An abduction. A bizarre dream. A baby found dead in the snow.
It’s a crime that stretches back three decades and, until a year ago, I had only vague memories of it.
I started researching the tragedy after asking a friend to tell me the one case that she hasn’t been able to shake in her long career as a journalist. Without hesitation she said, “Julie Bowers. She got away with murder.”
I’ve heard that same line again and again this past year: “She got away with murder” — from the court clerk when I called to get trial transcripts, to the police officer who discovered the toddler’s body, to the people of Kincardine, who are still haunted by a crime that in many ways stole their innocence.
In 1988, Julie Bowers was a 24-year-old mother of two little boys: two-year old Ben and 11-month-old Dusty.
They lived in the small Ontario town of Kincardine, on the shores of Lake Huron. It was a place in where people didn’t think twice about leaving their sleeping kids in the car while doing errands.
And that’s exactly what Julie said she did that bitterly cold January day. Dusty was asleep, she says, so she left him in his car-seat and popped into the bank with her older son, Ben. Julie says when she came out, minutes later, Dusty was gone. He was just a few days shy of his first birthday.
The shocking news of a kidnapping quickly spread throughout the small town of six thousand. The Ontario Provincial Police was called in to help the overwhelmed local police force. Roadblocks were set up. The hours passed and the dread grew. Julie made a tearful plea on TV for her son to be returned. .
The next morning there was still no sign of Dusty.
Julie went to the police station for an update on the search and, at her sister-in-law’s prodding, told them about a dream she had the night before — a dream of her son Dusty laying in the snowy woods.
The first investigator on the case had some suspicions about Julie Bowers’ kidnapping claims from almost the beginning. And when he heard of the dream, he had a feeling that she would lead them to the missing baby.
Sure enough, 26 hours after he was reported missing, Dusty’s body was found in a wooded area just outside of town.
He had a light covering of snow on his face. His little blue toque had fallen down over his eyes. Tears had frozen on his cheeks.
Julie Bowers was charged with first degree murder. Throughout, she has always maintained her innocence.
And when her murder trial was held—two years later in Toronto—the jury believed her.
She was found not guilty.
Most of the people who still hold onto the belief that Julie Bowers “got away with murder” didn’t sit through the 49-day trial and hear the evidence.
They don’t know that the pathologist called by the Crown Attorney was Charles Smith, who would become the focus of an unprecedented inquiry years later that resulted in five murder convictions being overturned because of his flawed autopsy reports.
They don’t know about the straight-out-of-the-movies defence theory that Julie’s twin brother and sister-in-law were involved in the disappearance. They don’t know that a world-renowned expert testified that it was “scientifically impossible” for Julie Bowers to have committed the crime.
And they don’t know that the Crown prosecutor, the man who was in charge of trying to convince a jury of Julie Bowers’ guilt, is still traumatized now, all these years later, by the realization that he could have put an innocent woman behind bars.
Producer Derek Miller and I have spent months combing old news footage, digging up articles, ordering court transcripts and sifting through police evidence. We have interviewed almost every key player in this tragedy, including Julie Bowers, who hadn’t spoken publicly since a courthouse scrum after the verdict decades ago.
Julie agreed to be interviewed only if we altered her appearance, because the “baby killer” stigma still plagues her, despite the acquittal and the decades that have passed.
We started out with an investigation into why so many people believed Julie Bowers got away with murdering her toddler. Instead we found a much different story and what emerges is more complicated than innocence or guilt.
It raises serious questions about what happened after Julie Bowers was acquitted and what was—and more specifically—what wasn’t done to follow up on compelling leads.
We have uncovered a confidential OPP document that reveals surprising new details about the investigation that police promised to undertake after the Attorney General decided not to appeal Bowers’ acquittal.
And finally, our investigation has led to a new development that offers a glimmer of hope that one day there might be justice for Dusty.
Watch W5’s ‘The Baby in the Snow’ on CTV, Saturday at 7 p.m.