Please note that this, and all episodes of Thrice Cursed have been adapted from their original spoken form to text by myself, and some additional ad-libbed content may have been omitted. All content within is the sole property of Thrice Cursed Podcast. Please don't plagiarize. Plagiarism sucks.
Hello. I’m Rebekkah Rosewood, and this is Thrice Cursed.
Last week, I (hopefully) lifted everyone’s spirits with a tale of criminals too obtuse to realize their crimes were cursed from the start. If I did, great! I’m about to ruin it with this week’s episode. So if you’re clinging to your last inkling of happiness, maybe put off listening to this episode until you’re in a better headspace because it is about to get ROUGH. I hope you will listen, because it’s an important one, and the topic is close to my heart. At the end of this episode you may even get a small glimpse of why I talk shit about the guy my birth certificate insists is my father. So, I know I put content warnings in the episode notes, and that there’s a general content warning at the beginning of every episode, but I’m going to just say right now, there is a giant content warning for child abuse. I don’t feel like I get too graphic for it, but I know this case puts me back in a pretty dark headspace and brings up some memories of not-so-great times for me. So, now that you’ve been adequately warned, here goes.
On September 26th, 2008, police in Lusby, Maryland were called to the home of Phillip Garrett in the 700 block of Buckskin Trail. A small 7-year-old girl had knocked on his door. She shall remain anonymous in this report, as she was a minor at the time, and deserves to have a life beyond the horrors I’m about to discuss. Therefore, I will call her Doe. She was wearing only a t-shirt, or nightgown depending on the report, stained with her own excrement and blood. While they awaited the arrival of police, Garrett ordered her a pizza. She told him that she hadn’t eaten for days, and requested pepperoni and ham.
Police arrived on scene, and while an officer ensured Doe was okay, deputies attempted to locate any adult at her home. None was present. Doe was taken to the Calvert Memorial Hospital for a check up. According to court documents, this check up revealed “extensive evidence of severe child abuse on the child, to include infected sores, open lesions, fresh and old injuries to her arms and legs.”
While in custody of the police, Doe informed them that her adoptive mother, Denise Renee Bowman, had beaten her with a belt, and a white hard-heeled shoe so badly that it was stained red with her blood. This was just before the woman locked her in her room, which served as her prison cell. Should she need to use the bathroom, she was provided with only a bucket. Fearing for her life, she jumped from her second floor bedroom window in an effort to escape what likely would have been her death upon Bowman’s return. A bare footprint was found in the mud beneath her window, which was approximately 10 feet above the ground.
While all of this sounds horrible enough, it only gets worse from here. Doe also informed police that she had two sisters. Both of these sisters were badly beaten before they simply disappeared. She feared that Bowman had killed them.
So where was Bowman during all of this? Well, after locking Doe in her room, she went off to Washington DC. What she was doing there remains unknown, but I do have a theory I’ll discuss a bit later. She arrived at the police station in the early hours of September 27th to claim Doe, and was promptly taken in to be interviewed.
Detectives quickly executed a search and seizure warrant at the home that same day. What they discovered there confirmed the fears of Doe, and weighed heavy on the hearts of the Calvert County detectives. In the basement sat a locked chest freezer. And as all of us who pay attention to true crime know, nothing good EVER comes from chest freezers. No, Sheila, I don’t CARE if it can fit an entire SUV-sized haul of microwave meals from Costco! Chest freezers never mean anything good. And in this case, it meant something horrific.
Within the chest freezer, detectives found a trash bag encased in ice, and in the shape of a human form. One detective managed to tear a section of the bag open, and revealed a human toe. It was at this point another search and seizure warrant was obtained, specifically for the chest freezer and its contents. From there, the freezer was brought to the office of the chief medical examiner in Baltimore, Mayland for an autopsy. Of course, the freezer had to defrost first.
