On Thursday, Florida is scheduled to execute a notorious serial killer who targeted gay men on a murderous rampage in the 1990s.
Gary Ray Bowles’ criminal record is truly horrific. From March to November 1994, he drifted from one state to another, cruising gay hotspots for victims who he would then kill in scenes of excruciating violence. Known at the time as the “I-95 killer,” Bowles used stolen identities to evade the police for months before finally being captured, tried, and sentenced to death in 1996 and 1999.
Born in 1962, Bowles had a violent home life and ran away from home at the age of 14, becoming in his words “a hustler” who was sexually abused by men for cash. His first arrest for a violent offense came in 1982, when he brutally attacked his girlfriend, leaving her seriously injured. Sentenced to six years in prison, he served less than three.
After his release, Bowles moved from place to place, and was incarcerated again following the theft of an elderly woman’s purse. He eventually landed in Daytona Beach, and began a relationship with a woman while also resuming his sex work.
In later interviews, Bowles told investigators that he and his then-girlfriend conceived a child, but she obtained an abortion when she learned of his sex work. According to Bowles, he blamed gay men for the abortion and that led him to kill.
Whether or not that explanation is true may never be known. Bowles moved in with a 59-year-old man he met at a bar but reportedly longed for his former girlfriend. His new housemate insisted Bowles move past the relationship, and Bowles responded by brutally beating, slicing, and choking the man until he bled to death.
Bowles was anything but a criminal mastermind, leaving his parole papers behind at the scene. He evaded police by stealing the victim’s credit cards and car, and made his way to Washington, D.C. where he killed again.
That was followed by the murder of an elderly man in Savannah, and another man in Atlanta. Bowles stole more IDs during the spree, eluding capture for months before police eventually caught up with him in an office for day laborers; at the time, authorities only suspected him of only one of the killings.
Bowles quickly confessed to more, claiming he was tired of running. He pled guilty, through his death sentence was complicated by lengthy procedural wrangling by the state of Florida, where capital punishment faced legal challenges. Bowles’ attorneys also argued that he has an intellectual disability stemming from his own torturous childhood, but the 11th Circuit has not responded to their brief.
For the last 20 years, Bowles has been confined to a 6-by-9 foot cell. Unless there is a last-minute appeal in his case, Bowles’ life is likely to end this week.
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