By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
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By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Click here for Christine Pelisek's related blog about the hunt for remains.
Click here for Ted Soqui's accompanying slide show.
AUTHOR WESTON DEWALT was researching the jogging trails near his home in Pasadena in the fall of 2005 when he came across a brief mention of an 8-year-old boy who disappeared along a beautiful Arroyo Seco trail more than 50 years earlier.
The sandy-haired youngster had run ahead of the pack and was bent on beating them to the family car, parked less than a quarter of a mile away. But something went horribly wrong. The Redondo Beach boy vanished in the blink of an eye, and a weeklong search by frantic family, friends and police came up empty.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department helicopters buzzed over the Arroyo Seco, a stretch of verdant creek land that begins at Red Box, near Mount Wilson in the San Gabriel Mountains, and meanders through steep mountain canyons for 11 miles to South Pasadena. Bizarre theories abounded. Was Tommy dragged away by a mountain lion? Was he whisked into a car in the nearby Jet Propulsion Laboratory parking lot?
“People were grabbing in the dark for answers,” says DeWalt. However, two women did provide one eerie clue. The day Tommy went missing, they saw a crying boy who resembled Tommy walk out on a trail near Altadena Drive in Pasadena. They said a tall, “deeply tanned” man dressed in khakis and a plaid shirt was not far behind him.
The cops talked to known local sex offenders. Northrop Corporation, which employed Tommy’s father, put up a reward, and Northrop employees helped in the search. A few days after the boy vanished, a man demanded $2,500 in ransom money, and when the suspect picked up the money at an Eagle Rock gas station, the cops nabbed him. But the supposed kidnapping turned out to be a hoax, a vicious play for cash.
The Pasadena Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department concluded that Tommy had probably been abducted. But without further clues, the case went cold in 1960.
“I was intrigued by the story that a child could vanish seemingly without a trace, and being a father myself, I couldn’t imagine enduring that,” says DeWalt, an engaging man in his early 60s. “I made a decision that if I could find some of his relatives alive, I would write a book about what it meant to a family to wonder for 50 years.”
DeWalt produced a 1985 documentary about American POWs killed during the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and he co-wrote The Climb with Russian mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev, about Boukreev’s experiences during a May 1996 attempt to scale Mount Everest that resulted in eight deaths.
Little did DeWalt know that his effort to document one family’s grief would help lead authorities to the boy’s killer — and spawn an unusual friendship between the persistent author and a tenacious LAPD cold-case detective, Vivian Flores.
Officials credit the odd couple with causing authorities to open a new investigation, focused on the disappearance of another boy believed snatched by the psychopath who murdered Tommy Bowman. The body of that second boy, Roger Madison, is believed to be buried along the 23 freeway on Caltrans land in Moorpark.
“It is not what I set out to do,” says DeWalt. “Some time in the middle of the night, it took a turn, and I have been following it ever since.”
In Moorpark on the morning of October 6, while a media throng looked on, dozens of investigators began excavating along the 23 freeway’s southbound Tierra Rejada Road off-ramp, in hopes of finding the bones of Roger Madison. An orange Caltrans front-end loader tore through the dirt as a forensic anthropologist looked on and a team of experts sifted soil.
FBI agents from the evidence-response team hovered nearby, ready to identify, collect and preserve evidence. At the ready were four corpse-sniffing dogs, who “alerted” authorities to the spot.
The dig continues all week, and the author and the cop hope they’ve found a long-secret burial site, thanks to their own ingenuity and the help of a retired Caltrans bridge engineer.
In late 2005, DeWalt tracked down and interviewed Tommy Bowman’s now-elderly father, Eldon Bowman. When DeWalt arrived at Bowman’s home in Simi Valley, the dining table was stacked with old newspaper clips, photographs and letters — an archive of Bowman’s sorrowful decades-long effort to find out what happened to his son.
With Bowman’s blessing, DeWalt petitioned the Pasadena Police Department and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to review the missing-person file on Tommy. There, among investigative notes written by detectives now long dead, the author found a sketch of the “darkly tanned” man purportedly seen following a crying boy on the Arroyo Seco trail that March day.