While waiting for nature to take its course and ice to melt, police interviewed Bowman. When asked about the freezer, she waived her Constitutional Rights, and stated that in the freezer, police would find the bodies of her two daughters, Minnet Cecilia Bowman, age 9, and Jasmine Nicole Bowman, age 7. Bowman confessed that she had smothered the girls before wrapping them in plastic and a blanket, then placed them in the freezer with ice. She then informed police that the girls had been dead awhile, as they had died while living in a home Bowman had previously rented in Rockville. She described callously the way she handled the girls’ bodies. “The first one, the oldest one, was wrapped in a blanket, with ice thrown on top.” Then, she said that Jasmine “was probably wrapped up in a trash bag, a green trash bag.”
She eventually recanted her statement, stating that the girls had actually died from malnutrition and an accident. Minnet had been malnourished, and Jasmine died from a head injury caused by Bowman pushing her during a fight. Because she admitted to the abuse, she was held and charged in Calvert County for abuse, before being transferred to Montgomery County to stand trial for the murder of Minnet and Jasmine Bowman.
Bowman’s boyfriend, Joe Cephus Dickerson was interviewed as well. The two had been together as far back as 2003, and in several reports, he’s referred to as Bowman’s live-in boyfriend. While Joe said he only lived with Bowman occasionally, he had traffic tickets on file that listed Renee’s home as his primary residence. When questioned in regards to the disappearance of Bowman’s 2 other foster children, he didn’t have much info. --At least according to what he told police.-- In his statement, he said that Minnet went missing just after Mother’s Day of 2006. Jasmine went missing about a month later. When he asked Bowman where the girls went, he was informed that they were living in another state with a friend. He also said that when he tried to push Bowman for more information about the girls’ whereabouts, he would be berated by her, and was told to mind his business, as the girls were hers. In this same police interview he also admitted that the girls would be locked in a room for hours on end during the time that they lived in Rockville.
It’s now that I ask, if you saw the way this woman treated Jasmine, Minnet, and Doe, why in the hell wouldn’t you report the behavior outright? And then, assuming you allowed yourself to stay with a garbage human like her, which he did, why would you then not report it the SECOND Minnet went missing? Think you’re just being paranoid? Okay. What about when Jasmine went missing just 1 short month later? Even if you had absolutely nothing to do with carrying out the abuse, you’re guilty for not putting an end to it. As John Stuart Mill once said, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” Basically, see something say something ya numpty.
In a subsequent interview, Doe confirmed what Joe had said about being locked in a room for extended periods of time. When asked what happened when she had to use the restroom, she informed the officers that they were forced to use a bucket that had been left for them in the room. She then said that Bowman would repeatedly beat and choke her sisters when they lived at the Rockville residence. By the time Bowman moved from Rockville, Doe’s sisters were already gone.
On September 28th, 2008 (the report I’m referring to said 2009, but considering the document was filed on March 27th of 2009, it’s safe to conclude that they meant 2008”), the freezer had sufficiently defrosted. The assistant medical examiner, Dr. Donna Vincenti was then able to determine that there were actually 2 bodies present in the freezer. While the official time of death was unable to be determined, the remains were positively identified as belonging to Minnet Cecilia Bowman, 9, and Jasmine Nicole Bowman, 7. The autopsy concluded that both girls had suffered numerous injuries prior to their deaths, and likely for an extended period of time. In other words, they weren’t just abused moments before their deaths, but consistently during the time they spent with Bowman. Minnet had suffered broken bones in her arms and hand, while Jasmine suffered lacerations to the scalp. The official cause of death was ruled as asphyxiation. Based on forensic evidence and Joe’s statement, it is believed that Bowman had killed Minnet in May of 2006, and Jasmine in June of 2006, while they had been living in Rockville in Montgomery County, Maryland. The freezer with their bodies was then moved with them to each subsequent property.
The trial shed a light not just on the depravities inflicted upon all 3 girls, but also the glaring flaws with the Child Welfare System. How was a monster like Renee Denise Bowman able to adopt not one, but 3 children and commit such atrocities without notice? The answer is shocking, and frankly, it was startlingly easy.
