Margaret Elizabeth Bowman

Margaret Elizabeth Bowman

Margaret Bowman, 1957-1978, college student

    Nearly 22 years ago, Margaret Elizabeth Bowman was murdered in her sleep. During the early hours of Jan. 15, 1978, a man slipped into Margaret's room in the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University and beat her to death. Before he left, the man killed another sorority sister, Lisa Levy, and seriously wounded two more.

    Margaret did not know the person who killed her. He meant nothing to her, and he had nothing to do with any moment of her 21-year-old life except its last few seconds. He was, in fact, nothing. A hole in the air. A walking negation of all that matters.

    Yet because he killed many women before he was caught and convicted and executed, he went on to become famous. Books have been written about him. Movies have been made about him or based on him. TV shows documenting evil still trumpet his name.

    He is not the one whose name should be remembered. Remember, instead, the names he tried to erase.

    Remember Margaret.

    She was never called Peggy or Maggie. From first grade on, she insisted on going by Margaret. She was slender and tall. She had her father's light brown eyes and her mother's delicate nose. As a little girl, she would sit in her father's lap and listen to him read Peter Rabbit, and if he stopped in midsentence, she would recite the rest from memory. Reading was always a part of her. At age 10, when her grandparents gave her a copy of The Secret Garden, she disappeared inside it, wandering its pages over and over.

    Her family moved around when she was young, but she lived in St. Petersburg from the time she was a teenager until she left for college. She used to play chess with her younger brother, Jackson. At St. Petersburg High, she was in the French club and on the tennis team. At FSU, she joined the Chi Omega sorority because her grandmother, also named Margaret, had pledged there. She studied art history and classical civilizations. That January of 1978, she was learning to sew. At the time of her death, she was working on a green velveteen dress.

    If she were alive today, Margaret would be almost 43. Her parents, Jack and Runelle Bowman, think she would be working in a museum, doing something involving art or archaeology. She would probably be married and have children of her own.

    Twelve years ago, the Bowmans donated a cross in Margaret's name to St. Thomas' Episcopal Church in St. Petersburg, where their daughter once prayed. Hanging behind the altar, the cross shows Jesus rising from the dead, his hands no longer nailed and bleeding, but free and outstretched as he ascends toward heaven.

    Runelle says God has blessed her with "a non-feeling" about the man who took Margaret. She does not hate him. She does not think about him at all. Instead she goes to church every Sunday and looks at the cross and remembers her daughter.

    Go to St. Thomas' yourself. Kneel in the pews, and sing the hymns, and gaze up at the altar, and think about Margaret. Think about her eyes, the girl who curled into her father's lap, the green dress she never finished. When the service ends, walk back into the world and into the rest of your life. Do another load of laundry, make some lunch, read a book to your children. Keep Margaret safe inside you.

    Sisters In Grief

      Theodore Bundy, 42, who is scheduled to be executed Tuesday for the murder of a 12-year-old Florida girl, also received death sentences for the 1978 murders of two Chi Omega sorority sisters at Florida State University. In this article, the surviving members of the sorority recall the night of the killings and how the crimes have affected their lives.

      Sometime around 3:15 a.m. on Jan. 15, 1978, Nita Neary said goodnight to her date at the back door of the Chi Omega house on the campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee. She hustled inside to escape the near 20-degree cold.

      Going through the living room, Nita heard hurrying footsteps coming down the stairs. As she stood in the near-darkness, she saw a man holding something that looked like a club in his right hand. His left hand was on the front door. For three seconds, in the half-light, she focused on his profile.

      Then he was gone.

      Nita ran upstairs to awaken her roommate, Nancy Dowdy. After telling her a man had just left the house, the pair walked down the steps to check the front door.

      Finding no one downstairs, the girls wondered what to do next.

      Undecided, Nita and Nancy went to wake up the sorority president, who

      came out into the hall to talk.

      Less than a minute later, at 3:19 a.m., Karen Chandler opened her door and staggered down the hall, away from the knot of women.

      Nancy wondered if Karen were sick or drunk. She went to her.

      As she passed Karen`s open door, Nancy looked in to see Kathy Kleiner sitting on her bed, legs crossed, rocking back and forth, calling for her boyfriend and her pastor. She was holding her hands under her chin. Her hands were full of blood. Another Chi Omega, Margaret Bowman, already was lying dead in her room. Lisa Levy was fatally injured.

      Because the police had no idea whom they were looking for, the girls of Chi Omega were repeatedly asked about their boyfriends and acquaintances. During the 30 days before Ted Bundy was arrested for the murders of two of their sorority sisters, they were told to scratch Chi Omega stickers off their cars, not to wear Chi Omega jerseys and not to travel together.

      The girls did not miss the implication that someone might be systematically killing off Chi Omegas. Six months earlier another FSU Chi Omega had been raped, severely beaten and left for dead in a field outside Tallahassee.

