The Trenchcoat Robbers

The New Yorker

Even those who were close to Ray Bowman didn’t know him very well. He led an unadorned life on the outskirts of Kansas City, Missouri, in a small ranch house that he shared with his longtime girlfriend, Jenny Delamotte, their two daughters, and Delamotte’s daughter from an earlier relationship. Bowman sold lawnmowers and worked as a private investigator-at least, that’s what he told his friends and his family-but he seemed to have a lot of time on his hands. He frequently disappeared for weeks, never telling Delamotte where he was going. When she asked him questions about his business, he would get angry. “I just felt like … he had a whole other life outside of me,” she later said. One day in January of 1997, Bowman told Jenny to take the girls grocery shopping, which meant that he would be gone when they returned. He then drove across the country to Kent,Washington, where he met up with his partner, Billy Kirkpatrick, at the Pony Soldier Motor Inn.

Bowman and Kirkpatrick were an odd match: Bowman was a short, distinguished-looking fifty-three-yearold with sharp features. He had neatly styled salt-and-pepper hair, and he dressed in dark, expensive suits. Kirkpatrick, four years older and more than half a foot taller, wore aviator glasses, and combed his hair straight back. He had sunken cheeks, droopy eyes, and stooped shoulders, which gave him the look of someone who had spent his best years toiling on an assembly line. Bowman liked to banter; Kirkpatrick was taciturn, almost shy. As usual, they rented separate rooms, because Bowman’s snoring got on Kirkpatrick’s nerves. They ate breakfast together but no other meals.

This was their third trip to the area in four months. On each visit, they spent a few weeks becoming familiar with the comings and goings at Seafirst Bank, a one-story brick building at the end of a commercial strip in Lakewood, a suburb of Tacoma. The two men also occasionally entered the bank-to change a twenty, or to purchase a money order- so they could count the number of employees and learn their routines. Bowman and Kirkpatrick, who were among the most accomplished bank robbers in United States history, were about to pull off their twenty-seventh heist.

Of the seven thousand one hundred and twenty-seven bank robberies in the United States in 2000,the average take was just twelve hundred dollars, and most of the thieves were eventually captured. Bank robberies tend to be committed by inexperienced and desperate people, but Bowman and Kirkpatrick always worked with remarkable preparation and restraint, and they never bragged about their successes. They operated for fifteen years,one year less than Jesse James and his gang, and they robbed an average of two banks annually-always in a different city or town across the Midwest and Northwest. “They’re a throwback to the old days,”one veteran F.B.I.agent told me.”I hope we don’t see anyone like them again.” Bowman and Kirkpatrick were finally captured, but only after a number of small, uncharacteristic missteps, which resulted, in large part, from a middleaged desire to lead more ordinary lives.

Although the F.B.I. didn’t know whom they were looking for, the pattern was clear: two men-Mutt and Jeff, one agent named them-would gain entry to a bank either just before it opened or shortly after it closed, when there were no customers present. They usually wore trenchcoats, along with gloves and wigs, and makeup so dark that tellers sometimes identified them as Hispanic or Native American. For the most part, they didn’t hurt anyone, although in their third bank holdup, in 1983, in Minneapolis, a teller named Allaire Wilson was shot in the back by Kirkpatrick when she resisted going into the vault; she was not seriously injured. Despite the shooting,Wilson later told me, the thieves were polite, even thoughtful. After she’d been wounded,Bowman assured her that they weren’t going to lock her in the vault. “I always remember he took the time to say that to me,” she said. Another time, the pair broke into the home of a bank manager and forced him, his wife, and his fourteen-year-old son, at gunpoint, to drive to the bank. Years later, one of the few details the son remembered was that the shorter robber got him a 7 UP from the bank’s vending machine.