Everything was officially set into motion with the birth of Minnet in August of 1997. She was born to a mother who battled mental disorders and drug addiction. Before even holding her newborn child, the woman left the hospital. 10 days later, she informed hospital staff that she was unable to care for Minnet, and wouldn’t be coming back. Prior to Minnet, she’d already had 5 children. Her family had taken in as many of her children as they could handle, but unfortunately, Minnet was placed in the system as a ward of the state. Minnet was classified as special needs and adopted out of the District of Columbia, where it was, and is, customary for adoptive parents to receive recurring financial adoption assistance. While all adoptions that meet certain criteria are eligible for this assistance, those designated as special needs fall into a higher tier, meaning more money per child. For Minnet alone, Bowman received an $800 monthly stipend.
In 1999, Jasmine was born. Her situation was another precarious one. Her mother, too, struggled with addiction and an untreated mental disorder. And just two short years later, Jasmine’s sister Doe was born. The duo was often left with 2 other siblings at their blind grandmother’s home. She did her best to care for them, but it was a constant struggle. A struggle that ended with their grandmother calling protective services twice before the children were removed from the home in 2001. Jasmine, then 2 years old, along with her infant sister, Doe, were placed in the care of Bowman. These girls were also designated as special needs. In total, for the 3 girls, she received a monthly stipend of $2,400.
Minnet’s adoption decree was finalized that same year. According to records kept by the agency, the girls’ social worker thought they were doing great. She noted in their file that they were making “tremendous progress” and were “very happy in their placement.” The girls were even described as bubbly and vivacious. Those comments, as well as an undoubtable burden felt by the child welfare system, led to the adoption decree for Jasmine and Doe to be finalized in 2004.
I have to wonder if the check-ins actually did go well, and for a time Bowman provided a good home for the girls, or if, as we’ve seen many times in the crime community, the social worker neglected to visit the home, but said everything was good regardless. --And I’m in no way looking down on social workers. Their jobs are SO necessary and important, as we can see here. In fact, their jobs are so necessary that they’re often overwhelmed and have way more cases than they can handle, which leads to the situations I’m talking about. One missed visit turns into 2, then 3, and so on. I can’t be certain that happened here, but it is a question that I have.
Regardless of whether or not the visits and check-ins occurred, all 3 girls were now officially adopted. Despite living in what the social worker considered a stable home, no school records could be found for any of the 3 girls. Not a single one of them was ever enrolled in a class, in any of the towns they lived in. This impeded their ability to seek help, tell others about the abuse, or be seen by anyone who could help them. Somehow, this vital piece of information was missed by the agency.
Former neighbors of Bowman spoke out about the situation. In November of 2007, they noticed that she had moved in the middle of the night. They thought this was odd, but didn’t think too much of it. As far as they were aware, only Bowman and her boyfriend Joe lived in the home. They had seen Renee walking her dogs, and Joe working in the backyard, but they’d never seen a child. Not once. In fact, they’d never even seen or heard any indication that a child might live there. Not a toy on the porch, bike in the yard, or even a giggle on the wind. With no one even aware the girls existed, it made it very easy for the abuse to continue.
By this time, it’s believed the 2 older girls were already dead. If you’ll recall, the estimated dates of death were May and June of the year prior. So when Bowman moved, she took Doe, and that giant freezer.
Bowman and Doe moved to Charlesville, Maryland for a short time. Here, a case worker was sent to Bowman’s home in January of 2008. An anonymous tip had been received that Bowman’s daughter was being abused and neglected. The name given in this report was an unknown alias Bowman had been using. Therefore, there was no record that 3 girls should have been present. Instead, when the case worker arrived, she found one child, who appeared to be in good health. The home was reported to have been clean and furnished, and only had a slight mildew smell, which Bowman assured the case worker was due to a leak in the basement. Nothing came of that investigation.
It also came out that between the time of the murders and the discovery, Bowman had reconnected with an old friend that she had gone to Catholic school with. This friend, Jacqueline Gordon exchanged emails with Bowman. In these emails, Bowman spoke of her childhood. She claimed she was often treated like a dog, and her aunts would verbally abuse her, telling her she would never amount to anything and that she was worthless. She also mentioned a time where her mother was homeless, which she said was traumatizing.
