Questions remain about 1962 Rapid City family murder-suicide (2024)

Jun. 1—RAPID CITY — About 20 years ago, Joe Strupp was visiting family in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

It was a party for his brother's wedding, which took place in Poland, but not everyone in the family could make it overseas for the festivities. So a family gathering was planned in the United States so everyone who couldn't make it to the ceremony could celebrate the occasion.

As often happens at such occasions, family photo albums, old home movies and slides were taken out and pored over. Among the images were relatives well-remembered and fondly-missed, and many memories were shared. At one point, Strupp's aunt was highlighting a photo and named several family members in it. But there was one woman in the image that his aunt apparently skipped over, leaving her unnamed, without any elaboration.

Strupp, a longtime journalist with a typical penchant for curiosity, quickly backtracked to the woman in the image.

"Who is that?" Strupp asked.

"That's your great-aunt Alberta," his aunt replied.

"I don't know her," Strupp said.

"She died before you were born," his aunt informed him.

Strupp might have left it at that if his wife hadn't asked a common question that often comes with such information.

"My wife piped up and asked how did she die?" Strupp told the Mitchell Republic in a recent interview, noting that everyone in the room fell silent with the question.

His aunt, very softly, replied, "Well, she was murdered."

On July 29, 1962, at his home in Rapid City, Strupp's great uncle, John Bowman, murdered his wife, Alberta, their two teenage sons, Bruce and Maurice, and himself. All had died from gunshot wounds from a .22 caliber pump-action rifle. A third son, John C. "Jack" Bowman III, was away at college when the murders occurred.

"Although the case appears to be an open-and-shut triple murder and suicide, law enforcement officers were checking Monday in the hope of establishing a motive for the tragedy," the July 30, 1962 edition of the Rapid City Daily Journal reported in a front-page story.


was born in Wisconsin and raised in New Jersey, and has lived in various locales around the country, working as a journalist for various outlets over a 35-year career. He has worked in newspapers, magazines, television, radio and the internet, including decades on a variety of crime reporting beats. He is currently on staff with the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey.

Over the years he covered a number of murders and other serious crimes, and has penned true-crime books in the past based on his reporting and other research.

But here, at a family gathering in Wisconsin, he discovered a mystery where he least expected to find it. The path of discovery led him to write his latest book, "Death on St. Charles Street: Discovering My Family's Murderous Secret," which is now

available from online retailers.

"Little by little, I asked a lot of questions, and nobody really wanted to talk about it," Strupp said. "I've been kind of a history nut and a nosy reporter, so I'm always curious about family history."

With a gentle push of encouragement to his family members, Strupp began peeling back the layers of the story, which played out not unlike the criminal cases he had covered during his career as a journalist.

It was a crime that stunned the Black Hills community, and one that would take Strupp on his first trip to South Dakota to investigate his family roots and the murders that could still force his family into silence over six decades later.

"I just wanted to see the whole stage," Strupp said of his trip out west. "I got to go to the house where it happened and got a taste of Rapid City."

Working off the information he had gathered from family in Wisconsin, he tracked down acquaintances of his Rapid City kin to get firsthand accounts of the doomed household. He managed to find and talk to six or seven friends of the two sons who died who were very open about their connection and provided Strupp with more details that his family had lost about the case in the 62 years since it occurred.

A pair of men, who were guests at the Bowman home the night before the killings and discovered the bodies the next day, were also among those willing to talk to Strupp about the incident.

There were hints of alcoholism in the family, something the rest of Strupp's family said they were not aware of but did not dismiss, as well as clear indications of mental illness plaguing his great uncle. But the question remained: why did a quiet father with no history of violence kill his family in cold blood and then take his own life, leaving no note of explanation?

In what Strupp said was a crucial discovery, he learned that his great uncle had spent time in the Yankton State Hospital, now known as the

Human Services Center,

for treatment of mental illness prior to the murders. He tracked that lead down through a Freedom of Information Act request.

"Two men who were staying in the house as visitors the night before, two men from Canton, Minnesota, actually woke up and found the bodies. They were willing to talk about it. I tracked down the coroner and funeral home, and it all started to fall in line," Strupp said. "The kicker and key thing was that my great uncle had been in the Yankton State Hospital."

In another surprising caveat, Strupp learned that Bowman was at the hospital voluntarily, indicating that he knew himself that something was wrong and was trying to find answers to what was tormenting him. That was a relatively enlightened view to have on mental illness in 1962, Strupp said. Mental illness was not nearly as well understood then as it is today, and was often a topic to be ignored or discussed in hushed tones, not something to be discussed openly and freely.

While it did not provide direct answers to the murders, it did shed some light on Bowman's personality and that he had a realization that he needed help. Strupp said it indicated that his great uncle did not simply snap and murder his family, but was suffering from mental illness and was trying to find treatment.

"I was glad to show he wasn't some monster and that he was mentally ill and had had treatment for it," Strupp said. "I was very impressed, as he was a voluntary patient throughout."

The information he gleaned from hospital records showed Bowman had been treated at the facility, including being issued medication, though Strupp said mental health treatment and pharmacology in the 1960s was far behind today's approach, which is backed by over a half-century of further research and advancement. There were no indications in the reports that Bowman was considered a violent person.

The interviews and research still didn't answer the biggest question at hand, but it did offer some comfort in knowing that Bowman was conscious enough of his troubles to take action about it.

The story on which Strupp was working was slowly changing. What had started as research into a family murder mystery from over six decades ago was starting to morph into a tale about the importance of mental health awareness.

"Even in some horror movies, this is a monster. He wasn't a monster, he was a sick person," Strupp said. "Does that make it okay? Of course not. But people have to understand that this is an illness."

Death on St. Charles Street goes in depth into Strupp's work and searches for answers, and while he finds some, there is much left unanswered. Frustratingly, Strupp admits it's likely the true motivations behind Bowman's killings will never be answered.

As an author of true-crime books, Strupp knows that the vision for a story or book can change as it's being written. In this case, what started as a quest to find out why Bowman did what he did that morning in 1962 in Rapid City turned more into a story about raising awareness about the challenges of treating mental illness.

The book ends up being a journey of discovery that did help his family answer some of its questions, and he hopes it can open the eyes of other readers who may have the same questions about themselves or a loved one.

"It's the mental illness and the humanity factor, that anyone can be drawn into mental illness and it should not be stigmatized. The stigma has to be removed," Strupp said. "It can happen to any family, and I hope people take it as a cautionary tale. If they have a mental illness, we have to treat and support them. They are not monsters. They're sick."

Death on St. Charles Street can be purchased at


Questions remain about 1962 Rapid City family murder-suicide (2024)
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