Starvation, Injury Cited as Causes of Girls' Deaths

Date: 2008-10-02

Starvation, Injury Cited as Causes of Girls' Deaths

More Tests Are Planned to ID Remains, Md. Official Says

October 2, 2008
By Matt Zapotosky, Aaron C. Davis and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers

The Calvert County woman who is being investigated in the death of her two adopted daughters found frozen in her home told police that one child died of starvation and the other died after apparently falling backward, two law enforcement sources said today.

Maryland's chief medical examiner said yesterday that an initial autopsy of the bodies of the two children failed to reveal how they were killed or even to confirm their identities.

David Fowler said that his office has completed physical examinations of the bodies but that further laboratory tests and detailed studies of tissue samples were necessary to help determine how the children died. Medical examiners interviewed by The Washington Post said the "pending" ruling on the cause of death probably means there were no obvious wounds or other trauma to the bodies.

Renee D. Bowman, 43, is being held in a cell by herself at the Calvert County Detention Center and seems to be unaware that she is under investigation in the deaths of two of her adopted children, according to a lawyer who said he has visited the 43-year-old mother in the jail.

"She appeared confused," said Jude Iweanuge, a District lawyer who represented Bowman during a personal injury case several years ago following a car accident. "What she needs now is some help. She is not the same person that I knew."

Iweanuge said that Bowman had "appeared normal and stable" when he represented her between 2003 and 2005. But during a 25-minute meeting with her last night, he said, her demeanor was totally different.

Bowman is currently being represented by a public defender, not Iweanuge. He said he met with Bowman in a room reserved for lawyer-client consultations in the facility.

Iweanuge said he considers Bowman to be "well protected." He said he does not know whether she has any relatives.

"I don't know what family she has," he said. "She was in the foster system as a child, and she is not married."

Calvert police have said Bowman told investigators that the bodies in the freezer are those of two of her three adopted daughters.

Although the victims in the freezer have not been formally identified, Calvert officers said they have no reason to doubt Bowman's statement. She is suspected of having killed the girls last year, when she lived in Montgomery County.

"We know there are two bodies in there, and it's the only logical explanation right now. But we have not confirmed that definitely," said Detective Sgt. Michael Moore of the Calvert sheriff's office.

Authorities are working with photographs of Bowman's daughters and are seeking family members or close friends to help confirm the victims' identities, said Lucille Baur, a spokesman for the Montgomery County police.

"This is an unusual case where all of these girls had limited exposure to the outside world," Baur said.

A caseworker with the Maryland Department of Human Resources visited Bowman's Charles County home in January after an anonymous caller reported an allegation of "child neglect," according to a statement released by the department today.

The allegation did not surface previously because Bowman was apparently using a fictitious name while she lived in Charles, the statement said. She moved to Calvert County in February.

During the visit, the caseworker found Bowman's home to be "clean and appropriately furnished," but noticed a "smell of mildew," the statement said. Bowman told the caseworker the smell was caused by a water leak in the basement, the statement said.

The caseworker also found dogs and cats in the house, and observed Bowman's daughter to be "of appropriate weight and good health," the statement said. The caseworker found no evidence of neglect.

Nancy C. Lineman, communications director for the department, declined to answer questions about the statement.

As detectives awaited further findings from the medical examiner, they continued to try to trace Bowman's movements from Montgomery to Charles County to Calvert. The children were apparently in the freezer when it was moved to each location. Investigators have found no record of school attendance in those counties for the children, who would be 9 and 11, or for their 7-year-old sister, who was found wandering a Calvert street last week.

In the four days since the bodies were discovered, the case has focused attention on D.C. child welfare services. The D.C. Child and Family Services Agency recommended Bowman as a suitable adoptive parent even though she filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001, the year she adopted one foster child, and had just emerged from it in 2004, when she adopted the other two. In addition, Bowman was convicted in 1999 of a misdemeanor charge of "threatening bodily harm" to a 72-year-old man in the District.

The private agency that performed the initial study of Bowman's application to become a foster parent, and eventually an adoptive parent, released a statement yesterday saying that its recommendations were reviewed by CFSA and Superior Court. The Baltimore-based agency, the Board of Child Care, has a $2.7 million contract to provide services to CFSA through Jan. 31.

The statement said Bowman met "all legal, financial, medical and emotional requirements in effect" at the time of her application and had been subjected to "an FBI background check" and other reviews. It did not say when the study was conducted, and President Thomas Curcio declined a request for an interview.

As an adoptive mother, Bowman received $2,400 a month, $800 for each of the three daughters, through a federal program that assists people who adopt foster children.

Bowman remains held without bond in Calvert on the child abuse and assault charges related to the 7-year-old, whose escape from their home last week prompted police to search the Lusby residence, where they found the freezer in the basement.

Referring to the "pending" ruling, Dimitri Contostavlos, a retired medical examiner from Delaware County, Pa., said: "You can rule out that they had been shot or stabbed to death and anything that would have had an obvious lethal wound. You would have to now consider something like a drowning, suffocation or poisoning."

Final autopsy reports probably will not be complete for at least six weeks, Fowler said.

Staff writers Hamil R. Harris, Petula Dvorak, Dan Morse and Nikita Stewart and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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