Friends of Garrison Storm Bowman say the man who pointed the finger at the 66-year-old carpenter in the Aug. 15 slayings of a Virginia family was an angry landlord who wanted Bowman's mobile home and had ordered him to move out weeks before Bowman left Rockingham County for Canada.
Officers from North Carolina and Virginia are scheduled to fly to Canada today to interview Bowman, who is scheduled for an immigration hearing Friday.The landlord, Gary Lemons, was furious because Bowman deeded his 1968 mobile home to a friend in Michigan instead of leaving it for Lemons when Bowman left Rockingham County in August, said two longtime friends of Bowman's.
A woman who identified herself only as a relative and spokesman for Gary Lemons, said he denies the accusations, but said law officers had ordered him not to discuss the case with anyone.
Stoneville contractor John Beasley said Bowman told him two or three weeks before leaving for Canada that he had been ordered off the property by Lemons and had to find a place to put the mobile home until his friend could come and get it.
``He told me that Gary Lemons was upset with him for not getting the mobile home for himself,' said Beasley, who has known Bowman for about 15 years.
Beasley said he gave permission for Bowman to leave the mobile home on his property in Stoneville.
``The landlord had him over a barrel,' said Loree Martin Butler, the Michigan woman to whom Bowman transferred the mobile home's title last year. She said she was waiting to pick it up until she found a site for it in Romulus, Mich.
Rockingham County does not allow mobile homes built before 1976 to be moved and set up again within the county, according to the county planning department. That's why Bowman gave it to a friend out of state, Butler said. His only option for keeping the $15,000 mobile home in Rockingham County would have been to leave it hooked up on Lemons' property, Butler said.
``Gary would have had to give it to him for whatever price he wanted to pay for it,' Butler said.
Instead, Bowman had an Eden company move the mobile home to Beasley's property, where he could leave it legally as long as it wasn't hooked up.
It was Lemons who called authorities Aug. 18 and told them that Bowman suddenly had gone to Canada, leaving behind maps of Henry County, Va., on which the location of the Bassett home of Michael and Mary Short had been marked.
Three days earlier, authorities had found the Shorts shot to death in their house, and launched a two-state search for their missing 9-year-old daughter, Jennifer. The girl's remains were found Sept. 25 in a wooded area near Stoneville, about 30 miles south of the Short home and about a mile from where Bowman ultimately left his mobile home. She had been shot in the head.
Lemons told authorities that Bowman said he might have to kill a Virginia man who failed to move Bowman's mobile home after being paid to do so. Michael Short operated a mobile home-moving business.
Lemons said he saw Bowman with a pistol in his hand on the day of the shootings, and also saw Bowman building a false bottom in his 2001 Ford van.
But Loree Butler, Bowman's friend in Michigan, said Bowman visited her on Aug. 17, on his way to Canada, and she spent the day with him driving around in his van.
``There was no false bottom in that van,' Butler said.
Both Butler and Beasley said that Bowman's move to Canada had been planned for a long time; Butler said Bowman had visited Canada in each of the past two years, each time stopping to see her in Michigan.
Butler said she noticed nothing unusual about Bowman on this trip.
``He wasn't nervous. He was the same old Gary as always,' said Butler, who described Bowman as quiet and gentle-natured. She said he was an avid environmentalist who was so old-fashioned he used a rotary-dial telephone.
``He's what I'd classify as a good old country boy. He'll pitch-in in a heartbeat if someone needs something. I've seen people bring back equipment to him broken, or he'll have to go and get it, and he always turns the other cheek.'
She's often left her own 9-year-old son alone with Bowman, Butler said. ``He'd get out the hammer and nails, fool around building things. He's a good influence on my son. He's like the brother I never had.'
In Canada, Bowman contacted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and then the FBI, once friends told him his name had come up in the Short case, said both Butler and Beasley. Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page confirmed Wednesday that Bowman was questioned by FBI agents several weeks ago in the case.
Rockingham County authorities searched Bowman's rental house in Mayodan shortly after getting the call from Lemons. Court records indicated they removed maps with general markings in Virginia, and other items from the house. They also asked for Bowman's telephone records from Sprint.
A copy of Bowman's Sprint bill covering the period July 22-Aug. 21, acquired by the News & Record, shows calls to Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey and British Columbia, but no calls to Bassett, or anywhere else in Virginia.
``Gary has nothing to hide,' Butler said.
Bowman, whom authorities are careful to describe as a witness, not a suspect, in the case, is being held on immigration violations by Canadian police in Yellowknife, a town of 18,000 in the remote Northwest Territories.
\ Contact Tom Steadman at 574-5583 or at firstname.lastname@example.org