In 1989, shortly after the Trenchcoat Robbers-as the authorities came to refer to them-took four hundred thousand dollars from a Milwaukee bank, F.B.I. agents thought they had their men. Frank Bolduc and Francis Larkin had been arrested for allegedly robbing an armored car in Massachusetts, and an agent noticed that they matched the descriptions given by the bank tellers in Milwaukee; a jury eventually convicted them of the Milwaukee heist and an earlier attempted bank robbery nearby.

Soon after Bolduc and Larkin went to prison, however, two men-one short, the other tall-robbed a bank in Lincoln, Nebraska. A pair of the same description had hit seven more banks by the end of 1994, including the Valley Bank of Nevada in Henderson, where an employee set off an alarm. The robbers took a teller hostage, shoved her into the back seat of a stolen Chrysler sedan, and fled, pursued by the police. Shots were exchanged. Their car disappeared into a nearby housing complex laid out like a maze, which the robbers had apparently scouted earlier, as an escape route. They switched cars behind a bar, let the hostage go, and made off with a hundred and thirty-eight thousand dollars. The F.B.I. had to conclude that either Bolduc and Larkin were part of a bigger gang or the Trenchcoat Robbers were still at large.

In a 1962 mug shot,Ray Bowman,who had been arrested for burglary in Kansas City, scowls at the camera. He is a good-looking eighteen-year-old, with a pompadour and long sideburns. Bowman’s father, a cabinetmaker, died when he was twelve; his mother went to work at Hallmark Cards to support Ray and his younger brother,Dan.Bowman dropped out of school in tenth grade, and quickly drifted into the life of a small-time hood, shoplifting, or “boosting,” for a low-level mobster named Tiger Cartarella. Cartarella, who was eventually killed in a Mob hit, distributed “shopping lists” to the teen-agers: record albums, watches, tennis racquets, whatever was currently in demand. They stole the goods, and he fenced them. But Bowman was careful never to boost in Kansas City. “Ray used to say, ‘You don’t shit in your own back yard,’ ” recalled one of his former accomplices, who travelled as far as Wisconsin and Colorado with Bowman. Everyone wanted to steal with Bowman, the friend explained, because he was unflappable and closemouthed:”Ray wouldn’t tell you his middle name, unless you said it first.”

During Ray Bowman’s days as a shoplifter, he had hooked up with a young man named Billy Kirkpatrick, also a high-school dropout. They began boosting together, wearing oversized pants and trenchcoats to conceal the items they stole.They were arrested only once, in Springfield, Missouri, in 1974, where they were caught with thirty-eight record albums stolen from a K mart. By the mid-nineteen-eighties,Bowman and Kirkpatrick had stopped hanging out together in public, since friends had begun to wonder where they got all their cash.

For much of the eighties, Bowman was a big-spending, hotheaded bachelor. According to Cheryl Clark, a blackjack dealer who lived with him in those years, he indulged in limousines,cocaine, eighthundred-dollar dinners, silk shirts, and cologne. (One bank teller told police, “He smelled really good.”) Bowman also harbored strong anti-government sentiments and amassed a collection of guns and survivalist literature. One bedroom in the house was double-locked, and only Bowman had a key.”I didn’t ask any questions, ‘cause he’d get so upset I thought he was going to hit me,” Clark said.When the two split up, in 1989, he confiscated the diaries in which she had noted the dates he was out of town.

In 1990,Bowman,then forty-six,met Jenny Delamotte, a self-effacing twentysix-year-old single mother who worked at a bar. Before long, Delamotte and her daughter moved in with Bowman; two years later, she and Bowman had their first child, Samantha, who was followed by another daughter, Taylor. The children seemed to settle Bowman.He drove the kids to and from private school, and often accompanied them on field trips. He taught himself Spanish as Samantha was learning it in school. He also read voraciously, and became serious about photography. He traded his Corvette for a Crown Victoria, Delamotte said, and became a “homebody.”

