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Hank Earl Carr kept in arms through private gun sales

By LARRY DOUGHERTY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 12, 1998


TAMPA -- More than two dozen guns have been linked to Hank Earl Carr by Tampa police trying to determine what role Carr's girlfriend played in their ownership.

Carr, who gunned down two detectives and a state trooper before taking his own life May 19, was able to obtain the guns despite a lengthy criminal record.

He often bought them from private sellers and avoided having to undergo a background check.

"A large number of weapons have been traced to him," police Lt. Jane Castor said.

Castor wouldn't say Thursday how many guns Carr possessed the day of this death, or provide details on how he claimed to have obtained the guns.

One of those guns, an SKS assault rifle, had been stolen from a home in Ybor City four days before the killings. It was a shot from that rifle that killed the 4-year-old son of Carr's girlfriend, touching off the deadly rampage May 19.

Carr's girlfriend, Bernice Bowen, 24, is in jail on child abuse charges while federal authorities investigate her for possible firearms violations.

At issue is Bowen's participation in Carr's ownership of the guns.

After killing the officers, Carr was cornered in a gas station by police. He placed several telephone calls before committing suicide. In one of those conversations, which was taped by police, he referred to a second SKS rifle, the one he later used to shoot the trooper, as belonging to Bowen.

". . . They took your SKS, but I got it back," Carr said to Bowen. "I pulled it out of the cop's trunk. But you won't get it back no more 'cause it's been involved in a homicide with a police officer."

That SKS was sold to Carr a year ago by a fellow day laborer Carr met while working at a Tampa moving company, The Tampa Tribune reported. Such person-to-person sales do not require the criminal background check that registered dealers must perform.

The investigation into the weapons is difficult because of the scant or non-existent paperwork left behind by private gun sales, Castor said.

It's much harder than tracing automobiles transfers, which are recorded in state-maintained registration records, Castor said. Moreover, both Carr and Bowen were known to have used false identification, Castor said.

In one of the taped telephone calls before his suicide, Carr declared, "I bought most of my guns from law enforcement."

Yet there is no indication he did. Steve Cole, spokesman for Tampa police, said Thursday he wasn't aware of that comment by Carr.

In addition to the child abuse and firearms charges, police are investigating whether Bowen contributed to the deaths of the police officers by failing to alert them of Carr's violent past.

Carr had used an assumed name the day of his arrest, so detectives who took him into custody were unaware of his criminal past.
-- Times staff writers Geoff Dougherty and Jeffrey Gettleman contributed to this report.


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