doberman pincher and another, brownish in color. Last week, the man was outside mowing the lawn.

"I never, ever, ever - the whole time - saw any children," Sears said. "No kids' toys outside."

Garrett, who discovered the girl walking on the gravel road Friday, called 911 just before 5 p.m.

"She was very brave," Garrett said. "She definitely looked like she had been through a lot."

According to Garrett, the girl told him her mother had "locked her out" and she had spent the night outdoors. Police said the girl had been locked in her bedroom and jumped from the window to escape.

Garrett, 21, a fashion designer who lives with his parents, said he embraced the girl, while she stood limp. She did not cry and said she had not eaten for days. When Garrett offered to order a pizza, she made a request: pepperoni and ham.

As police arrived and began talking to the girl, she said she attended school, though authorities said yesterday that she did not appear to be enrolled in school. She repeatedly asked about the couple she referred to as her mother and father.

"She kept asking, 'Is my mother going to be arrested?'"

Alternately, she expressed love for the man she called her father, according to Garrett.

"She was very protective of her 'father,'" Garrett said. "He was the only one that cared. He was the one that took care of her."

Of her two sisters, Garrett said, "She said her siblings had been beaten to death and one day, they just didn't come back."

Renee Bowman arrived at the sheriff's office late Friday night, looking for her daughter. By 2:30 a.m. Saturday, police had executed a search warrant at her home, which had four cats and a dog.

Officers opened the large freezer in the basement and found partial human remains. They later executed a second search warrant, and about a half-dozen investigators hauled the freezer away Saturday.

"It's just crazy," said Sears, the neighbor. "I just thank God that she got away."

Baltimore Sun reporters Brent Jones and Joe Burris and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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