In the fall of 1996,Ray Bowman called his brother, Dan, for the first time since 1985,when they had quarrelled over Dan’s refusal to store a footlocker for him. In the meantime, Dan had prospered in Kansas City, where he sold real estate and had opened Sidekicks Saloon, a successful gay bar. “I was thinking he wanted to borrow money,” Dan said. Instead,Ray asked his brother to be the executor of his will. After the brothers reconciled, it surprised Dan to see how frugally Ray and Jenny were living.Their one-story home, which they rented for eight hundred dollars a month, was so modest that Delamotte had to cover a hole in the kitchen linoleum with a throw rug. “There was so much they did without,” Dan told me.

Kirkpatrick, meanwhile, had been caught trying to steal a car in southern Illinois. He posted bail and fled, briefly, to Kansas City, where he assumed the identity of a bar owner named Charles Gehrs. Kirkpatrick eventually found his way to Minneapolis, where he and his girlfriend, Myra Penney, also began to build a quieter life.

Penney is seventeen years younger than Kirkpatrick, and barely comes up to his shoulder. She has wavy red hair, and a brassy manner. Penney told me that she got to know Kirkpatrick through a friend and immediately fell in love. At the time, she was recently divorced and working as a school-bus driver to support her two young children.When Kirkpatrick left Kansas City, she decided to follow him, and left her children with their father. She didn’t communicate with her family for nearly ten years.

Penney was the only person who knew about Kirkpatrick and Bowman’s line of work. When Kirkpatrick returned from his trips, Penney went through the motel and rental-car receipts to make sure he hadn’t been overcharged and then burned them in the fireplace. She also enrolled the two men in the Holiday Inn Priority Club so they could take advantage of the chain’s discounts. Penney never met the man she knew only as “Ray from Kansas City,” though she and Kirkpatrick kept a photograph of Bowman’s two daughters on the refrigerator.

In 1988, when Kirkpatrick was scouting a bank in Duluth, he and Penney became smitten with the rugged coast of Lake Superior. Six years later, they decided to build a log home eighteen miles from the Canadian border, in Hovland, Minnesota, a town that consists of one convenience store and a gas pump.They hired a local builder, Michael Senty, and with him designed a three-level, cedarlog home by the water.Penney paid Senty mostly in cash-in fifty- and hundreddollar bills,wrapped in rubber bands and delivered in brown lunch bags. “I was led to believe that she inherited the money,” Senty said.

In the summer of 1995, the couple settled in. Kirkpatrick had taken on yet another identity, and was introducing himself as Don Wilson, although Penney always referred to him as “big guy” rather than risk using the wrong name. To explain why he was away so often, Penney told friends that he owned warehouses and a locksmithing business; in 1989, Kirkpatrick had, in fact, taken a fifty-two-lesson mail-order course through Foley-Belsaw, one of the leading locksmithing schools. Penney spent much of her time tending a greenhouse vegetable garden and stitching quilts; when Kirkpatrick was home, he worked on a stone path to the lake and practiced his locksmithing skills in the basement. Kirkpatrick grew so comfortable in Hovland that for the first time since Penney had known him he stopped carrying a gun.

Kirkpatrick and Penney became good friends with a younger couple, Randy and Monica Schnobrich, and often babysat for their two small children. “I always had this feeling that they were spending more money more freely than they’d ever done before,” Randy said.”But we thought,Things are different up here, so we’ll just trust them.” There were a few mysterious moments, though. Once, Randy came into the house to use the phone, and saw Kirkpatrick slip an empty holster off the kitchen table. And when Randy took a photograph of Kirkpatrick and Penney sitting on the couch with his four-yearold son, Sebastian, between them, they both hid their faces behind the little boy.

By the spring of 1996, the Lake Superior home was almost complete. Penney hounded Senty about the final adjustments so relentlessly that, angered by her badgering, he placed an anonymous call to the Internal Revenue Ser- vice and reported that a woman named Myra Penney had paid for a home in Hovland entirely in cash.

