Galveston man's DNA linked to several unsolved murders in Northwest

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by Michelle Homer / KHOU.com

khou.com

Posted on September 25, 2012 at 3:35 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 26 at 9:14 AM

NEWPORT, Oregon—A former Galveston resident may have killed more than a dozen young women in the Northwest, according to authorities.

Canadian authorities believe he's the serial killer they've been hunting for more than four decades.

Bobby Jack Fowler died of lung cancer in an Oregon prison six years ago.

Fowler was arrested for kidnapping and raping a woman at a Newport, Oregon motel. The victim escaped by jumping from a second-story window, unclothed and with a rope tied around her ankle.

Fowler was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

In January of 1995, Jennifer Esson and Kara Leas, both teenagers, vanished on a Newport road. Loggers found their bodies several weeks later. The cold case was reopened in 2009 and DNA tests linked Fowler to the murders.

He’s also been named as a person of interest in the 1992 murders of Melissa Sanders, 17, and Sheila Swanson, 19. They disappeared during a camping trip near Newport. Their bodies were found months later, but the case was never solved.

Authorities in British Columbia confirmed Tuesday that Fowler’s DNA has now been linked to at least one of the infamous "Highway of Tears" murders that have haunted the Vancouver area for years.

The remains of 18 young women were found along three Vancouver-area highways between 1969 and 2006.

One of the victims, 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen, was killed in 1974. She disappeared while hitchhiking to a friend’s house. At the time, Fowler was working as a roofer in the area.

"We are simply stunned and very grateful for their hard work," Shawn MacMillen, the victim’s brother, said at Tuesday’s news conference.

Other evidence has connected Fowler to two more unsolved cases from 1973.

He has been eliminated as a suspect in eight of the Highway of Tears cases, but the investigation continues into the others.

Authorities say Fowler was a transient who traveled between the U.S. and Canada, working odd jobs.

"He stayed and lived in motels or rented, and liked old cars that he drove until they quit," police said Tuesday. "He frequented bars and restaurants and was violent toward men and women and picked up hitchhikers."

Investigators describe the "Highway of Tears" case as one of the most complicated in recent history.

"This is huge. This is tough. We have people who are deceased. We have witnesses who are deceased. We have people who we believe may be responsible who are deceased," one lead investigator said.

As many as 75 investigators have worked on the crimes through the years. They’ve looked at several suspects including Seattle serial killer Ted Bundy.

Fowler lived all over Texas -- including Galveston, High Island, Bolvar Peninsula and Gilchrist -- most recently in the late 80s and early 90s. Police in British Columbia are asking anyone who knew him to come forward to help them trace his whereabouts.

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