In June 1977, the discovery of teenager Velda Rumfelt’s body in Eureka, Missouri, led the authorities on a decades-long search for justice. Investigation Discovery’s ‘On the Case With Paula Zahn: A Stranger Among Us’ chronicles the tragic story of Velda’s death and the killer’s lengthy journey through the criminal system. So, if you’re wondering what exactly happened in this case, we’ve got you covered!
How Did Velda Rumfelt Die?
Velda Joy Rumfelt was born in Missouri, and at the time of the incident, she had moved to Kansas City, Missouri. The 16-year-old was a sophomore, was on the honor roll, and was a part of the gymnastics team. Loved ones described Velda as a lively and bright young woman who did well in academics and otherwise. But tragedy struck when she was on a trip to visit family and friends in the Brentwood area in Missouri.
Velda was last seen on June 5, 1977, on a street in Brentwood, and her body was found on June 7, 1977, in a desolate area near an amusement park in Eureka. Her throat was slashed, and it appeared that shoestrings were used to strangle her. Velda’s bra was stuffed in her mouth, and there was evidence of semen in her vagina, meaning she was sexually assaulted. The authorities collected Velda’s clothing and stored it as evidence.
Who Killed Velda Rumfelt?
While the authorities worked to find Velda’s killer in Missouri, a string of crimes occurred elsewhere in Belleville, Illinois. 14-year-old Elizabeth West and 21-year-old Ruth Ann Jany disappeared under similar circumstances in April and July 1978, respectively. The authorities later arrested Gregory Bowman for kidnapping a woman on July 20, 1978. At the time, the police had no evidence connecting Gregory to Elizabeth and Ruth’s disappearances. While Elizabeth’s body was found two weeks after her kidnapping, Ruth’s remains were found about a year later.
While in custody, an inmate promised to help Gregory escape from prison if he delayed his transfer to another correctional center. Gregory was told he could do that by telling the police about Elizabeth and Ruth’s killings. So, he confessed to killing the two girls and provided details which only the killer could have known. However, the escape plan was just a ploy to get Gregory talking.
Furthermore, Gregory later claimed that he got the information regarding the killings from newspaper articles and police reports. However, in 1979, Gregory was convicted of killing Elizabeth and Ruth in a nonjury trial. He agreed not to present a defense in exchange for the prosecution not pursuing the death penalty. About two decades later, an independent investigation showed that Gregory’s lawyer was not told about how he was tricked into confessing, leading to an appeals court ordering a new trial in 2001.
At the time, the authorities only had the confession Gregory made to the inmate and no other evidence that linked him to the crimes. It was also learned that physical evidence from those cases had been destroyed because the investigation was considered closed. The authorities compared semen on Velda’s panties to his profile to check if Gregory was linked to any other crimes. Gregory had provided a DNA sample in 2001 to prove his innocence in the Belleville murders.
In 2007, Gregory was released from prison on bail only to be arrested again after his DNA matched the biological evidence from Velda’s underwear. At the time of Velda’s death, the authorities couldn’t find anything linking her and Gregory, but he had a history of kidnapping and attacking women. During his legal proceedings in 2009, survivors testified that Gregory held them at knifepoint in the 1970s and threatened them. One of Velda’s friends also testified seeing her with an unidentified man on the evening of June 5, 1977.
How Did Gregory Bowman Die?
In October 2009, Gregory was found guilty of capital murder and was sentenced to death. However, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the death sentence after ruling that Gregory’s kidnap-murder convictions from 1979 were improperly introduced as testimony. While awaiting a resentencing hearing, it was revealed that Gregory had been terminally ill and diagnosed with a liver disease. On March 15, 2016, it was reported that he died of natural causes at the Potosi Correctional Center in Missouri. Gregory was 64 years old at the time of his death.
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