Monday, July 12, 2010

The 1960 unsolved murder of Israel Fowler still hanging on our family tree

Israel's mother Leora
Isiah (Israel) M. Fowler was still living with his parents in 1945. At age 28 he decided to leave Austin for a while. He ended up in Washington, where his sister Imogene was living. His mother, Leola, received letters from his Washington address for a number of years, but then the letters stopped coming completely. After about a year Leola lost all contact with him. All she knew he was living in somewhere in Washington.

One day, years later, he wrote to tell her that he was coming back to Texas. She had no idea if he was coming for a visit or if he was going to stay. But his plans changed. We thought he had changed his mind about coming home. Leola did not get a letter explaining the reason he changed his mind.We all wanted to see him. The next time we saw him it was not what we expected.


Israel, whose nickname was “Mugger”, was born May 31, 1915 in Bastrop County, Texas, to Leola (Leora) and Mose (Mosell) Fowler, the oldest son of six surviving children: Gertrude, Imogene, Mike, Johnny Mose and Raymond.

One day in 1960 while visiting grandpa (Mose)--he was ill and temporarily living with his daughter Gertrude--I was scanning the American Statesman, the local daily, and saw a short article that caught my eye. It was not so much the story, bearing only a couple of details. It was one of the names in the article. Israel Fowler of Austin, Texas stood out.

I asked Gertrude, my mother, if that was her brother. She was not sure. It had been over 40 years or longer since she had seen him. By now no one in the family knew if hew as dead or alive. We had no knowledge of a current address, or what state he was living in. We called the Washington, DC police department to see if we could get more information. I cannot  remember how long it took to confirm that the deceased person was Israel Fowler.


At the time of his death Israel "Mugger" Fowler was survived by his mother Leola Fowler Sterling, his father Mose Fowler; sisters Imogene Fowler Gray and Gertrude Fowler Smith of Austin; brothers Raymond Fowler of Lorain, Ohio, Mike Fowler of Los Angeles and Johnny Mose Fowler of Austin; in addition to a host of nieces, nephews and cousins. He was preceded in death by his grandmother Pearl Powell Brown. He was interned in Bastrop, Texas at Fairview Cemetery.

According to newspaper accounts Israel, along with three other people, had been shot to death,  execution style. His body was eventually returned to Austin, Texas for burial. The local funeral home reconstructed the left side of his face due to two gun shots behind his left ear at close range. There was no mention of him having a wife and  family in Washington. None of his friends attempted to contact us. It's possible they never knew about his family in Austin. He had no pictures or any of our addresses. The police had no clues as to who shot him and the people who were with him.

**During a genealogical search I found news stories regarding the murders.

The Post, Frederick, Maryland
Friday, August 12, 1960, Page 2


4 shot to death

Pasco, Washington (AP)---Four persons were shot to death Thursday in a home. The gunman fled in a car. Police identified the four victims, all shot in the head as Truman H. Brown, Celeste Brown, Israel M. Fowler, and Robbie Jean Harris. They were residents of Pasco. Their ages were not given.

Brown was white, the others were Negroes. The shootings took place in a bedroom of the home of Mrs. Harris.

Police said Mrs. Harris’ young son was awakened by the noise and saw a man run from the house, jump in a car and speed off. Then he found the bodies. The boy got the telephone operator, who rang the police station for him. The boy told police the man he saw was white.

Star News
August 12, 1960


 ‘No motive’ murders baffle police

Pasco, Washington (UPI)–Police today were trying to piece together slim clues surrounding the apparent ‘no motive’ murders of fur persons here yesterday morning.

The victims were Mrs. Robbie Jean Harris, Israel M. Fowler, Celeste Dixon, all Negroes, and Truman H. Brown, a white. The unidentified killer was described as a six foot white man of average build, with graying hair, by Gregory Harris, 13-year-old son of the dead woman.

TriCity Herald
Pasco Washington
August 11, 1960, Page 34


**This is an excerpt from story about rising crime in this neighborhood in Pasco where Israel and other victims met their fate:  ". . . ages of victims revealed: Robbie Jean Harris, 29; Celeste Dixon, 38; Truman Brown, 37, and Israel Fowler, 37 were shot to death in a home on East Clark Street by a gunman using a 22 caliber pistol. The bodies were found in the back bedroom of a one-story home. No suspect was arrested."

Lawton Constitution
August 11, 1960, Front Page


4 shot to death in bedroom

Pasco, Washington (UPI)---Four persons were shot to death in the bedroom of a home here early today and police hoped to trap a man seen driving way from the house.

Police identified the victims as Mrs. Robbie Jean Harris, Israel M. Fowler, Celeste Dixon and Truman H. Brown.

The bodies of the four were found in a corner of the bedroom in the Harris home. Mrs. Harris' 12-year-old son, was awakened by the shots and saw a man drive away.

Officers said the four had apparently been lined up in the corner of the bedroom before they were shot in the head by bullets from a small caliber gun.

