England (Hove CC)
Sheila Bowler
May 13, 1992 (East Sussex)

Sheila Bowler was convicted of murdering her late husband's 89-year-old aunt, Florence Jackson. While Bowler was driving Jackson one night, a tire on her car became deflated and Bowler stopped on Route A259 near Station Road in Winchelsea. She left Jackson in the car and went to seek help. She knocked on the door of a residence and met a Mr. Soan. She used his telephone to call for roadside assistance. When she came back to her car with Mr. and Mrs. Soan, Jackson was missing. In the search for Jackson that followed, Bowler told others not to look far away, as she did not think Jackson was mobile enough to have wandered very far. Jackson's body was found the next day 600 yards away in the River Brede. She had drowned.

At trial the prosecution alleged that Bowler had pushed Jackson off a cliff into the river in order to gain a modest inheritance from her. It was alleged that Bowler then staged her story by stopping on the A259, letting the air out of one of her tires, and enlisting the Soans in a search for a woman she knew was dead. The trial judge instructed the jury that Jackson was too immobile to have walked to the river on her own. Thus they only had to decide whether Bowler killed Jackson or somebody else did. Since there was no evidence that another person was involved in Jackson's death, the jury convicted Bowler.

However, evidence acquired after trial indicated the following: (1) A policeman had put air in Bowler's deflated tire and measured the air pressure in the tire before and after taking her car for tests. He noted the air pressure in the tire had dropped. (2) Jackson could not have been pushed off the cliff as she would have had wounds from hitting a ledge that was beneath it. (3) Jackson only appeared immobile because her assisted living facility was accustomed to keeping its residents immobile, bringing food to them, escorting them to the lavatory, and even ferrying them in wheelchairs when they wanted to send them quickly to bed.

Jackson had a history of relative mobility months before her death when she lived on her own. She had only entered the assisted living facility because of a stomach ailment which had since cleared up. Although Jackson used a cane to walk, medical records showed she had no muscular or skeletal degeneration that prevented her from walking large distances. It is thought that Jackson's fear of being left alone and her mild dementia caused her to walk away from Bowler's car. She later crossed a bridge over the river, and not being able to see that its railing ended abruptly, fell into the river.

Because of the new evidence, Bowler's conviction was overturned and she was acquitted at retrial in 1998. She had served four years in prison. A book about her case was published the same year entitled Anybody's Nightmare: The Sheila Bowler Story by Angela and Tim Devlin.  (Innocent) (R. v. Bowler)  [2/11]