We recently acquired this wanted poster from board member Charles Kelly. I can’t be sure because I still haven’t opened every box in our stacks, but so far, it seems this is our first wanted poster.
Wendell Bowers was a kid with a troubled past. Born in Ambler in 1918, his mother died when he was 14 months old. Although his father was still alive, and he testified at his sentencing to having an aunt in the area, Bowers was sent to live with an unrelated family. He described himself as a child who always got what he wanted. When told “no” he would cry until he got it. He also stole toys and bicycles.
He attended school until the 5th grade. When his foster mother died, he moved back in with his father and stepmother. His misbehavior escalated. He frequently ran away, getting as far as Virginia and Michigan on different occasions. When he once skipped school, his father beat him. Twelve-year-old Bowers then stabbed himself with a knife, leaving the knife in until his father removed it.
He was in and out of reformatories through his teenage years, and it was in the reformatory that he learned housebreaking.
On December 13, 1937, Bowers broke into the Dreshertown home of Mrs. Wilma V. Carpenter, a 38-year-old widow who owned a beauty salon in Germantown. The house was empty when he entered at 4 p.m. He testified that he searched for money but found none. He did find Carpenter’s .38 caliber revolver and drank some of her liquor and read her magazines. A little while later, Carpenter came home with her employee, 22-year-old Mary Griffin. He demanded money from the two women who handed it over. He then decided to tie them up.
He hit Mary Griffin on the head with the gun to knock her out, then told Carpenter to tie her up. While doing this, Carpenter reached for the gun. They struggled and Bowers knocked Carpenter to the floor. As she rose, he shot her twice, killing her.
After, Carpenter assaulted or attempted to assault Mary Griffin. The Times-Herald of February 8, 1938, quoted extensively from Bowers’ testimony, but glosses over the assault, and I will, too. Bowers said that he then dressed Griffin’s wounded head and left the house through the window. He made his way to the train station and bought a ticket to Pittsburgh.
A few days later, Mary Griffin identified Wendell Bowers from her bed at Chestnut Hill Hospital, and a nationwide manhunt began. The local police sent latent fingerprints from the Carpenter home to the FBI, who identified them as Bowers’.
On December 20th, Bowers was picked up in Louisville, KY, for vagrancy and housebreaking. He was using an alias, but his fingerprints identified him as the killer.
Bowers was sent back to Montgomery County to face his trial. Judge Harold Knight was to preside, but Bower surprised everyone by pleading guilty. Judge Knight described Bowers in his diary as a “pasty faced youth.” The court went straight into the sentencing phase. Knight wrote, “The three judges then heard the evidence of one of the most cruel, brutal and unnecessary crimes I have ever heard.”
Bowers testified for some time about his early life and the murder. Knight described Bowers as being “without emotion.” The county’s three president judges went over the evidence on the evening on February 8. On the morning of the 9th, they sentenced Bowers to death. Knight wrote, “He took it calmly and apparently was not as nervous as the judges.”
The Times-Herald of February 9, 1938 reported that he took the sentence calmly, although it also reported that Bowers did not expect to be executed. He returned to cell number 2 at the county jail, lit a pipe and read a magazine. Wendell Bowers was executed by the electric chair on June 13, 1938.