The following January, Kirkpatrick joined Bowman in Washington, to rob the Seafirst Bank.Using a set of manufacturers’ master keys that Kirkpatrick had bought through the mail by posing as a locksmith, the two men stole a Jeep Grand Cherokee. At six-thirty on the evening of February 10th, just after closing time, Kirkpatrick and Bowman drove to the bank and used a thin, L-shaped tool to open the locked front door. Both men were wearing trenchcoats buttoned at the collar, sunglasses, and baseball caps with the F.B.I. insignia; Kirkpatrick was also wearing an earpiece that was connected to a police scanner in his coat pocket. There were three women in the bank when the men entered with their guns drawn.

“I came for your money,” Bowman declared. Then he put his pistol back in his coat pocket, warning the women that if they didn’t do everything he said, he would take a hostage. The two men herded the tellers into the open vault, which contained a metal cart with a Plexiglas top, loaded with money.”Look at all that cash!” Kirkpatrick exclaimed. He bound the tellers’ wrists with plastic electrical ties and ordered them to close their eyes while Bowman pried open the padlocked compartments on the cash cart and began stuffing duffel bags with bills. One of the tellers explained that since her husband hadn’t heard from her he might come by the bank. “Don’t worry,” Bowman assured her, “we’ll be long gone.” Before leaving, they tied the women’s ankles to a table. Then they walked out of the bank with three hundred and fifty-five pounds of cash.

As soon as the two men drove away in their stolen car, one of the tellers freed herself and set off the alarm. As it turned out, this branch took daily deposits from other branches, as well as from a nearby Indian casino. Bowman and Kirkpatrick had stolen four million four hundred and sixty-one thousand six hundred and eighty-one dollars-the largest take in United States history.

The F.B.I. immediately suspected the Trenchcoat Robbers. Agents made contact with every hotel on the I-5 corridor, and stopped rush-hour traffic to ask commuters whether they’d noticed anything suspicious near the bank. When they found the getaway car, a week later, it was cleaner than when it had been stolen; there was no evidence of tampering, and they couldn’t even detect the owner’s fingerprints, let alone the fingerprints of the robbers.

Bowman and Kirkpatrick spent the night of the heist at a motel in Portland, Oregon, and then split up, each taking half the money. On his way back to Kansas City,Bowman deposited much of his share in bank safe-deposit boxes in Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Missouri; Kirkpatrick drove two days to a Holiday Inn in Egan, a Minneapolis suburb,where he met Penney to celebrate Valentine’s Day. “He came in in the middle of the night,” Penney recalled.”He had four or five duffels, and I asked him if it was what I thought it was. He was smiling.” They went for dinner at the Napa Valley Grille in the Mall of America and drank two bottles of Dom Perignon. Kirkpatrick never said how much money was in the duffels. “Only once, when we were up north,” Penney told me, “he said that we had enough money to last the rest of our lives. I was just so happy that maybe he wouldn’t have to do it anymore.”

The spring of 1997 was a quiet interlude for both men. Bowman spent time with his children and shopped for books and expensive clothes. He threw Dan a surprise birthday party at a steak house. “It was the first time my brother had ever done anything for me,” Dan said. “He turned into this very caring person.” In Hovland,Penney worked in her garden and Kirkpatrick continued to work on the stone path, using a new sixwheel all-terrain vehicle.”There was this sense they were finally settled,” Randy Schnobrich recalls.

In the meantime, the F.B.I. posted a hundred-thousand-dollar reward and convened its third conference in eight years about the case which was now called Trenchrob.Agents from eighteen cities gathered in Tacoma to compare notes.

For twenty-one years, Billy Waters worked as a special agent with the Criminal Investigation Division of the I.R.S. An unassuming, slightly built man in his fifties,Waters had asked the I.R.S. to assign him to its two-agent Duluth office because he loved to hunt and fish. When state headquarters relayed the anonymous tip about Penney, he reviewed the filings for local Currency Transaction Reports, which every bank must file for cash transactions of more than ten thousand dollars. They showed that a log-home builder named Michael Senty had deposited a hundred and seventy-four thousand dollars in cash.When he discovered that Penney had never filed tax returns, he got a subpoena for her to appear before a grand jury.