Even more notable than that, was an email where Bowman described her horrifying parenting style. In her message to Gordon, she stated, “The girls, well, they’re being themselves. They hate for me to be home, because I’m like the warden in the movie The Green Mile. The guard used to walk the corridor and say, ‘Dead man walking.’ I do that when they’re about to get in trouble. They hate it. Hahaha.”
On the stand, Gordon said, “It takes a special person to raise a special needs kid, let alone three!,” and “I guess something just sent her over the edge and she just snapped.” Considering the email Bowman sent, I find that unlikely. This renewed friendship didn’t last long, however, as life got in the way and one of them ultimately stopped responding.
Another character witness that took the stand was a former coworker of Bowman. Bowman had been unemployed at the time of the gruesome discovery, but she had been employed at some point prior. Her former coworker, Kesha White, would visit Bowman occasionally, but more often would call and speak with her on the phone. Many of these conversations were centered around Bowman complaining about her daughters having a hard time learning to read and write, as well even being held back twice. She even stated that they were “getting on her *censored* nerves.” I can only assume she said damn nerves, or fucking nerves. Oh well. This feels like a great time to remind you though, the girls were never enrolled in school. A kid can’t be held back a grade if they’re not in a grade to begin with. So, basically she just wanted to complain and get brownie points for taking on special needs children. All the while not actually doing anything to help them, not having those specific problems she said she was, and then murdering them. Just wanted to make that clear before continuing. No sympathy points will be earned here.
So, White noted that during her visits she never saw Renee’s kids. Nor did they ever answer the phone when she called, and she never even heard them in the background when she was on the phone with Bowman. And here we are again with SO. MANY. QUESTIONS. I’m not putting any blame on Kesha White because you only know what you know. Allow me to get that out of the way. So don’t go doxxing this woman for just trusting that her friend was a good person. I’d just like to point out that ANY child is going to be a nuisance while their parent is on the phone. I don’t care how well behaved your child is, the SECOND you get on the phone, one of them is going to hit the other or take their toy, or get into a laughing fit for the ages. The fact that the kids NEVER made a single sound while their captor was on the phone is SO telling. Either they were terrified out of their minds, or they were locked in a room somewhere. Or both. And please note my use of the word captor rather than mother. This monster was NOT a mother.
These testimonies combined with a fingerprint belonging to Bowman being found on the tape wrapped around one of the girls’ bodies was used as evidence against her. The defense wasn’t so much arguing that she didn’t murder the girls, instead, they were arguing that it wasn’t premeditated. They argued this per Renee’s claim of malnutrition and head trauma. However, because the cause of death on the coroner’s findings report was asphyxiation, it appeared she had purposely killed her daughters, likely in an attempt to be rid of them while still collecting money on their behalf. To hammer another nail in Bowman’s proverbial coffin, the prosecuting attorney, McCarthy, showed the jury a picture of Jasmine’s toe sticking out of a blanket and plastic in the freezer the day she had been discovered. He claimed that Renee had stripped the girls naked before wrapping and freezing them. He then pointed out that such an action is not usually taken by someone who accidentally killed their own children.
The theory of accidental death seemed to be further disproved by a document that Bowman had in her possession. Amongst the detective’s findings was a “lengthy printout of testimony from a D.C. child abuse case.” It sounds to me an awful lot like Bowman knew there would eventually be a trial, and she wanted to be prepared so she could get away with it. Of course to get away with something so heinous, you’d have to be intelligent and keep your mouth shut. Bowman thankfully did not.
Next to make an appearance in court was Bowman’s cellmate from Calvert County, Janet Buchmiller. Buchmiller took the stand to retell conversations the two had shared while they passed time in their cell. She reported that Bowman had not only admitted to the abuse, but also that she had burned them with cigarettes as a form of punishment, and that she had in fact smothered the 2 children. The defense tried to argue that Buchmiller only came forward in exchange for a shortened or reduced sentence, which could be considered bribing a witness. However, Buchmiller swore, and it was confirmed, that she was given no incentive to come forward with her testimony. Janet Buchmiller served every second of her time sentenced for her crime.
