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Friday, October 15, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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DNA solves '68 slaying; killer gets third life term

Seattle Times staff reporter

The man who may be the state's earliest known serial killer was given a third life sentence yesterday in the killing of a pregnant Ballard newlywed nearly 36 years ago.

John Dwight Canaday, already serving two life sentences at the state prison in Walla Walla for killing two other Seattle women, pleaded guilty yesterday in King County Superior Court to killing 16-year-old Sandra Darlene Bowman in 1968.

The cold case was solved earlier this year when Seattle police detectives submitted evidence preserved from Bowman's body to the state crime lab, which then matched DNA taken from Canaday.

The victim's husband, Thomas Bowman, spoke at yesterday's plea and sentencing hearing, saying he was relieved by the resolution of the case, but that it doesn't undo the nightmare he's lived since finding his wife's body in their apartment nearly 36 years ago.

"You basically destroyed my life, too," Bowman said in court. "I was the one that found her and I will never forget what I saw."

Before the hearing, he said it was years before he could eat or sleep well. He was plagued by questions about how someone had gotten into his home and why his wife had been killed. He couldn't enter his home without first walking through it with a gun in his hand, and he couldn't shake thoughts of suicide.

"The only reason I didn't kill myself," he said, "is because then people would think I had something to do with it."

Thomas and Sandra Bowman had been married about five months. She was three months' pregnant when on Dec. 17, 1968, she opened the door to her Ballard apartment and apparently let her killer in.

She was later found in her bedroom, tied up, raped and stabbed repeatedly, court documents say.

Thomas Bowman, now a deputy with the Walla Walla County Sheriff's Department, had worked overtime at a canning factory that night. He was cleared by police after they checked his alibi and he passed a polygraph.

Nevertheless, he said, he remained a suspect in the minds of some. "I was the husband and the natural suspect," he said.

That cloud of suspicion was lifted earlier this year when Canaday, confronted with the DNA evidence, confessed to the slaying.

King County Deputy Prosecutor Tim Bradshaw said the fatal stabbing of Bowman "evidently emboldened" Canaday, who went on to kill, rape, assault, kidnap or attempt to rape six other women within weeks.

Canaday, now 59, was a Vietnam veteran and a recently divorced father of two when he was convicted and sentenced to hang for killing Mary Annabelle Bjornson, a 21-year-old stewardess, and Lynne Carol Tuski, a 20-year-old junior at the University of Washington, in January 1969.

He confessed to their murders, saying he had lured the victims to his car, strangled them and left their bodies near Index in Snohomish County.

He confessed to those killings after he was arrested and charged with kidnapping and assaulting another woman in February 1969. That woman, an acquaintance from Leavenworth High School, was found with rope burns and bruises at Canaday's parents' house after a witness said he'd seen her with Canaday shortly before she disappeared.

Canaday's sentence for those crimes was commuted to life in prison after the U.S. Supreme Court declared death-penalty laws unconstitutional in 1972.

In court yesterday, Bradshaw posted a picture of a smiling Sandra Bowman.

"The layers of repugnancy in this crime are tenfold," he said, reciting a list of 10 aggravating factors in the case, including the facts that Bowman was 16 and pregnant when she was killed.

Defense attorney Pat Valerio said Canaday had owned up to his crimes and had served his time as a model prisoner. She asked that he be given a life sentence with the possibility of parole.

Judge Richard Jones, however, described Canaday's crimes as "torture" and sentenced Canaday to an additional life term to be served upon the completion of his current life sentences. "The horror of your crimes are beyond words," Jones said. "Trust me, the mother and the husband of your victim have also been sentenced to life by what you have done."

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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