On the afternoon of August 12, 1997,Waters appeared in the driveway of Kirkpatrick and Penney’s home and introduced himself. Penney told Waters she wouldn’t answer any questions until she had talked to an attorney. Penney told me that after Waters left she showed Kirkpatrick the subpoena:”Billy cracked open a beer. I opened a bottle of white Zinfandel and took a glass, went and sat by the lake, and cried.We didn’t know what it was they wanted.”

Over the next few days, Kirkpatrick and Penney gathered up the locksmithing tools, the blank keys, and the key-making machine, and tossed everything into a Dumpster. Kirkpatrick then collected their cash from safe-deposit boxes and drove to Las Vegas, where he put it in a storage locker. While Kirkpatrick was gone,Bowman called.”Uncle Tom’s been here,” Penney told him. “Uncle Tom” was their code for law enforcement.

“You got to be kidding me,” Bowman replied.


“Your phone’s no good,” Bowman said and hung up.

Actually, his phone calls were being monitored, but not because the F.B.I. suspected that he was a bank robber. Three months earlier,Bowman,who had rented a storage locker in Kansas City under a pseudonym, had missed his rental payment. The managers of the facility, unable to reach him, pried open two footlockers and found a cache of suspicious material:pamphlets and videos with titles like “Expert Lock Picking,” and “B.& E.: A to Z-How to Get in Anywhere,Anytime,” various books on disguises, and what appeared to be parts for a silencer. When Bowman finally came in to pay his overdue bill, an employee jotted down his license-plate number and passed it on to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. An A.T.F. agent named Paul Marquardt, who examined the locker’s contents, immediately thought the bureau was dealing with a “Tim McVeigh type,” and so the local police, six months later joined by the F.B.I., put Bowman under surveillance.

Bowman must have sensed that he was being followed.According to Delamotte, he began reading a book on money laundering, and then one midnight in October he showed up unannounced at his brother’s home with two locked leather satchels. He asked Dan to keep the bags for him, assuring him that it wasn’t drug money. Later, he told him that the contents of the satchels were for his daughters should anything ever happen to him.

After Waters’s visit, Kirkpatrick and Penney heard nothing more from the I.R.S. for three months and assumed that they were no longer under suspicion. In fact,Waters had tracked down Myra Penney’s mother, in Kansas City, and she had told him that her daughter was living up north, with a man named Billy Kirkpatrick. Waters then uncovered Kirkpatrick’s arrest record, but he found no history of narcotics in his or Penney’s background to account for the large amounts of cash. He thought that they might be jewel thieves.

That autumn, Kirkpatrick grew increasingly worried that someone might break into his Las Vegas storage locker and steal his money-an understandable concern, given his vocational training. In November, he flew to Las Vegas, emptied the locker, and began the drive back home.On Interstate 80, just outside Lincoln, Nebraska, a state trooper stopped him for driving seven miles over the speed limit. Kirkpatrick, who produced a driver’s license in the name of Don Wilson, said that he was a locksmith and that he had flown to Las Vegas to drive his niece to Denver. But the trooper was skeptical. Searching the rental car, the officer found four guns and two bags of fake mustaches, a key-making machine, and locksmith tools. He also discovered, in two padlocked footlockers, nearly two million dollars in cash.

Kirkpatrick was arrested for possession of firearms, but the F.B.I. suspected that he might be one of the Trenchcoat Robbers, since some of the money was easily traced to the Seafirst Bank. In Duluth, an agent who knew of Billy Waters’s interest in a Don Wilson showed him composite sketches that had been made after two robbers held up a bank there in 1988;Waters identified the taller one as Billy Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick, meanwhile, had got word of his arrest to Penney, with whom he had made plans for this eventuality: she was to change her identity and flee to Seaside, Oregon, one of their favorite vacation spots. Instead, she drove to Lincoln and posted a hundred-thousanddollar bond for Kirkpatrick. “My heart got the best of me,” she said.She was arrested at the Lincoln courthouse, and charged with aiding and abetting. Penney agreed to coöperate with the F.B.I., and told the agents that Kirkpatrick’s partner was named Ray and lived in Kansas City.