      Suddenly you`re thinking, `Is this somebody we know?` Helen Haynes says. I mean, the bogeyman is never someone you know. So suddenly you`re looking at people like you`ve never looked at them before. You`re even looking at girls, thinking, could they have dressed up and done this thing?

      Around 6 a.m. on Jan. 15, after the body of Margaret Bowman and the dying Lisa Levy had been taken from the house, after the critically injured Kathy Kleiner and Karen Chandler had been taken to the hospital, the rest of the Chi Omegas were fingerprinted and interviewed, then told to call their parents.

      Authorities sealed off the sorority house and asked the girls to find lodging elsewhere. A few parents came to take their daughters home. Other girls asked for their parents to join them in Tallahassee.

      When they finally entered the room that held the man police believed killed their friends, they were represented by an attorney they did not know. This attorney took the stance that we were not capable of speaking for ourselves, Susan Denton said. That is the only time, I recall, that someone tried to make sure we knew what we were to do.

      Of facing Bundy, Susan said, I had the feeling he was just seeing the women he missed.

      Hurried but not panicked, Nancy Dowdy took Karen Chandler, who was bleeding profusely from the face, into her own room, where she put Karen on the bed. Karen, holding her arm, kept sliding off the bed and Nancy kept putting her back on.

      Nita ran to wake Patty Landers.

      Carla Griffin, assuming the commotion was downstairs, was surprised to find no one there. She returned upstairs and found the injured girl in Nancy`s room and began trying to calm her and clean her up.

      Nancy left to call the police from a phone in the hall. Patty had also called authorities from a second hall phone. Their calls were received at 3:21.

      Nancy`s phone call brought Teri Murphy into the hall.

      Teri and Carla tried to help Karen, who kept repeating that she was sick and needed to get to a bathroom. While Teri asked Karen what had happened, Carla gently held her sorority sister, who was bludgeoned so badly that Carla had not recognized her.

      Ted Bundy had hit Karen Chandler at least twice with a log. The blows broke her jaw and knocked out several teeth. Her left arm, shattered at the elbow, led police to believe that she was the only one of the four girls who had tried to fend off their attacker.

      Karen remembers nothing about the attack. She went to bed one night and woke up in a hospital.

      ``I remember being in the bathroom in the hospital and my mother stood in front of the mirror so I wouldn`t see myself. But when she left, I looked.

      My face was real swollen and puffy, with one eye completely closed. My mouth was a wreck, but I could see I had two eyes, a nose and ears. I had a brain. I could still see me there. That was something. That was a lot.

      Karen left school for the winter quarter and dropped one of her majors. But she went back.

      ``The house wasnt creepy . . . They had gotten a security system that was great. Im sure the police were patrolling that house like nobody`s business. I felt super safe there.

      When I first said to Mom that I wanted to go back and live at the house, she said no. I said, `Mom, other than the city jail, can you imagine any place that is safer than the Chi Omega house right now?` She thought about it and said, `Well, you`ve got a good point there.`

      Karen moved into Lisa Levy`s old room. It was not evidence of a belief in her own indestructibility, it was simply that the room was available, and Karen needed a room.

      `The alternative to moving out of the house was living at home, hiding, being afraid to go out at night,Karen said.I really wanted things to be as they had been before.``

      Karen did not take the attempt on her life personally.

      I felt that this was somebody who didn`t know me, she said. He wasn`t after Karen Chandler. He was after a female body.

      Last month Karen gave birth to her second child. A full-time mother who lives in Georgia, she talks a lot about her children. There is a thin layer of drywall dust on the furniture in her home: She and her husband are redoing the dining room. Her living room smells of crisp burnt pine.

      I`m not trying to gloss over that it happened. But too much good stuff has happened in my life to derail on something bad that happened 10 years ago.Nothing that was really important had been taken from me. The only thing he could have really gotten from me is the fun out of life. Gosh, I was 20 years old, and this was supposed to be the time of my life.``

      Karen knows what separates her from the rest of the Chi Omegas. What her sorority sisters saw that night was not what she saw.

      They saw death.

      Karen woke up and saw life.

      Diane Cossin had left her room and gone down the hallway to be with Lisa Levy. She found Lisa near death. Diane bent over her friend, holding her, talking to her, trying to keep her alive, if only by sheer force of will. Lisas blood soaked Dianes bathrobe.

      As a policeman pulled Diane away by the shoulders, she tried to cover Lisa`s exposed breast. She wanted to protect Lisa, even if Lisa no longer needed protecting.

      Diane vividly remembers Lisa`s last words to her. Around 10 p.m. on Saturday, Lisa begged Diane to join a group of sorority sisters who were going to the bar next door for a drink. Diane was tempted but declined.

      I`ll never speak to you again, Lisa said.

      Diane remembers laughing.

      Diane had known Lisa since Lisa was in junior high. And Diane knew Lisas life had meant more than this, to end up as a name on Ted Bundys death warrant.

      I feel I have to accomplish something, Diane said. Make it worth not just my life but Lisa`s.

