News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

May 27, 2014

Cold Case, 34 years later Terre Haute Police announce that charges have been filed in a 1980 double homicide

TERRE HAUTE — A California prison inmate faces murder charges in the July 1980 slayings of two Terre Haute women, Lucinda Farmer and Mary Quillen, Terre Haute City Police and the Vigo County Prosecutor’s Office announced Tuesday.

Both victims, who were roommates and had been Indiana State University students, died from gunshot wounds to the head. Their bodies were found in an alley behind their apartment building in the 600 block of North 14th Street.

Quillen was 28 at the time of her death, Farmer was 29.

Harry L. Rowley, 61, has been charged in connection with the deaths, according to Prosecutor Terry Modesitt. A warrant was obtained Jan. 13 and served Jan. 23. Local officials have been working since then to have Rowley extradited from California, where he is already serving a life sentence for an unrelated killing.

Rob Roberts, Vigo County chief deputy prosecuting attorney, said local officials have been unable to reach an agreement with the California Department of Correction in efforts to extradite Rowley.

“Our next step will be to seek a governor’s warrant, which is a process that goes through the Indiana governor and the California governor,” Roberts said.

Shawn Keen, THPD assistant chief, said he hopes the focus remains on the victims rather than the accused. “Both of these women were good people, they attended ISU together, became friends. As Mary’s eyesight worsened, they became even closer friends,” Keen said. “Both were sisters, daughters and had families that cared about them very deeply. Those families have waited a long time for answers.”

Keen credited the perseverance of family members as well as THPD Lt. Edward Tompkins and other investigators for finding resolution to the nearly 34-year-old cold case. “We’re at least at this time able to offer some answers,” Keen said.

Officials had hoped to bring Rowley back to Terre Haute before making an announcement, but “other circumstances don’t permit that,” Keen said.

The initial investigation after the double homicide, “although exhaustive, did not lead to an immediate arrest,” Keen said.

Tompkins reopened the case in April 2010. During the investigation, he reviewed the original case file, the evidence and re-interviewed witnesses. “By summer 2013, it became apparent a person of interest in the case needed to be re-interviewed,” Keen said.

Last October, Tompkins and Detective Darren Long went to the California state prison where Rowley was an inmate. Based on that information, an arrest warrant was obtained Jan. 13 for two counts of murder. The warrant was served by correctional staff in California on Jan. 23, Keen said.

Farmer’s sister, Louise Watkins, attended Tuesday’s news conference, where she praised the efforts of Tompkins and other investigators. Starting last summer, she called or texted Tompkins each week after she learned he had reopened the cold case. “I thought people forgot her,” she said, tearfully. “I can’t thank him enough.”

“Cindy” was her big sister, she said. Growing up, they had shared a bedroom.

Tompkins said during the news conference, “She [Watkins] kept me going.”

According to a probable cause affidavit, Rowley “admitted to his involvement in the homicide” when he spoke with THPD investigators last October. He told police he had left his apartment that night and saw the two victims leaning on his car, which was parked in the backyard next to the victims’ garden.

“Harry said he went into his apartment and got his gun and went back outside and shot both victims one time and then left them next to his car,” according to a probable cause affidavit.

He and his-then wife fled to Indianapolis “because he knew police would be looking for him.” They soon fled from Indiana, and his wife later left him.

“Harry stated that he was sorry for killing the two ladies and wanted to apologize to the families of the victims,” according to court documents.

Rowley and his wife lived in the same apartment building as the two victims, according to the probable cause affidavit. On July 4, 1980, Rowley was drinking and smoking marijuana with some male teenagers. Later that afternoon, he and Farmer had a conversation related to the teenagers’ knocking over her garden fence. According to Rowley’s then-wife, “Harry came inside and seemed upset and was making threats of getting Lucinda.”

Harry Rowley also had told some of the teenagers that “if someone messed with his car he had a license to shoot.”

Later that evening, Rowley’s wife saw him walk out of the apartment carrying a gun, described as a small blue steel revolver.  

At some point after he returned home late that night, the former wife said she saw him “shaking to the point it looked like he was having convulsions.” They soon left for Indianapolis.

When they returned, neighbors told them about the homicides and that police would probably be wanting to talk to them. Rowley told his wife not to say anything to police, and she then “suspected that Harry may have been involved in the homicides,” according to court documents.

Keen praised Tompkins’ efforts in the case. “I think Lt. Tompkins did a fantastic job. He stayed with this for three years,” Keen said.

After the news conference, Herschell Lewis Farmer, Cindy’s brother, said, “I’m glad they got him and hope they can prosecute him. He’ll be in jail forever, anyway.”

Farmer said it’s sad that two lives were lost and their families deprived of “all that love and attention they would have received” if Cindy Farmer and Mary Quillen had lived.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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