Garrison Storm Bowman, a 66-year-old carpenter sought by authorities as a witness in the Aug. 15 slayings of a Virginia family, had planned a move to Canada or Alaska for years and didn't leave Rockingham County to escape arrest, according to a longtime friend.

``Everything's gotten turned around, and it makes Gary look bad,' said Stoneville contractor John Beasley, who said he's convinced Bowman is innocent.In fact, Beasley said he spent about two hours with Bowman at his Mayodan home on the same day authorities said the Shorts were killed in Virginia. ``He had a bunch of clothes in his mobile home he wanted me to take to my church to give away,' Beasley said. Beasley said he saw nothing amiss.

Weeks before his detention in Canada on immigration charges, Bowman had been interviewed about the case by authorities, Beasley said.

``They've known where he's at the whole time,' Beasley said.

Beasley said he talked to Bowman by phone, also before his detention, and Bowman offered to come to North Carolina and take a lie detector test, if necessary, to prove his innocence of any involvement in the shooting deaths of Michael and Mary Short, or their 9-year-old daughter, Jennifer.

The Shorts were found dead in their Bassett, Va., home on Aug. 15. The remains of their daughter were discovered Sept. 25 in a wooded area near Stoneville about 30 miles to the south, and about one mile from Bowman's mobile home.

``I've been knowing (Bowman) for 15 years,' Beasley said. ``I've never seen him say a cross word to any human being. I've never seen him with a gun. The only trouble with the law I've ever seen him get into is a couple of DUIs.'

Bowman, whom authorities have been careful to describe as a ``witness' instead of a suspect in the case, is being held by Canadian police in Yellowknife, a town of 15,000 in the remote Northwest Territories.

Both the Rockingham County and Henry County, Va. sheriffs' departments plan to send investigators to Yellowknife to interview Bowman. Flights for four investigators, two each from Rockingham and Henry counties, have been booked for Thursday morning. The Rockingham County Board of Commissioners approved a request from Sheriff Sam Page for $10,000 to pay for the trip.

Canadian officials, who have said they plan to deport Bowman, have yet to set a hearing to discuss evidence supporting deportation.

Beasley, who spent about a year working with Bowman in carpentry work before starting his own contracting business, said Bowman had talked for the past several years about moving to Canada or Alaska. He had visited there in the past and liked it.

``He told me a few months back he was getting ready to move,' Beasley said. ``This was not an overnight thing.'

Beasley said that Bowman, preparing for the move north, gave him an equipment trailer and numerous tools. He also said that Bowman's mobile home, instead of being found ``abandoned' in Stoneville, as earlier reports indicated, in fact was left on Beasley's property with his permission.

He said Bowman had transferred the title of the mobile home to a friend in Michigan, but the friend had been unable to have the trailer moved there, so he allowed Bowman to leave it on his land in Stoneville.

Beasley said FBI agents interviewed him weeks ago, and that Bowman contacted Canadian and U.S. authorities once friends informed him his name had come up in the case.

Bowman became prominent in the case when the landlord of his property in Mayodan, Gary Lemons, told deputies three days after the murders that Bowman had told him 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 also saw Bowman building a false bottom in his 2001 Ford van and saw Bowman with a pistol in his hand on the day of the shootings.

That was the same day that Beasley said he spent two hours with Bowman and saw no gun, no anxiety or anything else amiss.

Lemons also told deputies he had entered Bowman's rental house, on the same property where he kept the mobile home as a workshop, shortly after the murders and found maps of Virginia counties. One of them, he said, had been marked in red with the location of the Short home in Bassett. Court records indicate that deputies searched the house and removed maps and other items.

On Tuesday, the skeletal remains of 9-year-old Jennifer Short, identified only Friday by DNA comparisons, were released to family members, according to a spokesman at Bassett Funeral Service in Bassett, Va.

Visitation will be from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at Martinsville Church of God. The funeral is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the church with burial following at Henry Memorial Park in Bassett Forks.

Contact Tom Steadman at 574-5583 or at tsteadman@news-record.com

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