Police are looking for leads in the cold-case homicide of a Salt Lake City woman whose body recently was identified, 30 years after being found in an Ohio reservoir.
Officers in Columbus reopened the case in December to find forensic records that were requested in an unrelated missing-person case in Kentucky, said Columbus Police Det. Kathie Justice. But when police ran a database check on a partial fingerprint taken from the body found in 1983, they instead found a match for Sharon Rae Bowen, a woman who disappeared from Salt Lake City in 1982.
Bowen was 28 and living at a Salt Lake City rehab facility on Dec. 16, 1982, when she left for what she said was a trip to the mall, Justice said. Bowen never returned and was reported missing.
Her body was found seven months later by fishermen at a reservoir in Blendon Township, Ohio, but police then could not identify the victim. They found only that she had been strangled a few days earlier. An Ohio funeral home and cemetery volunteered to bury her in 1984, and in 1998 students from four Catholic high schools raised money for a headstone identifying her as "Mary Rose Doe."
"They took such good care of Sharon," said Bowen’s sister, Marcia Bateman, who lives in Syracuse. "The community just rallied around her. They kept hoping that somebody would come and find her."
Investigators checked the victim’s fingerprints again in 1995 — still before the advanced databases used today — but no match was found.
Meanwhile, Bowen’s family had no idea where she was. Bowen had a child in the 1970s, but lost custody of him in a divorce, Bateman said Friday. Bowen moved back in with her parents for awhile to emotionally recover; Bateman said she last saw her sister in the summer of 1980.
"She was just trying to soul search, to find herself," Bateman said.
A brother in California hosted Bowen for a couple of weeks and offered to fly her back to her parents’ home, but instead Bowen asked to be taken to the highway to hitchhike away.
The family received news about her only once more before she disappeared for good; they received a call from a Texas hospital alerting them that Bowen had been stabbed in the abdomen, Bateman said. The parents invited her home, but she refused. Bateman said she has no record of when or where in Texas the stabbing occurred, and their parents have since died. Investigators do not know if the stabbing was in any way connected to her later strangulation.
Bateman said she did not even know Bowen was living in a rehab center in 1982. As years passed, Bateman assumed her sister still was alive but was avoiding her family. She twice paid for a private search service, but no results were found.
When Bowen’s son got married, Bateman scanned the crowd for the mother of the groom.
"I kept thinking, ‘Sharon is going to show up. She’ll show up,’ " Bateman said. "But she didn’t, and now we know why."
When police in Columbus called Bateman on Thursday to confirm the body found 30 years ago in a reservoir was Bowen’s, Bateman said, "Instantly my heart just broke. Not only have I lost a sister, but someone took her from us. Someone is out there that needs to be prosecuted."
Justice is asking for tips from anyone who remembers seeing Bowen or knows anything about what happened to her — particularly from December 1982 to July 1983.
"We don’t know where she was for those seven and a half months," Justice said.
Anyone with information may email Justice at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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