Bobby Jack Fowler

Date Published 10.18.12

Lung cancer took Bobby Jack Fowler too soon.  Not that he was a prince of a guy --- to the contrary, he was a serial violent offender and killer whose criminal scope included aggravated assault, arson and multiple DUIs.  He was a speed freak whose mood darkened on a dime.


But Fowler’s views, in particular his blunt, astonishing rationalization for his violence against women, offered valuable insight into the cragginess of the criminal mind.  His death in 2006 at the Snake River Correctional Institute in Oregon means we’ll never know his response to news that broke last month: DNA links him to the murder of 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen, who was last seen in August 1974 hitchhiking south of Prince George, British Columbia.  Her body was found a month later off a logging road.  Investigators believe she was strangled.


In a complaint Fowler filed in Oregon court regarding his 1996 conviction for kidnapping, assault and attempted rape Fowler alleged that his civil rights had been violated because the kidnap charge hadn’t been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.  His argument provides a glimpse into the way his mind worked. 



Bobby Jack Fowler


The Oregon case:  In June 1995 Fowler and the 35-year-old victim met at a bar.  She agreed to join him for a trip to a nearby casino, and followed him back to his motel room to take a shower first.  Once they were alone Fowler conveyed to her his belief that women like to be raped.  When the woman balked, Fowler punched her repeatedly, ripped her clothes off, told her he was going to put her in the ocean, and tied a rope around her ankle.  The victim, believing she was about to die, bit him and leapt out a second floor window.  She survived.  Fowler got 16 years.


Fowler took issue with the kidnap charge.  From his complaint:


“The motel room of Mr. Fowler’s was certainly a place where one would expect to find (victim’s name) after she was seen drinking with him (TR105), talking with him (TR105) playing the poker machine with him (TR104) and seen leaving with him from the Anchor Bar (TR111).”


He omits the rope and punching details, presumably because they don’t bolster his case.  But it’s important to him that the court knows when the victim threw herself naked and screaming out the second-story window she was there of her own accord.  Fowler sought $3 million in compensation for the violation of his civil rights.  Needless to say, he lost.


Fowler apparently subscribed to the belief that girls or women he picked up hitchhiking or in bars were interested in being sexually assaulted.  Unfortunately, Fowler was a transient laborer who liked to drive long distances, pick up hitchhikers, and hang out in small town bars.  Who knows how many times he acted on his twisted beliefs, but my guess is somewhere between frequently and as often as possible.


Colleen MacMillen is one of 18 girls or women who either went missing or was murdered close to Highway 16 in British Columbia from 1969-2006, unsolved mysteries known as the Highway of Tears cases.  Fowler is a strong suspect in two other Highway of Tears cases, Pamela Darlington and Gale Weys.  Investigators say he’s been eliminated from 8 of the cases.


He’s now also the prime suspect in a pair of double homicides of teenage girls in the Newport, Oregon area in the 1990s.  Sheila Swanson and Melissa Sanders were camping with their families at Beverly Beach State Park in May 1992 when they disappeared.  The girls were last seen around 1 a.m. using a grocery store pay phone on Highway 101.  Hunters found their bodies in the woods several months later.  Three years after that Jennifer Esson and Kara Leas disappeared as they walked from a friend’s house toward Highway 101.  Loggers discovered their bodies several weeks later, piled on top of each other and covered in debris.  The girls were strangled.


A few months after the Esson and Leas murders Fowler was arrested for the kidnap and assault incident at the motel, in nearby Lincoln City.  He was working in construction in the area at the time.


Fowler appears to have the strongest ties to British Columbia, Texas, and Oregon.  But he also spent time in Iowa, where in 1983 he was arrested for arson in Van Buren County.


There’s at least one unsolved case in Iowa from that time that could be linked to Fowler.  Bambi Lynn Dick, 17, disappeared from Davenport in October 1983 after attending a concert.  She was declared a runaway, but when she turned 18 she was removed from the missing persons system.  Unbeknownst to her family a Jane Doe discovered on Oct. 8, 1983 in a ditch along Highway 287 in Amarillo, Texas was, in fact, Bambi Lynn Dick.  It wasn’t until 2009 that DNA confirmed a match, and Bambi’s family found out what happened to her.


Bambi Lynn Dick


The circumstances of Dick’s disappearance share similarities with Fowler’s other victims.  The Iowa to Texas connection --- two states he was known to live and work in around that time --- is compelling.  And, like Fowler’s other victims, Bambi was strangled.


Since the RCMP shared the news about the DNA match to MacMillen and asked the public for information about Fowler more than 300 people have come forward with tips.  Investigators still can’t account for a lot of Fowler’s history.  Establishing a timeline for him --- a predator on the move who viewed females in his line of vision as fair game --- will be crucial. 

(Additional research on this story by Melissa Mulchansingh)








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RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary:
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Know what he does believe in? PAC $. Took 10K from HRC pac 2006. That means he's in her pocket.#BSLogic
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Good one. Unfortunately Bernie on record as not believing in charity.
@johnlevenstein Thanks for asking, btw. That's the kind of elevated discourse missing lately. A lot of mud slinging. #I'mNotAboveItEither
@johnlevenstein Can't convey it all thru Twitter but yes, she has flaws. Too poll-driven, burned needed bridges, trouble owning mistakes.