An examination of Kirkpatrick’s arrest records revealed that he and Bowman had worked together as shoplifters, and a search of his home in Hovland turned up three trenchcoats. The only piece of evidence connecting the two men, however, was the picture of Bowman’s children on the refrigerator; it matched photos that police had recovered from Bowman’s trash. A few weeks later, Kansas City police arrested Bowman as he walked into a Flash Photo to drop off film he’d taken of his daughter Taylor’s school trip to a farm.

In an F.B.I. search of Bowman’s home, twenty-seven agents were called in to sift through the heap of boxes and papers in the basement. Among other things, investigators found blank car keys, four gray wigs, makeup remover, cans of temporary hair color, a policefrequency directory, ninety-seven thousand dollars in cash, and sixty-seven firearms. The most incriminating items, however, were two scraps of paper: on one, Bowman had scribbled the licenseplate number of the janitor who cleaned the Seafirst Bank; on the other, he had written the date of a piano recital that he apparently hoped to attend at the University of Washington-which placed him in the vicinity of the Seafirst Bank a few months before the robbery.

The statute of limitations had expired for many of the Trenchcoat heists. Kirkpatrick was charged with three robberies, including the Seafirst.A Nebraska judge ruled that the search of Kirkpatrick’s car was illegal, thus making the evidence inadmissible (though it could be-and was-used against Bowman). Nevertheless, Penney persuaded Kirkpatrick to plead guilty, and to coöperate with the F.B.I. He refused to name his accomplice but did admit that he had worked with the same partner each time. Over five days, he walked the agents through a number of the robberies-including a few that had not been on the F.B.I.’s Trenchrob list-and the agents, in turn, walked Kirkpatrick through part of their investigation. “It was like the masters comparing notes,” one person who attended these debriefings recalled.

Kirkpatrick told the agents that he and his partner sometimes broke into a bank at night and slept there, to surprise the employees when they entered the next morning. He explained that he and his partner planned escape routes that involved only right-hand turns so that they wouldn’t get stuck in traffic.He said they wore matching outfits so that the tellers’ memories of them would blend together.And he recounted in detail how he and his partner had committed the two robberies for which Frank Bolduc and Francis Larkin had been convicted, eight years earlier. (Those convictions were subsequently overturned.) On August 19, 1999, Kirkpatrick was sentenced to fifteen years and eight months.

The charges against Myra Penney in Nebraska were dropped; she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering in Minnesota and was sentenced to three years’ probation. Shortly before her sentencing,Penney went back to Hovland and sat by the lake with Randy Schnobrich. “I half miss you and I’m half pissed off at you,” he told her. (He had dug up some bulbs that Penney and Kirkpatrick had planted in front of his house, thinking, he said, “Maybe there’s the mother lode.”) Penney drove to the log home, which has since been auctioned off, and picked some daffodils she had planted. It angered her that the Duluth papers described the house as a “hideaway.” Kirkpatrick “built that house out of love for me,” she said. “It irks me that they twist it.”

Penney now works as a front-office manager at a hotel in Minneapolis. In a letter, Kirkpatrick asked Penney to marry him, but, she said wistfully, “Fifteen years is a long time.”

Delamotte has always maintained that she knew nothing about the bank robberies. At the first of Bowman’s two trials, in June, 1998-for possession of silencer parts-she burst into tears when she heard that Bowman had secreted away nearly two and a half million dollars in safe-deposit boxes around the country.”She had to go to him for everything,” Paul Marquardt, the A.T.F. agent, said. “Like a little girl getting her allowance.” From jail,Bowman cryptically asked Delamotte, “Have the children eaten their oatmeal?” Jenny looked in the bottom of the oatmeal box and found keys to yet more safe-deposit boxes. She turned them over to Bowman’s attorney.

