Donald Rowland shown in his mug shot.
Early in the morning of October 31, 2014, Donald Rowland stabbed his wife to death while she slept. Then he turned the same knife on himself. When his daughter discovered the gruesome sight many hours later, Rowland was immobile, in a pool of blood. He asked her to smother him with a pillow.
She did not. Rowland, then 88 and a retired bank executive who by all accounts had lived an exemplary life before turning to homicide, was charged with first-degree murder.
Last week, three and a half years later, Rowland jumped from a nine-level parking garage not far from his home in Columbia, Missouri
. This time, his suicide attempt was successful.
Rowland's tale was at the center of a July 2016 RFT cover story
in which writer Shawn Shinneman examined what happens when elderly people kill.
In Rowland's case, it wasn't much. For killing his wife of 64 years, the mother of his four children, Donald Rowland was sentenced to just five years probation. So long as he abided within the terms, he wouldn't have to do any jail time.
He was not alone in that. As Shinneman's investigation found, "[Rowland's] case is not an outlier. In the 30 homicides the Riverfront Times
identified in recent decades in Missouri involving offenders over the age of 75, only one person was sentenced to prison time."
A whole set of societal questions have come along with the combination of aging baby boomers and advancements in modern medicine, the result of which has drastically increased the population of senior citizens. Often overlooked are the occasions in which the judicial system must decide the fate of an elderly criminal.
The cases that are a part of this investigation were gleaned from fifteen years of the FBI's supplemental homicide reports dating back to 2001. They involve killers as old as 93. On par with the rising prevalence of murder-suicide among the elderly, according to studies by the Violence Policy Center and others, a dozen of the cases involved incidents in which no one was left to prosecute — the cases were ruled murder-suicides. In a couple others, the acts were deemed justifiable.
But in those instances in which someone came under investigation, the conclusions offer a glimpse into judicial empathy for the elderly. They are stories of fed-up spouses, neighborly disputes and attempted murder-suicides in which the assailant survived. They are stories about what happens when you go your whole life without shooting or stabbing someone, and then one day, you do.
They are stories that raise the question of whether, at a certain age, you can get away with murder.
As for Rowland, court records show he didn't even have to serve the full five years. Two and a half years after his sentencing, his records note that his probation was "successfully completed." As of October 1, 2017, he was a free man. Six months later, on a Tuesday at 2:47 p.m., he jumped from the top of the tallest parking garage in Columbia.
For more on Rowland and the judicial system's treatment of other elderly people who kill, see Shinneman's cover story
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