Bobby Jack Fowler (June 12, 1939 – May 15, 2006) was an American rapist and alleged serial killer 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).
Known crimes and modus operandi
Fowler was a transient construction worker who is known to have traveled 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 Washington state. During his travels he developed an extensive criminal record and is known to have committed several violent crimes. An alcohol, amphetamine, and methamphetamine abuser, Fowler had a criminal record that included attempted murder, sexual assault, and firearms offenses.
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 who were hitchhiking and hanging out 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 1996.
May 3, 1992 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 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 rope still tied to her ankle. She survived the attack and reported her tale to the local police.
On January 8, 1996, Fowler was convicted of kidnapping in the first degree, attempted rape in the first degree, sexual abuse in the first 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 presumed victims.
In May 2006, Fowler died at the age of 66 in Oregon State Penitentiary from lung cancer. His body was cremated.