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New clues, dead ends

July 26, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Like she does each night, Faye Rodgers picked up the photograph of her brother and placed it gently against her right cheek. Talking to the photo, she told her brother she loves him and hopes he's all right.

"I guess whatever makes you feel better," Rodgers said.

Rodgers, 59, said that is one of the few things she can do to ease the pain caused by her brother's slaying in November 2002.

Jeffrey Rowland's body was found by a jogger on the C&O Canal towpath near Sandy Hook in southern Washington County in the early hours of Nov. 15.

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Since then, detectives from Maryland and West Virginia have turned up some clues. Some are dead ends, such as a diamond ring that turned up about a month ago. Some give police hope that the case will eventually be solved, such as an anonymous letter police received a few weeks ago.

Some have yet to be discovered, such as a weapon.

To date there have been no arrests, no warrants have been issued and no one can say for sure who killed Rowland, or why.

At Rodgers' home Friday in Bolivar, W.Va., Rodgers and her parents smiled when they talked about Rowland, who was a 43-year-old elementary school teacher in Jefferson County when he died.

"He called me every lunch time," said Rowland's father, Francis Rowland. Francis, 81, and his wife, Violet, lived with Jeff at his Charles Town, W.Va., house. Francis, who has trouble walking, could always look to Jeff for help getting upstairs.

Violet, 77, who can barely hear and cannot read even large print because her vision is deteriorating, praised her son.

"He was always ready to help someone who needed help. He was just a wonderful fellow," she said.

Rodgers remembers listening to oldies music with her brother - he loved The Carpenters and The Monkees. That's what she thinks he was doing the last time anyone saw him.

A store clerk at a 7-Eleven store east of Charles Town said she saw Rowland sitting in his van about 6:15 p.m. the night before his death. At the time, the woman said Rowland looked like he was waiting for someone, but he could have been organizing his music, Rodgers said.

Washington County Sheriff's Office investigator Greg Alton said the jogger found Rowland's body 7:30 a.m. the next day. Rowland had been shot in the neck, his family said, and was face down near the towpath.

Hoping for a break


Initial speculation in the news media about closing the case quickly waned, and clues came more slowly.

Recently, both Alton and Jefferson County Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober said there is hope for solving the case, but they are waiting for the "big break." The two county agencies are sharing resources because even though the slaying occurred in Washington County, the majority of information has come from Jefferson County.

Boober said there are five or six people who, police believe, know something about Rowland's death, but there is not enough evidence to prove what they know. The group of people are good enough friends that "they're willing to risk their lives" to keep their knowledge to themselves, investigators said.

"You would think that you would have something by now," Boober said, but lips have been sealed.

Boober said he believes the motive is robbery. The area in which Rowland was killed was identified by police as a meeting place for gay men, but Boober said the evidence supports a robbery theory. Rowland's watch and wallet were missing when his body was found.

Alton, who is the lead investigator on the case, said only that robbery is one theory he is considering.

Besides the uncooperative "persons of interest" to whom Boober referred, Alton said good evidence has been scant. Alton presented the diamond ring to Rodgers in hopes it could link someone to Rowland, but Rowland never wore anything aside from his watch, Rodgers said.

One piece of evidence has offered hope, Alton said. Earlier this month, police received an anonymous, hand-printed, 11/2-page letter via U.S. mail. It was addressed to the Washington County Sheriff's Department, Alton said.

Alton wouldn't release passages from the letter because he said only the person who wrote it, or possible witnesses or suspects, would know the facts detailed. But he said the letter was written by a person who knew someone was near the scene either at the time of the slaying or shortly thereafter. The letter significantly shortened the 12- to 13-hour time frame of when the slaying occurred.

That information can be cross-checked against current or future statements, Alton said. He hoped the writer would call police.

Alton said several more people were interviewed this week, and estimated that more than 50 had been interviewed. He said that is a sign the investigation is moving forward.

Rodgers said calls from the police are noticeably infrequent.

"Once in a while, I might get on the phone, call them, see what's going on," Rodgers said.

She hadn't spoken with anyone for a month, since Alton came by with the ring.

Rodgers, like the police, believes the killer's identity is out there.

"Somebody knows something. They just won't come forward," Rodgers said. "Somebody's got to know something."

Alton asked that anyone with information regarding Rowland's slaying call the Washington County Sheriff's Department at 301-791-3020 or Washington County Crime Solvers at 301-733-4141. Callers to Crime Solvers can remain anonymous, and cash rewards are available for tips that lead to the arrest and indictment of responsible individuals.

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