PALMETTO, Alabama — In the decades since his first trial for murdering a young woman, mason Bart Bowling appears to have spent his time behind bars doing some of his most heinous deeds.
Ralph “Turkey” Tilley, who worked with him at the White Steel Steel foundry business, told me that Bowling started using cyanide and pesticides on work premises years ago, resulting in the death of a visitor to the foundry.
Authorities haven’t had any luck solving the case, except for finding the family of one victim. They believe it was the result of a failed murder-for-hire deal.
In January of 2008, Bowling was brought back to death row from county jail in Chilton County for the slaying of Teresa Lewis, 20, whose body was found in an auto tire shop parking lot in 2001, according to news reports at the time.
Lewis, a graphic designer, was abducted as she was getting ready to leave her grandmother’s house, while a 15-year-old boy and teenager walked away from the house, according to that time.
Authorities believe Bowling, 52, met Lewis at a church, where she worked at a retreat, and killed her when she refused his advances, then dumped her body.
She worked at the Dana Plant Services company, helping to arrange funerals for executives from DuPont, according to a news report in 2005.
Shortly after that, authorities charged Bowling in the 1989 killing of Jennifer West, a 33-year-old University of West Alabama School of Law student who was hitchhiking to her Huntsville home when she was taken in a truck in Helena.
Her body was found four months later, her throat slashed.
On March 17, 1998, at a 5-4 vote, an Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals panel upheld the guilty verdict against Bowling on an attempted second-degree murder and two-dozen other charges.
Appeals Court Judge Bob Bretzing was the lone vote against overturning the verdict in Bowling’s third trial.
“I would not presume to be capable of writing an opinion as to whether jurors reached the correct verdict when there was no evidence of admission on this case, no evidence of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and proof of guilt and mitigating factors were both in the affirmative,” Bretzing wrote in his decision.
“Unless they are required by law to take into account all evidence presented to them or decide a case by the totality of the circumstances – evidence clearly in Bowling’s favor, evidence in Bowling’s favor and ones he might have or might not – they are under no duty to do so,” Bretzing wrote.
At least three Jefferson County men spent time behind bars with Bowling during his lengthy legal battle, and both have said they’ve known him for many years.
Bowling pleaded guilty to killing Sarah Turner in 1978, for which he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Two years later, Bowling pleaded guilty to raping and killing North Alabama Medical Student Kathleen Steck. He was sentenced to an additional life sentence, even though during his plea agreement, prosecutors had said they would drop a second first-degree murder conviction.
Bowling was scheduled to be sentenced on that charge on Dec. 20, 1989, but in exchange for her death, he agreed to plead guilty to Steck’s murder.
Bowling did not get the second life sentence he wanted, but he was resentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
In January of 1995, Bowling was resentenced to death for the Steck murder, even though Judge Michael Greer, at the time, called his guilt in the case “clear and convincing.”
Chesson “Rocket” Blalock, now 67, was in the state penitentiary when Bowling was awaiting a third trial. Blalock, who did prison work with the late renowned defense attorney Hugh McClelland, had been held there for a decade.
“I know he’s wrong. He’s a bad man,” Blalock said when I spoke to him about Bowling. “When he came back in there, he was a different man.”
The News identified Bowling in a Mississippi news report on March 11, 2000, but it wasn’t until 2005 that he was officially charged in a state case.
As for the family of his victim, Laura Dolan, of Huntsville, told the news outlet the presence of Bowling, her mother, was “like having an evil thing in the building.”