Real Name: Jerry Lee Bowen
Aliases: None Known
Wanted For: Murder
Missing Since: June 2000
Details: Brenda Breckenridge, forty-seven, and Jerry Bowen, fifty, had been married for nineteen years and had two children. However, in 1995, Jerry had an affair and the two divorced. With the help of a divorce attorney, the two separated on good terms. Brenda ended up with their home and real estate in rural Alabama, while Jerry received an apartment just a hundred feet from their main home. He also gave her the bulk of the couple's assets.
On January 28, 1997, two years after the divorce, Brenda mysteriously vanished from her home. Two friends came to check on her after she failed to show up for a prayer meeting earlier that morning. Her clothes were laid out on the bed, as if she was about to change into it after taking a shower. Her jewelry was also laid out on a dresser. Finally, her curling iron was on in the bathroom.
As investigators searched the Bowen home, one of them talked to Jerry. The detective hoped that Brenda was "on a beach somewhere" and would turn up alive. However, Jerry immediately said that he was wrong and that Brenda was dead. When the detective asked him where he thought they could find Brenda, he said that she would be found in the "water somewhere."
That same night, her car was found abandoned in a wooded area forty-three miles away. Her purse, cell phone, and checkbooks were there. This made robbery an unlikely motive. Investigators felt that the car was placed there to throw them off. They also felt that it was suspicious that the car seat was pushed all the way back. Brenda was only 5'2", and according to her son, always kept the seat near the steering wheel.
Her ex-husband Jerry acted suspiciously after her disappearance and appeared at the site where her car was found. Despite the fact that he knew his ex-wife's car, he asked investigators if that was "the car that belonged to the woman that was missing." He was brought in for questioning by police. He showed no concern for her whereabouts and actually fell asleep. He also repeatedly referred to her in the past tense. Without a body or enough evidence against him, he was released.
Two months after she vanished, Brenda's body was recovered from the Coosa River. Authorities were unable to determine if Brenda died of suffocation or from drowning because her body was so badly decomposed. Jerry Bowen became the prime suspect in her death. The killer wrapped Brenda's body in bed sheets that matched the ones in her house. Her body was bound by rope with a bowline and slip knots, which were favorite knot types of Jerry. His son said that he always used that combination of knots. The rope ends were deliberately burnt. According to his son, Jerry always did this when he cut nylon rope.
According to Brenda's father, James Breckenridge, Jerry was in financial trouble. Brenda told her parents shortly before her murder that Jerry had come to her, saying that he was in trouble and that they needed to get back together. She told him that she needed to think about it. Jerry had allegedly threatened to take her back to court. This occurred just four days before she vanished.
Eventually, Jerry Lee Bowen was arrested and charged with Brenda's murder. Almost all of the evidence was circumstantial, except for the fact that he could not account for his whereabouts prior to 9:30AM on the morning of her disappearance. Twenty-nine witnesses testified against him at his trial. The evidence was enough to convince a jury of Bowen's guilt and he was convicted of his ex-wife's murder in April 2000.
While awaiting sentencing, he was released on bond. In June, just days before he would be sentenced, Bowen vanished. Local police and the FBI searched through Bowen's dwellings and found shocking Internet activity that involved violence against women. In a six month period, he had visited over 5000 websites about violence towards women, hard-core pornography, and cannibalism. Bowen is on the FBI's most wanted list and is considered extremely dangerous.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the July 19, 2001 episode. This case was also covered on America's Most Wanted and I (Almost) Got Away With It.
Results: Captured. In December of 2004, an Unsolved Mysteries viewer recognized Bowen as a man she knew as "Steven Starbuck." Despite denying his identity, his fingerprints were checked and matched. He was arrested at his home in North Charleston, South Carolina. He admitted to purposely altering his fingerprints with acid. He was returned to Alabama and given a life sentence for Brenda's murder. In 2005, he was convicted of identity theft. He will be eligible for parole in December of 2019.
Sadly, Brenda's parents, James and Joyce, have both since passed away.
- Jerry Bowen on Unsolved Archive
- Jerry Bowen on AMW Archive
- Convicted murderer from Alabama arrested in South Carolina
- False identities helped fugitive flee for 4 years
- Life sentence awaits man who fled in 2000
- Convicted murderer, fugitive awaits federal flight charges
- S.C. charges killer with identity theft
- Jerry Bowen Inmate Profile