Do you remember Bobby Jack Fowler? He worked construction on the Oregon coast in the 1990’s. He did roofing. He frequented bars. He may have been a serial killer.
If you knew or ever even met Bobby Jack Fowler, the Lincoln County DA’s office would like to talk to you. You may be able to help them fill in the timeline that they are constructing of Fowler’s whereabouts, in relation to unsolved murders.
At a press conference earlier this week, the Lincoln County DA Rob Bovett named Bobby Jack Fowler, who died in an Oregon prison in 2006, as the lead suspect in the 1995 murders of Jennifer Esson, 15, and Kara Leas, 16. Esson and Leas were last seen alive in Newport on January 28, 1995. Their bodies were found two weeks later in an area of dense brush north of town.
Circumstantial evidence links Fowler to Esson and Leas’ deaths. Fowler was in the area both before and after the girls went missing. He is also considered a person of interest in the 1992 murders of Sheila Swanson, 19, and Melissa Sanders, 17, both of Sweet Home. They disappeared May 3, 1992, after leaving a Beverly Beach campground in Lincoln County. Their bodies were discovered five months later, in thick brush off of a logging road near Eddyville.
There was one victim who escaped from Fowler and testified against him, which led to his imprisonment from 1996 to 2006, when he died of lung cancer in prison. In June of 1995, five months after the murders of Esson and Leas, Bobby Jack Fowler lured a woman to his motel room at the Tides Inn, in Newport. There he punched her and slapped her and told her he was going to rape her and ‘put her in the ocean,’ according to court documents. He told her that he believed that women wanted to be raped.
Naked and bleeding, with a rope tied to her leg, the victim jumped from a second story window and escaped.
The police arrested Fowler shortly thereafter. He was convicted of kidnapping, attempted rape and sexual abuse, and sentenced to serve a 16-year sentence in the Snake River Correctional Institute, where he died.
The Lincoln County announcement follows a discovery by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that Bobby Jack Fowler killed 16 year-old Colleen MacMillan in 1974. MacMillan was last seen on B.C. Hwy 97, where she was hitchhiking to visit a friend. Her body was found on a logging road 29 miles away. DNA linked Fowler to MacMillan’s death. Canadian police called it the oldest DNA match in Interpol's history.
Fowler is a strong suspect in two other Canadian cases and a person of interest in seven more, dating as far back as 1969.
The DNA in the Canadian murder case is damning; the evidence in the Lincoln County cases is circumstantial at this point, but investigators recently submitted DNA evidence for testing; they are reanalyzing cold cases with new investigative tools.
Authorities are hoping that people will come forward with information about Bobby Jack Fowler. He worked in the construction trades as a laborer and a roofer. He was mobile, working all over the country and in Canada, which means that he could have victims all over North America. But he worked in Oregon in the 1990’s, and odds are, there are people who remember him.
In an interview with the Oregonian, Lincoln County DA Rob Bovett said, “I want people to talk to me about Bobby Jack Fowler and what they know about him and their time with him in Lincoln County. It can place him in certain locations at certain times. That’s really critical. It may not mean anything to you, but it could be vitally important to us.” Tip line: 541-265-0271.
Lincoln County District Attorney’s Office Investigator Ron Benson indicated this week that Fowler is considered a person of interest in at least three more cold cases in Oregon, which he did not name.
Considering the timeline of Fowler’s known crimes, from the murder of Colleen MacMillan in Canada in 1974, to attempted rape/kidnapping/sexual assault in Newport in 1995, the possibilities for the twenty-one year gap are chilling. Investigators all over the U.S. and Canada are working to connect Fowler to unsolved murders during those years.
The unsolved Tillamook County case that falls within that timeline is the murder of Tammy Albertson, 16, last seen alive at a phone booth at the Mohler grocery store on Hwy 53 on March 22, 1992.
Ron Benson is putting together a timeline of Fowler’s know whereabouts, which enables investigators to narrow the field of possible victims. For instance, there were periods when Fowler was incarcerated, and couldn’t have committed certain crimes. But regarding Tammy Albertson, Benson said,
“We don’t know where he was in March of 1992, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t here. It’s a possibility.” Benson is looking at Fowler for the May 1992 abductions of Swanson and Sanders, just two months after Tammy Albertson disappeared.
“We can’t exclude him without more information,” said Benson, referring to forensic information, such as the condition in which Tammy Albertson’s body was found. Criminals will often repeat whatever patterns of behavior have worked for them in the past, and those repeated behaviors will show up as clues in crime scenes.
“How she was found, if it fits,” said Benson, “that’s where it all comes together.”
Oregon State Police (OSP) Detective Michelle Brewer works on cold cases in Tillamook County, and Tammy Albertson’s file is on her desk. She and Sheriff Andy Long discussed it recently, and talked about asking retired Sheriff’s Office investigators who worked on the case when it happened 20 years ago to come in and discuss it with them.
Tammy Albertson’s remains were found in God’s Valley, in a logged area, a year after her disappearance. Brewer said, “Because it was a year out, there was no evidence from the scene, no DNA. Her bones were scattered, it was a partial skeleton, there was just enough to tell us that it was her.”
Brewer said “We can’t include or exclude Bobby Jack Fowler at this time. We don’t have anything that connects him, and we don’t have any DNA. But anything is possible.”
Brewer concluded, “Somebody coming forward would be our best new evidence.”
The Lincoln County tip line for information about Bobby Jack Fowler: 541-265-0271.
OPS Detective Michelle Brewer for information about Tammy Albertson: 503-815-3320 or firstname.lastname@example.org.