Finally, Doe took the stand. Since her harrowing escape, Doe had been placed with another family. On the stand, she held a new Valentine’s day teddy bear, bought for her by her adoptive father. The prosecution warmed her up with some casual conversation and questions unrelated to the trial. One of which was “How often do you read,” to which she responded “24/7.” She even got a few laughs from the entire courtroom as she corrected the prosecutor when he asked her the same question twice.
Obviously, the rest of her testimony was far less pleasant. On the stand she recounted years and years of abuse at the hands of Denise Renee Bowman, whom she now called “ex-mother” because she didn’t want to call her mom. She spoke of numerous scenarios where she was hit repeatedly with blunt objects like a baseball bat. When asked where she was hit the hardest, using her bear, she indicated she had been hit hardest between her legs and on her butt.
She also told the jury how the woman entrusted to care for the 3 girls would choke Doe and her sisters until they passed out. Doe said it happened too many times to count. She then spoke about the lock on the outside of their bedroom door, and how she, Minnet, and Jasmine were forced to use a bucket if they had to use the bathroom.
All throughout the trial, Renee showed no emotion. Just before sentencing, the judge said to Bowman, “You sentenced these two young innocent children, in the dawn of their lives, to a death chamber, and for you that option is not available.” Renee responded, emotionally unphased,” I am very sorry for the abuse of the girls… it haunts me. It haunts me every day.” She still wouldn’t even acknowledge the death of Minnet or Jasmine. Many people, including Buchmiller, the cellmate from earlier, swear they have never seen Bowman shed a single tear for the girls she claimed as daughters, or any emotion at all, for that matter. Buchmiller claimed that Bowman never even referred to the girls by their names, only referring to them as the oldest, middle, and youngest.
In February of 2010, a Montgomery County jury convicted Denise Renee Bowman, 44, of 2 counts of first-degree murder, and 3 counts of first-degree child abuse. She will serve 25 years in Calvert County for the counts of child abuse, and 2 life sentences plus 75 years in Montgomery County.
So why did Bowman do it? The most obvious motive is the money. After the deaths of Minnet and Jasmine, Bowman continued to collect the adoption assistance funds. She was unemployed, yet making $2,400 a month income. When you only have one child to care for, and you’re not sending them to school, paying for babysitters, or feeding them consistently, that’s one heck of a payout.
The prosecution had also argued that Renee hadn’t wanted girls, but instead wanted a son. She had actually inquired into adopting a special needs son from D.C. after the death of her 2 victims and prior to the discovery of their bodies. --I refuse to call those poor babies her daughters. Even if there’s still some debate, this monster knew what she was going to do to them. They were a means to an end for her, nothing more. -- But perhaps she was killing the girls to make room for the son she had always wanted.
Of course, there’s the theory Bowman would have you believe in her moments of forgetting she’s saying she didn’t commit murder, which is “I lost control and I need help.” It seems pretty apparent to me though, based off of her email to Gordon, that she knew she was tormenting the girls, and she was stoked about it.
From my own personal perspective, acknowledging that I’m not a psychologist or criminal profiler, (Thanks, Greg) it seems almost like childhood trauma could have provoked what happened. And this isn’t me giving her an out. Everyone has some sort of childhood trauma. It’s not an excuse for murder. I’m simply pointing out that when asked where she was hit hardest, Doe pointed to the genitalia and her butt. The targeting of such sensitive areas is something we often see in murderers who have been sexually abused and traumatized at a young age.
To me, it seems that the most likely motive was the financial one. But just because that was her goal, it doesn’t mean Bowman didn’t get some sort of sick pleasure from it.
Doe today is 20 year old. I can only hope that she’s living a wonderful, safe, and fulfilling life, full of all the love and happiness she had been deprived of early on. After the trial, she was eventually placed with a new family, though it’s unclear why, and obviously, who.
Because none of the girls were in school, and most people didn’t know about them, it was very difficult to find any information on Minnet or Jasmine beyond the trial. But, here’s what could be found.
Minnet would have been 24 years old today. Her uncle spoke out after the discovery of her death to show his grief. He stated that he and his family tried their hardest to keep track of Minnet, but simply wasn’t able to, as she wasn’t the only child that had been adopted out.
