A tragic case

Our view : The deaths of an adoptive mother's two daughters leave serious questions

October 05, 2008

The case of Renee Bowman, who is being held in a Calvert County jail after admitting she killed two of her three adopted daughters and hid their bodies in a freezer, raises serious questions about whether Maryland child welfare workers were doing their job. Officials say that because an investigation is continuing, they can't talk about specifics of the case. But eventually, they have a lot of explaining to do.

The state Department of Human Resources was alerted to the case almost a year ago when the agency received an anonymous phone call alleging child neglect. A caseworker visited the house where Ms. Bowman was living under a false name with her surviving daughter, but evidently saw nothing amiss and left it at that.

It wasn't until last month, when a passer-by spotted bruises on the 7-year-old and alerted police after learning the girl feared being killed by her mother, that the freezer's grisly contents were discovered.

How long did it take DHR to send a caseworker to the Bowman house after receiving the original call? The agency's own guidelines call for investigating complaints of neglect within five days, but state officials couldn't say whether that happened in this case.

Did the caseworker at any time notice that Ms. Bowman's surviving daughter wasn't in school? One would think an investigator would have checked if the child was enrolled in school. Did that happen? Again, officials can't even say whether the question ever came up.

Ms. Bowman, who adopted the children in Washington, had moved from there to Montgomery County and then Southern Maryland, which may have enabled the family to avoid scrutiny.

There are some misfortunes so tangled and bizarre that nothing could have changed the outcome, and the Bowman case may well be one of them. But state officials need to review every aspect of their handling of this case to see why the safeguards built into the system didn't protect the Bowman girls.

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