By THOMAS FRENCH
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 28, 1999
Nearly 22 years ago, Margaret Elizabeth Bowman was murdered in her sleep. During the early hours of Jan. 15, 1978, a man slipped into Margaret's room in the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University and beat her to death. Before he left, the man killed another sorority sister, Lisa Levy, and seriously wounded two more.
Margaret did not know the person who killed her. He meant nothing to her, and he had nothing to do with any moment of her 21-year-old life except its last few seconds. He was, in fact, nothing. A hole in the air. A walking negation of all that matters.
Yet because he killed many women before he was caught and convicted and executed, he went on to become famous. Books have been written about him. Movies have been made about him or based on him. TV shows documenting evil still trumpet his name.
He is not the one whose name should be remembered. Remember, instead, the names he tried to erase.
She was never called Peggy or Maggie. From first grade on, she insisted on going by Margaret. She was slender and tall. She had her father's light brown eyes and her mother's delicate nose. As a little girl, she would sit in her father's lap and listen to him read Peter Rabbit, and if he stopped in midsentence, she would recite the rest from memory. Reading was always a part of her. At age 10, when her grandparents gave her a copy of The Secret Garden, she disappeared inside it, wandering its pages over and over.
Her family moved around when she was young, but she lived in St. Petersburg from the time she was a teenager until she left for college. She used to play chess with her younger brother, Jackson. At St. Petersburg High, she was in the French club and on the tennis team. At FSU, she joined the Chi Omega sorority because her grandmother, also named Margaret, had pledged there. She studied art history and classical civilizations. That January of 1978, she was learning to sew. At the time of her death, she was working on a green velveteen dress.
If she were alive today, Margaret would be almost 43. Her parents, Jack and Runelle Bowman, think she would be working in a museum, doing something involving art or archaeology. She would probably be married and have children of her own.
Twelve years ago, the Bowmans donated a cross in Margaret's name to St. Thomas' Episcopal Church in St. Petersburg, where their daughter once prayed. Hanging behind the altar, the cross shows Jesus rising from the dead, his hands no longer nailed and bleeding, but free and outstretched as he ascends toward heaven.
Runelle says God has blessed her with "a non-feeling" about the man who took Margaret. She does not hate him. She does not think about him at all. Instead she goes to church every Sunday and looks at the cross and remembers her daughter.
Go to St. Thomas' yourself. Kneel in the pews, and sing the hymns, and gaze up at the altar, and think about Margaret. Think about her eyes, the girl who curled into her father's lap, the green dress she never finished. When the service ends, walk back into the world and into the rest of your life. Do another load of laundry, make some lunch, read a book to your children. Keep Margaret safe inside you.
Thomas French is a Times staff writer.