Slain clerks' families can't understand why

  • Article by: JENS KROGSTAD and TOM ALEX DES MOINES REGISTER
  • Updated: November 17, 2010 - 9:29 PM

One of the victims had told a co-worker to go home and rest her feet. Ten minutes later, the gunman entered the store.

ALGONA, IOWA - Vicky Bowman-Hall lay in a hospital bed Monday night, a bullet hole in her cheek.

Doctors told Jillian Bowman that her mother would soon die. Bowman says she remembers grabbing Bowman-Hall's hand and squeezing it tight.

"I told her, 'I love you, Mom, and I swear I'm going to take care of everybody,'" Bowman, 22, one of Bowman-Hall's 11 children, told the Des Moines Register on Wednesday.

Bowman-Hall, 47, was shot after she handed over money from a cash register to a gun-wielding robber at Crossroads Gas Station and Convenience Store in Algona. The incident occurred around 9:05 p.m. Monday. Police told Jillian Bowman her mother was found around 9:45 p.m.

About 10 p.m. that night, law enforcement officials said the same robber -- Michael Richard Swanson, 17 -- entered the Kum & Go convenience store in Humboldt and demanded money. When clerk Sheila Myers complied, Swanson shot and killed her, according to an affidavit filed in Humboldt County District Court.

Like Bowman-Hall, Myers was shot in the face.

Humboldt County Sheriff Dean Kruger said the scene at the Kum & Go was something he'll not soon forget.

"It really hit me hard," he said. "She was just a sweetheart."

Myers, 61, frequently sold Kruger gas and lottery tickets.

Swanson is being held in Kossuth County jail on two $1 million cash bonds. He faces two charges each of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery. He'll be tried as an adult.

Swanson, of St. Louis Park, faces two separate trials. If convicted on the murder charges, he could get life in prison.

He made his initial court appearance Tuesday in Kossuth County; his initial court appearance in Humboldt County was Wednesday afternoon.

A preliminary hearing was set for Nov. 24 in Humboldt County.

Swanson told officials he shot the women intentionally so that they could not call police or later identify him, according to affidavits filed in court in Kossuth and Humboldt counties.

Bowman-Hall and Myers were both running late to work Monday, families of both women told the Register.

'I'll see you later'

Bowman-Hall, whose seven of 11 children live at home, had made her family pork chops, potatoes and stuffing.

"Hey, I gotta go to work," Jillian Bowman remembers her mother calling out. "I hate working the night shift."

"Yeah that's not so fun," Bowman remembers replying. "I'll see you later."

In Humboldt, about 2 p.m. Monday, Myers received a call from work asking if she was coming in for her night shift.

Myers, who had been busy helping her husband, Roger, prepare their farm for winter, had lost track of time, a family member said.

Earlier, Sheila and Roger had started the day by calling their daughter Mandy, 30, who had not been feeling well. She gave them an update and said goodbye. It was the last time she spoke to her mother.

Later that night, around 8:40 p.m., a second daughter called Myers' work. Sheila had asked her daughter Robin, 34, to update her with latest developments on "Dancing With the Stars."

The families of both women continue to grasp for answers.

Mandy Myers said images of the teen accused of killing her mother smiling after his arrest left her disturbed. "A lot of what we're thinking is just -- why?" she said. "A lot of whys."

Jillian Bowman is also struggling.

"She did everything [Swanson] wanted. She gave him money. She gave him the cigarettes. He just did it anyway," she said.

Myers' nephew, Craig Myers, said he doesn't remember his aunt ever discussing safety concerns about working at the convenience store.

"There are not a lot of robberies in Humboldt," he said. "She wasn't concerned about it."

Bowman-Hall had told her children a few years ago not to be upset if anything ever happened to her.

Jillian Bowman still remembers her words: "She said she'd watch over us from heaven, and to take care of ourselves and our family."

Bad feeling nagged daughter

Jillian Bowman is a trucker and stocker at a Hy-Vee in Algona, only two blocks from where her mother worked.

When she got off work around 10 p.m. Monday, she said she saw a police car with sirens. It was a common sight along the highway. But a bad feeling nagged her, Bowman said. She said called her mother to check on her. When her mother didn't answer, Bowman called her brothers and sisters and learned of the shooting.

A short time after Bowman arrived at the hospital, a young woman whom Bowman-Hall had been training Monday night burst in, sobbing and apologizing over and over, Bowman said.

Bowman-Hall had let the woman go home early because her feet hurt, she told Bowman. The gunman entered the store about 10 minutes later.

"Oh, my God, your mom saved my life," Jillian Bowman recalled the woman saying. "She sent me home early."

"I said, 'No, he would've shot you, too,'" she said.

Two days later, Bowman searched her memory for more details of her mother's last hours.

"I'm pretty sure I said, 'I love you,'" she said.

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