Her uncle said he was torn about not telling Minnet’s mother what happened to her. At the time, she was in a mental health facility, and the uncle worried about a relapse. His grief over losing his niece after trying so hard to help as many of the children as possible, as well as his guilt and sense of responsibility is overwhelming and heartbreaking. I genuinely can’t imagine living with any of that on my conscience.
Jasmine would have been 22 today. The same age as my baby sister. Her uncle also anguished over what had happened. He also questioned whether or not he should adopt his niece, Doe. Would it be the right thing to do? At the time of his statement, he was unsure where Jasmine and Doe’s birth mother was. It also seems that he decided Doe would best be cared for by another adoptive family. I’m certain the burden of that decision weighed heavy on him.
Jasmine’s biological father, Michael Muhammed, was present throughout much of the trials. He was quoted as saying, “I’m happy justice prevailed, but I’m happy this is over.” He later sued the District of Columbia and the Board of Child Care of the United Methodist Church for wrongful death and negligence. In the trial, it came out that Bowman was allowed to adopt children despite having a misdemeanor for threatening bodily harm, as well as filing for bankruptcy and allegedly being in an abusive relationship.
Advocates for abused adopted children, as well as myself, question the screening done on Renee due to the misdemeanor and bankruptcy. Although, an investigation into the agency showed that all necessary precautions and screenings had taken place, and with the information available at the time, the agency had not purposely or negligently placed the girls in danger. And while that may be so, it leads me to question what the necessary precautions and screenings entail, because it doesn’t seem like it’s enough.
This has been the cursed tale of the devastating torture and murder of 2 young girls, and torment of another. The system, as hard as it tried, failed them. And this isn’t a lone experience. While it doesn’t always lead to murder, abuse runs rampant in the foster and adoption system. I’m not damning the system as a whole, but it needs to do and be better. It needs a serious revamp.
As a child of domestic abuse myself, this topic is a hard one for me. I questioned for a while if I should even cover it. While I wasn’t adopted, I do have 2 sisters. At around 5 or 6, my father watched and laughed as a dresser and box tv fell on top of my tiny body. He stood there continuing to laugh as I turned blue and began to lose consciousness. Had my sister not been present, and had she not been free to run and grab my mom, I don’t know that I’d be here today. Beyond that, when I was 11, he once tried to throw me down a flight of stairs because I said something rude to his girlfriend. My sisters each have their own tales of horror, but they’re not mine to tell and I would never use their trauma without their consent that way.
None of us died, but we very well could have. Child abuse is like an unspoken evil. We all know it’s out there, but so many shy away from it because it’s a hard topic. It cuts us to the core and it’s easier to simply say “child abuse is wrong,” then bury ourselves back in our coziest comfort blankets, than to face it head on. I decided to cover this case because I was failed as a child. Because these girls were failed, and they didn't get to move past it. That failure defined their futures. They didn’t get one. So by discussing this now, and drawing attention, and shining that light on the dark things we don’t want to see, maybe we can define someone else’s future. Maybe we can make even one person’s childhood better.
I know this has been a lot, but I won’t apologize. We all need to do better. In the blog post for this episode, I will be including links to multiple charities dedicated to creating resources for victims of child abuse, creating education to help prevent the problem, as well as organizations that help to prevent abuse in the foster and adoption systems. If you’re able, please donate. And donating doesn’t have to be money. Some of these organizations could use your time or skills, blankets, personal hygiene products. If you have it to give, there’s probably a need. So please, check out the blog post and all of those links for this on ThriceCursedPod.com/Blog. Furthermore, if you suspect a case of child abuse, please call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD or 1-800-422-4453. I’m not plugging any of my usual stuff in this episode because those were my big requests, and at this point, you know where to find me.
Until next time, keep your curses hexy, and your hexes sexy.
List of organizations:
top left to bottom right: Jasmine and Minnet Bowman, police officers at the crime scene, Denise Renee Bowman
Statement of Charges filed by Detective Patrick J. McNerney at the District Court of Maryland for Montgomery County on 3-27-09 (http://poundpuplegacy.org/files/bowman032709.pdf)