Man Said to Be Pittsburgh Suspect’s Father Killed Himself Amid 1979 Rape Case
PITTSBURGH — Forty years before Robert Bowers was accused of gunning down 11 people in an anti-Semitic rampage at the Tree of Life synagogue, the man believed to be his father was charged with raping a stranger and later committed suicide, according to court records unsealed on Friday.
The alleged attack was about a mile from where the synagogue massacre took place.
The court documents add a new shard in the fragmented, solitary life of Mr. Bowers, 46, who pleaded not guilty in the killings this week. The records were sealed by a judge on Thursday after a request from the Allegheny County district attorney’s office, but were then made public after The New York Times and other news media outlets petitioned a Pennsylvania court for their release.
Mr. Bowers would have been about 6 years old on the night in April 1979 when the police in Pittsburgh received a call reporting the sound of screaming and, according to records, found Randall G. Bowers sexually assaulting a woman in Squirrel Hill — the same neighborhood where the Tree of Life attack occurred last Saturday.
Public records, including a marriage license, indicate that Randall Bowers was the father of Robert Bowers. Relatives have declined to confirm the family relationship or discuss the family’s history.
According to 1979 news reports and court records, Randall Bowers, then 26, followed a 20-year-old woman out of a pizza shop in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood and then grabbed the steering wheel of her car and climbed inside as she tried to flee.
The woman drove about three miles to Squirrel Hill, where she parked near her sister’s home in an attempt to escape. Randall Bowers then threatened to kill her and sexually assaulted her, the court records said. The names of the victim and witnesses were blacked out from court papers released on Friday.
David Allman, a retired Pittsburgh police sergeant, said he was the officer who responded to the call with his partner and arrested Mr. Bowers. His memories of the arrest, now 39 years past, were still vivid, and he said he frequently tells the story.
“I kicked him off the girl,” Mr. Allman, 70, said in a phone interview.
Mr. Allman said he and his partner put Mr. Bowers in the back of their K-9 van and took him to the hospital to treat his injuries. Mr. Bowers was later released on a $4,500 bond, but did not show up for court in October 1979 and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
But before he could be arrested or go to trial, Mr. Bowers was found dead on Oct. 21, under a picnic table by Tionesta Dam, a popular camping spot two hours from Pittsburgh. He had a chest wound and there was a .22 caliber rifle nearby. Officials ruled his death a suicide.
The Forest County coroner, Norman J. Wimer, who reviewed the death report, said it described Mr. Bowers’s presumed mental state as “one of depression as indicated by antidepressant drugs found at scene.”
It went on: “Motivation: Depression as indicated and the belief that he was certain to get jail time for a crime in Pittsburgh with the belief that he would suffer personal injury or more in prison,” Mr. Wimer said.
It is unclear how the father’s arrest and suicide rippled through the family. A marriage license shows that Randall Bowers married Mr. Bowers’s mother in March 1972, but his mother appears to have filed for divorce the following year, according to a court docket reviewed by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Public records and interviews with neighbors indicate that Mr. Bowers spent some time living with his grandparents until his maternal grandfather’s death in 2014.
Mr. Allman, the arresting officer in the 1979 rape case, said he did not remember any mention of the younger Mr. Bowers, and had not realized the two men were connected until journalists began calling him on Friday. He worked several sexual assault cases during his career with the Pittsburgh police, but said the details of that night still stood out.
“All the pictures started rolling in my head,” he said.
Susan Beachy contributed reporting.
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