When Bowman was arrested, Dan took the two locked satchels he was storing to a friend’s house, so that he could honestly tell investigators that he had nothing of his brother’s. But, in the end, he decided to hand them over to the authorities. It turned out that each bag contained two hundred and forty thousand dollars. Dan had many sleepless nights after that. “I felt like I betrayed him,” he said. One of the bundles of money had a stamped band from the Seafirst Bank which was used as evidence when Ray was tried for robbing Seafirst and four other banks.

At that trial, which involved a hundred and eight witnesses and more than three thousand evidence exhibits, Bowman was convicted and sentenced to twenty-four years and six months. Dan was called as a witness, and, as he testi-fied about his reconciliation with his brother, he broke down. Ray, sitting at the defense table, pounded his heart with his right hand and mouthed the words “I love you.”

Ray Bowman’s reticence was not tempered by his arrest. “I wonder how many things they did that we didn’t know about,” Marquardt said to me. Bowman and Kirkpatrick’s accumulated wealth could be accounted for only roughly, and one prosecutor believes that there still may be more money to be found: indeed, eighteen months after Bowman’s conviction, a bank not far from his home was relocating and opened an unclaimed safe-deposit box in which the bank’s staff found seven thousand five hundred and fifty dollars in cash, seven handguns, and some loose diamonds; the authorities immediately traced it back to Bowman.

I was permitted to visit Bowman at a small, privately run detention center in Leavenworth, Kansas. (He has since been moved to the federal penitentiary there.) We met in a bare, fluorescent-lit visiting room, where we sat in plastic chairs, knee to knee, his court-appointed attorney sitting to the side. Bowman is fifty-seven, but he looked much older. He was flaccid-almost plump-and his complexion pasty. He wears his reading glasses all the time so that they won’t get stolen.Nervous laughter punctuated his answers, and he seemed self-conscious about the effect of his words.

Explaining why he agreed to meet with me, he said, “This is a chance to, I guess, be me, and maybe they’ll say I’m not a monster.” Questions about the bank robberies or about Kirkpatrick were off limits, because at the time Bowman was appealing his first conviction. (He has since exhausted all his appeals but continues to refuse to discuss his case.) So he talked of his lawnmower business, which he said “never got the chance to get going anywhere,” and of reading Plato, which he confessed was “going awful slow.” He spoke of his daughters, pausing to remove his glasses and wipe away tears. Delamotte has told them their daddy’s in prison because “he broke a rule.” She has since moved to Georgia with their children.

At one point, Bowman’s attorney blurted out, “How did you not tell anyone?” But Bowman said nothing.Whoever had robbed those banks, I said, had been really good at what he did.

“Whoever,”Bowman replied,laughing. “The F.B.I. had grudging admiration for whoever did it,” I told him.

“I find that curious,” he said, with a barely perceptible smile that suggested he may still know a few things the rest of us don’t.


Chicago is one of America’s most iconic, historic, and fascinating cities. For Alex Kotlowitz, an accidental Chicagoan, it is the perfect perch from which to peer into America’s heart.

Separated by a river, St. Joseph and Benton Harbor are two Michigan towns that are geographically close, yet worlds apart. St. Joseph is a prosperous, predominately white lakeshore community while Benton Harbor is impoverished and predominately black. When the body of Eric McGinnis, a black teenage boy from Benton Harbor, is found in the river that separates the towns, relations between the two communities grow increasingly strained as longheld misperceptions and attitudes surface. 

There Are No Children Here chronicles two years in the lives of two boys, Lafeyette and Pharoah, struggling to survive in Chicago’s Henry Horner Homes, a public housing complex disfigured by crime and neglect. 

© 2018, Alex Kotlowitz. All rights reserved