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Bernice Bowden could face more charges. [Times file photo]

Anger over rampage zeroes in on Bowen


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 30, 1998

TAMPA -- Her boyfriend's suicide has left Bernice Bowen the surviving target for a community's rage over the death of her 4-year-old son and the murders of three law enforcement officers.

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She sits in the Hillsborough County Jail, abandoned by friends, despised by grieving widows and under scrutiny by state and federal investigators who say they want justice, not vengeance.

Even the Public Defender's Office on Friday refused to represent her.

"The office has raised a lot of money for police officers," said Joe Registrato, chief assistant public defender, explaining the conflict that made them decline to defend Bowen on felony child abuse charges. "About half the office marched downtown and left a card (at the police memorial)."

As the case against Bowen builds, more conflicting images emerged Friday of the woman who failed to tell detectives Ricky Childers and Randy Bell that her boyfriend, Hank Earl Carr, was a dangerous felon with a handcuff key around his neck and a desperate need to avoid arrest.

While under investigation for the fatal shooting of Bowen's son, Joey Bennett, Carr slipped out of his handcuffs, shot both detectives, then fled in a stolen car and murdered a state trooper who tried to catch him.

Police said Bowen, 24, could have prevented the rampage, and she could face additional charges. She is being held without bail because she is considered a risk to leave the area.

Family members say Bowen was herself a victim, sexually abused as a child and helpless as an adult to avoid abusive relationships. A neighbor told the Times last week about how Bowen rejected an offer to find a safe home and escape her abusive relationship with Carr.

In a letter to the Times, Bowen expressed remorse for the murders of Childers, Bell and Trooper James Crooks and contended she was unaware of Carr's background.

Yet a 20-year-old man who knew Bowen said he told Tampa police investigators Friday that she was Hank Earl Carr's willing accomplice. Steve Adams said she recently told him: "If the cops come for my man, I'll be right behind him, shooting away, and we'll both go down in a blaze of glory."

Adams, who let Bowen stay with him after the shootings, said that after Carr killed himself inside a Hernando County Shell gas station, he heard her say she wasn't sorry for the deaths. She wished her boyfriend had shot out the gas tanks and killed even more police officers, Adams said.

"I can't defend her," said Mabel Bexley, executive director of The Spring of Tampa Bay, a shelter for victims of domestic violence. Her organization urges women to leave abusive homes. "She was kind of a hard-luck youngster. I can explain it. I can't think of one way to excuse it."

State Attorney Harry Lee Coe would not comment Friday on other charges against Bowen but said he is confident the system will protect her from vengeful prosecution.

A day after a police affidavit said Bowen had pawned and reclaimed a number of firearms, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms confirmed Friday it is scrutinizing Bowen's activities.

"We do have an open investigation, and we have been tracing firearms in it," said special agent Joe Magro. The ATF is the federal agency that investigates violations of federal gun laws regarding weapon sales and registration. Magro would not provide details of the investigation.

Steve Adams said Tampa police on Friday came to his home, where Bowen had left some of her belongings, and seized several receipts for guns pawned by Bowen at Value Pawn on Nebraska Avenue.

Company spokesman David Johns said he could not say whether police had collected the pawned items from the store. Adams also said police seized family album photographs of Bowen posing with a gun.

Meanwhile, Tampa police said Friday they determined that if Hank Carr had lived, he would have been charged with manslaughter for the death of Joey Bennett. Funeral services will be held for the child at 1 p.m. Monday in Ohio, where the family lived before moving to Tampa.

Before her arrest, Bowen told a Times reporter she did not intend to travel to Ohio for the funeral. She was taking an American Indian "dream-catcher" to a Tampa funeral home Thursday afternoon when police arrested her. The talisman, a small hoop that was woven with white feathers and blue beads, is believed to ward off bad dreams. As her last act as Joey Bennett's mother, Bowen planned to place the object in her 4-year-old son's coffin before it was shipped to Ohio.

"So he won't have any more nightmares," she told her sister, Rose Hayes.
-- Staff Writer Larry Dougherty and researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

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