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DeWitt County deputy who cracked cold case named lawman of the year

By Jessica Priest
July 30, 2014 at 2:30 a.m.


When Sgt. Carl Bowen accepted the job of investigator at the DeWitt County Sheriff's Office in 2005, he immediately asked whether he could reopen a case that had originally been ruled a suicide.

Often, a suicide is a suicide, he said, but this one in 2001 had stuck with him. It felt different.

Nine years after Sheriff Jode Zavesky gave him the go-ahead to look into the death of Pamela Shelly, her boyfriend, Ronnie Joe Hendrick, is behind bars for 22 years after pleading guilty to her murder.

And Bowen - still reeling from the spotlight TNT's show "Cold Justice" cast on the case - has another thing to be happy about.

At the Sheriffs' Association of Texas annual training conference and expo Tuesday, he was named Lawman of the Year.

"I guess the long and short of it is, you work cases like it's your family, and you do what you do to give them closure," said Bowen, 50, who remembers vividly the day Shelly was found dead in her mobile home bathroom.

Shelly's daughter found her and originally thought she'd been beaten up by Hendrick.

Shelly had actually been shot once in the head with Hendrick's rifle.

"I was off that day. It was early January. ... I remember being in a very interesting position because my son was with me, and I didn't have anybody to take him," Bowen said of how he was called to the scene. "He stayed in the car playing his Nintendo. ... Ironically, he was the same age as Pamela Shelly's daughter, who I would meet, Kayla Suggs."

Suggs was 12 years old, he said.

One reason the investigation stalled, Zavesky said, is because Shelly was flown by helicopter to be treated in San Antonio, where she later died. There, Hendrick's family claimed she had been depressed and had likely taken her own life. Then, Hendrick left the state.

Their statements did not coincide with what deputies found at the scene: A vehicle packed with Shelly's belongings.

Zavesky later learned the couple had a rocky relationship that had come to a head. Shelly was trying to move to Arkansas with her children.

"It didn't make sense that she would leave her kids with her abuser," Zavesky said.

"She was leaving at 6 o'clock, and at 5:45 p.m., she was shot just minutes before leaving," Bowen added.

Zavesky remembers Bowen taking two cardboard boxes of evidence home with him every weekend to turn over in his head every question a district attorney might have before presenting it to a grand jury. After former prosecutor Kelly Siegler, ex-FBI agent Yolanda McClary and retired homicide detective Johnny Bonds brought fresh eyes to the case during filming of the TV show, Bowen reinterviewed and later interviewed for the first time countless witnesses, some in Arkansas.

Bowen's relentless on other cases, too, Zavesky said.

Recently, he led an effort to arrest two suspects behind a rash of check forgeries and is still investigating.

DeWitt County District Attorney Michael Sheppard also nominated Bowen for the award.

He recalled how Bowen, armed with additional evidence, convinced the medical examiner who had initially ruled Shelly's death a suicide to reconsider.

"Sometimes, you have a victim's family pressing you and other people pressing you to do something in a case. In this case, the victim's family was a 1,000 miles away and was not in a position to push law enforcement one way or the other," Sheppard said. "He was only motivated by his desires. ... He worked on it because he thought it was the right thing to do."

Bowen began his career in law enforcement after he left the Air Force in 1992.

He spent seven years at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office in Florida before coming back to his hometown of Cuero in 1998.

"This just goes to show that it's not always the big cities that have the detectives or investigators that are willing to go the extra lengths," Zavesky said. "It's really neat to know we have someone of his caliber working for us."

During a "Cold Justice" reunion, Suggs referred to Bowen as her "second dad," he said.

"All I can tell you is that yeah, it was worth every second of it," Bowen said about working on the case.

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