Road blocks were set up as police searched for the slayers, described as about 6 feet tall, average build, graying hair, wearing a black checkered shirt and gray trousers and believed driving a 1957 Pontiac station wagon.

The Daily Chronicle
Thursday, August 11, 1960

Gunman kills four

Pasco, Washington (AP)–A night of revelry ended in gunfire which left two men and two women dead on the bedroom floor of a small Pasco home before dawn Thursday.

The killer fled in a car and was the object of an intensive police search.

The victims all shot in the head at close range, were identified as Truman H. Brown, Celeste Dixon, Israel M. Fowler and Mrs. Robbie Jean Harris. Brown was white, the others Negroes. Their ages were not known.

A 13-year-old boy, the sole survivor, provided police with a sketchy account of the mass murder.

The boy, Gregory Williams, said he was sleeping in another part of the house and was awakened by noises in the bedroom. As he hid behind a sofa with his dog he heard the shots, saw a white man run from the bedroom, heard a car drive off, then found the bodies.

The neighbors said a party had been in progress during the night in Mrs. Harris’ home where the shootings occurred.

The Williams boy, Mrs. Harris’ son, called a telephone operator at 4:40 a.m., minutes after the slaying and asked her to ring the police station.

Police said the victims all were fully clothed and had powder burns on their heads, indicating they were shot at close range. There was no sign of a struggle.

The boy an d his dog were put in protective custody. Mrs. Harris, described as an attractive woman in her mid-30s, also had a daughter, Pamela Williams, 17, of Spokane.

Eureka Humboldt Standard
August 12, 1960

Youngster tells of seeing mass killer leave scene

Pasco, Washington (UPI)–Police today were trying to piece together slim clues surrounding the apparent “no motive” murder of four persons there early Thursday morning.

The victims were Mrs. Robbie Jean Harris, Israel M. Fowler, Celeste Dixon, all Negroes, and Truman H. Brown, a white man. The unidentified killer was described as a six foot white man of average build with graying hair, by Gregory Harris, 13-year-old son of the dead woman.

The youth hid behind a davenport in the front room of the house where the victims were found, and reported seeing the killer exit through a door, and drive away in a car. The boy was being held in protective custody by Pasco police.

Al McKibben, chief of police said each of the victims was shot in the left rear of the head by what was believed to be .22 caliber bullets. He said a second bullet wound was found in Fowler’s head, and Mrs. Dixon’s chest.

The four dead persons apparently were herded separately into the bedroom and shot in the same place. An autopsy performed Thursday failed to reveal any trace of narcotics in the victims bodies and there was no evidence of robbery as a motive.

An all points bulletin was issued for the killer and an extensive search was began throughout the Yakiman Valley. Sheriff’s officers and the Washington State Police, along with city police of the towns in the three counties bordering the Pasco area participated in the hunt.

The gunman was believed to be driving a 1957 Pontiac Station wagon.

McKibben said the Dixon woman had arrived at the residence from the Kingfish Club in Pasco, where she had been working sometime before the shooting took place about 4 p.m. Thursday.

McKibben said it was not known how long Brown had been at the home.

Fowler, the owner of the house where the killings occurred, operated a shoe shine stand in Pasco. Mrs. Harris and her son lived in an adjoining home. Brown was registered in a local hotel and worked for a trucking firm.

Police were also tracing the back grounds of the victims. Fowler, who had an arrest record, was believed to be on parole for a narcotics conviction. He had been arrested twice in Seattle in 1951 and charged with disorderly conduct involving lewdness. In 1956 he was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon.

Pasadena Independent
August 12, 1960

4 executed by mystery gun wielder

Pasco, Washington (UPI)–Four person wee lined up and executed in the corner of a bedroom here yesterday by a mysterious gunman.

The victims were identified as Mrs. Robbie Jean Harris, Israel M. Fowler, Celeste Dixon and Truman H. Brown. All are Negroes except Brown.

The bodies were found in the bedroom of the Harris home by Gregory Williams, 13, a son of Mrs. Harris by a previous marriage, after he was awakened by the shots and saw the gunman, a white man.

Authorities thought the Yakima Valley region joined in the search for the killer.

Al McKibben, chief of police here , said that Fowler, operator of a shoe shine stand here, lived at the Harris home and the Dixon woman lived in an adjoining dwelling. He said Brown was registered in a local hotel and worked for a trucking firm.

Investigating officers said that four victims had all been shot in the head at close range and the Dixon woman was also shot in the chest.

Ogden Standard Examiner
August 12, 1960, Page 5B

Officers hunt slayer of 4, clues scarce

Pasco, Washington (AP)--Clues were scanty today as police sought a man who slew four persons and vanished into yesterday's predawn darkness.

A terrified little boy, crouching with his dog behind a sofa as the killer ran, told police the man was about 45, slightly graying at the temples and wearing a checkered shirt.

Neighbors said they thought he drove a 1957 station wagon.

Gregory Williams, 13, said he was awakened by noises and saw the man run from the home where a party had been in progress.

***The gruesome murders still have not been solved.

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