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Thursday, October 14, 2004 - Page updated at 04:04 P.M.

DNA testing in 35-year-old case leads to third life sentence

By Christine Clarridge
Seattle Times reporter

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The man who may be the state's earliest known serial killer was given a third life sentence today in the killing of a pregnant Ballard newlywed 35 years ago.

John Dwight Canaday, already serving two life sentences at the state prison in Walla Walla for the murders of two other young Seattle women, pleaded guilty today 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 and it matched DNA taken from Canaday.

Thomas Bowman, who spoke at the plea and sentencing hearing today, described the nightmare he's lived since finding his wife's body in their apartment more than three decades ago.

"You basically destroyed my life, too," he said, looking straight at Canaday.

"I was the one that found her and I will never forget what I saw."

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

Canaday bound her hands, raped her and stabbed her 57 times, court documents say.

The slaying sparked anger in the community and prompted a massive fundraising effort for reward money but the case remained unsolved.

According to court documents filed earlier this year, Canaday confessed to killing Bowman when police and prosecutors confronted him at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla where he was serving two life sentences for murder.

Canaday said he killed Sandra Bowman at random when she opened her apartment door to him.
 
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Canaday, now 59, was a Vietnam veteran and a recently divorced father of two, when he was convicted and sentenced to hang in 1969 for killing Mary Annabelle Bjornson, a 21-year-old stewardess, and Lynne Carol Tuski, a 20-year-old junior at the University of Washington.

His sentence was commuted to life in prison when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the death-penalty laws unconstitutional in 1972.

King County Deputy Prosecutor Bradshaw said the fatal stabbing of Bowman "evidently emboldened" Canaday who went on to attack six other women, including slayings of Bjornson and Tuski, within weeks of Bowman's death.

Canaday confessed to the murders of Bjornson and Tuski after he was charged with kidnapping and assaulting another woman in February 1969.

That woman, an acquaintance from Leavenworth High School, was found by her brother with rope burns and bruises at Canaday's parents' house after witnesses said he'd seen her with Canaday shortly before she disappeared.

While Canaday was in custody on the kidnapping charges, the body of Tuski was found half buried in the snow by a hunter alongside the Index River Tract Road in Snohomish County and under police questioning, Canaday admitted the killings and directed police to Bjornson's body.

According to court documents, Canaday lured Bjornson and Tuski to his car on different days under the guise of needing help or directions.

He then threatened them both with knives, raped or tried to rape them, then strangled them and left their bodies near Index.

Canaday also was connected to the rape, attempted rape and attempted kidnapping of at least three other women in 1969.

Today his lawyer, Pat Valerio, asked that Canaday be sentenced to life with the possibility of release. She noted that her client had owned up to the crimes when confronted and had served his time as a model prison.

Judge Richard Jones, however, described Canaday's crimes as torture and sentenced him to an additional life sentence without the possibility of release and ordered that it be served after his two current life sentences are completed.

"The horror of your crimes are beyond words," Jones said.

Thomas Bowman, now a deputy with the Walla Walla County Sheriff's Department, said he was relieved by the results.

After all this time, he said, he no longer believed that he would ever know who killed his young wife.

"Thank God the detectives didn't give up on this case," he said, "and thank God for DNA testing."

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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