      In 1980, Diane went to work for Dexter Lehtinen, a member of the Florida legislature. Together, they decided to fight for victims` rights.

      She had not forgotten the months she and her sorority sisters survived without answers and, at times, without comfort.

      We were all victims, Diane said. Everyone in the house was a victim as far as I`m concerned.

      Lehtinen carried a Victims Bill of Rights to the Florida legislature. With Diane as his senior legislative aide, it passed in 1984.

      Two months ago Florida adopted the Victims of Crime Amendment, the first of its kind in the nation. Diane and the senator are given the lion`s share of the credit for making it happen.

      Winning, though, doesn`t give her peace. In the last two years she has written letters to NBC protesting what she said was the exploitative nature of The Deliberate Stranger, a two-part TV movie on Ted Bundy.

      She also wrote letters to a university that was offering a class in

      thrillers. Ted Bundys crimes were to be included, and Dianes letters effectively got the class canceled. The university: Florida State.

      Dexter Lehtinen is now U.S. Attorney in Miami, and Diane is his press secretary.

      It is as if with fresh pain she can hold the memory of Lisa that much closer. Every day Diane lives, she reminds herself that Lisa didn`t.

      Killer`s Legacy Haunts Campus Some Students At Fsu Try To Forget, But Others Can`t

        TALLAHASSEE -- It is a nondescript, two-story building across Jefferson Street from one of the main entrances to Florida State University. The Greek letters chi and omega are intertwined in wrought iron posts on the front porch, but a sign says just Chi Ome -- the letters G and A are missing.

        Covering the keyhole on the twin brown doors is a plastic shield bearing a red-letter message: Warning: Deactivate Alarm System.

        Every time they open the door, the women of Chi Omega must remember to punch a coded number to turn off the security devices that were installed in the days after Ted Bundy made their home a house of horror.

        Inside, in the sorority chapter room, is a stained-glass memorial to Lisa Levy and Margaret Bowman. Every year, the sorority sisters applaud the winner of the annual scholarship awarded in the murdered women`s names.

        The women of Chi Omega today, many of who were in junior high school when the murders occurred, just try not to think about it. I think that makes them uncomfortable and nervous, said Kirk Bell Cocke, national president of the sorority and a Tallahassee resident.

        We`d just like to put that behind us, she said. It was just a terrible, terrible tragedy.

        But a few sickos, she said, still tell crass jokes about Ted Bundy in front of Chi Omega sorority sisters and bother them with obscene phone calls.

        Incredible as it seems to some in Tallahassee, some Florida State University students don`t know who Bundy is and what happened at Chi Omega more than eight years ago, said Jim Sewell, a former FSU police officer and criminology instructor who frequently talked to such students.

        But many would just as soon forget and know they cannot.

        They know, said Susan Flannery, 23. They want to forget. It`s something everyone`s tried to put out of their minds, but the reality is they can`t.

        For her, the reminders are everywhere. She is a bartender at The Phyrst, formerly Sherrod`s, the bar next to the Chi Omega house where Bundy drank the night before the murders and possibly saw one of his victims, Lisa Levy.

        The Phyrst was packed with people to watch the NBC miniseries The Deliberate Stranger in early May.

        For Flannery there was a sense of deja vu. She had been visiting friends in Tallahassee on the weekend Levy and Bowman were murdered and remembers hearing the news on the radio. Like them, she is from St. Petersburg and is majoring in fashion merchandising. Her brother knew Levy.

        It happened, it`s over with. It`s taken care of as far as security and things like that, Flannery declared, in between drawing beers and popping open wine coolers during happy hour. But she is very cautious. She lives a block from The Phyrst and drives to work.

        I will not work alone if I`m closing, Flannery said.

        Many sorority houses, not just Chi Omega, installed alarms and stronger locks shortly after the murders.

        But while the emphasis on security is still there, the practice has gotten a little lax. Melissa Block, a former Hollywood resident, said that one recent Tuesday night, a strange man selling prints was knocking on doors and entering rooms in her dorm. She chased him out but didn`t call police.

        Block said people joke constantly about the murders. If you see a Chi O, they say, like, `You`re a Ted Bundy victim.` It was so long ago that I don`t think it`s such a big deal. I`ve joked about it too, but I would never say it to a Chi O, said Block, 20, a junior majoring in art.

        I like talking about it, just because it`s something that happened at our campus that didn`t happen anywhere else. It`s an FSU reputation, she said, expressing widespread student sentiment. It was terrible that it happened, but I think it was kind of neat that there was a murderer on campus years ago. Right here, where we are now.

        Student Don Tolliver, 22, has an unusual but personal connection to Bundy: He lives in room 12 at 409 W. College Ave., where Bundy lived for several weeks. I kind of wonder, what did he think between these four walls? said Tolliver, gazing at the beige paint of the 10-foot by 12-foot room at the top of the stairs. ``When my friends come up here, they want to see where he was. They say, I hope it doesnt rub off on you.```