The 1976 cold case of Eunice Shrivers Lowe

Eunice Shrivers Lowe/Find-a-Grave Prissy53On Sept. 17, 1976, bus ticket clerk Eunice Shrivers Lowe (Nov 11, 1920 – Sep 17, 1976) was killed while at the work at the Continental Railways Station in Bay City, in the southwest part of Houston, Texas.

Eunice, a white woman of 55, was beaten with a pickax, stabbed with a broken glass bottle, robbed, and raped. The killer stole her car and $3,000 in cash from the company.

Sentenced in her case was Mr. Jerry Hartfield. However, he might be wrongfully convicted. As police do not seem to have other suspects, we could face an unsolved rape-murder. That is why this case opens the New Year on my blog as Case of the Month for January 2018.

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Mr. Jerry Hartfield, a black man from Kansas, was arrested for this crime. He was a construction worker in Bay City at the time of the murder. His fingerprints were found on a Dr. Pepper bottle at the station. I’d love to know exactly where that bottle was found. Authorities claimed that he told them where to find Eunice’s car. NBC notes that prosecutors “had an unused bus ticket found at the crime scene that had his fingerprints on it and testimony from witnesses who said he had talked about needing $3,000.”

Hartfield signed a confession that he later retracted. However, experts said his IQ was in the range of 50s or 60s. According to his lawyers, this made it easy for him to be coerced by detectives. Most crucial, he probably did not understand his rights or, that what he signed was his confession.

A jury convicted Hartfield and sentenced him to death. The Court of Criminal Appeals later overturned that verdict. A potential juror had been improperly dismissed for doubts about capital punishment. A new trial was ordered. And this is where it gets unreal: the case went back and forth and was dormant for years. His case is a fascinating story and absolutely worth reading. Click here to read up on Jerry Hartfield’s case for details I will not discuss here. I wish to focus on the victim, Eunice Shrivers Lowe.

According to the papers, the current District Attorney’s Office was able to find only one out of 16 evidence exhibits used at the original trial. Several key witnesses have passed away. At least one witness has dementia. To top this off, the murder weapon is lost, the blood and semen samples that could have yielded DNA are lost, and Eunice’s car was destroyed.

In one paper I read that “the DNA evidence was not conclusive.” This means that somehow there was a sample but maybe the testing consumed that sample. It is an old case so we are talking about older DNA testing technology. Maybe we could have found a profile if we used the M-Vac. However, papers also note that there were “several clerical errors including fingerprint mix-ups.” I wonder if those fingerprint cards still exist. And, how did those mix-ups influence the case? Was there another suspect?

I am thrilled when a wrongfully convicted person gains their freedom. But at the same time I always fear that the victim will be forgotten. Unless you have on file at the time the wrongfully convicted is set free previously disregarded evidence (because we thought we already had our suspect convicted) or, properly preserved old evidence that may still contain biological material that can now be tested with modern technology or, we have on file a confession from someone we disregarded, we face a cold case.

I guess some of you will say we have the means (the weapon in the storage room), the money was the motive, but I am not clear on opportunity. Nobody saw what happened? How busy was that part of the railway station usually? We have gossip that Hartfield needed money but I have not read anything about debts, etc. News OK reported that “Hartfield’s lead attorney, Jay Wooten, had said during closing arguments that missing and shaky evidence and a questionable confession” were used.

Here are my notes about this case:

  • The Dallas News refers to Eunice as Eunice Job Lowe. If have not seen that on her grave. There it says Eunice Shrivers Lowe.
  • I searched Scotus Blog for State of Texas v. Jerry Hartfield. I scrolled through the materials to find details about Eunice’s rape-murder I had not seen in the papers (resources below).

1:The State’s prosecution of Hartfield began with an October 1976 capital indictment for murdering Eunice Lowe in September 1976 by striking her in the head with a mattock during a robbery.”

In the papers it said pickax. Is there a difference? YES!

Eunice Shrivers Lowe pickaxe versus mattockThe names are used interchangeably but they are different tools. Check this: “Today, the terms ‘pickaxe’ and ‘mattock’ are often used to mean the same thing; they are however different tools. A mattock has a broad adze (horizontal blade) usually with a pick or axe on the other end of the head. A pickaxe has a pointed pick at one end of the head and a narrow chisel at the other.”

So were Eunice’s wounds consistent with a pickaxe or with a mattock? It is a small detail but still it matters. Where did that weapon come from? Was it at the ticket station? Did the killer bring it with him? They are oddly sized. How easy is it to hide? Did Hartfield used either at work? If so, were his found at work?

2:The evidence at trial showed that officers investigating the scene of Lowe’s murder found her body in a storeroom of the bus station where she worked in Bay City. She was nude from the waist down with her head bloodied and distorted. The evidence reflected that she had been beaten to death by a pick mattock, which was found at the scene.”

Do we still have the prints from the storeroom door handle? If she was found in a store room, do we have an inventory list of what is usually stored in that room? Does the murder weapon fit that list? Eunice was nude from the waist down so where were her clothes? Found in that storeroom? If we still have them can we use the M-Vac?

3: Apparently the mattock was already in the storeroom. This is what the alleged confession says about the crime: “I saw that pick-ax thing and I picked it up and hit her with it. Then when she fell I drug her back into the back room and I was so mad I got a coke bottle and hit her on the head with it. Then I got the pick-ax and hit her in the head three times with it. I laid the pick-ax down and then I left the room and then went back into the room and fucked the old lady and I shot off in her. Then I left the room and on the way out I got the money that I had seen her put in a bag and put it in my bag.”

If you read this carefully note that we may have more than one crime scene: Eunice was hit, fell, and then “drug her back into the back room.” Is that the same storeroom as mentioned before? Because if not, we have two crime scenes. Where exactly did Hartfield get his hands on the weapon and the coke? Was coke stored in those rooms?

4:A pathologist testified that the cause of Lowe’s death was traumatic brain injury. The pathologist also testified that semen and blood were found in Lowe’s vagina. Police obtained fingerprints from a Coke bottle that had been used to strike Lowe across the head, and they matched those prints with Hartfield’s.”

If we still had those semen/blood samples we might be able to get a full profile using modern DNA technology. That profile could be entered into CODIS to see if there is a match. It cannot hurt to search one more time for the original trial pieces and lab records. There is always a chance that a small piece of evidence is filed away in lab records. Just read this: “Standard procedure in Virginia was for biological evidence to be returned to the authorities after testing. After a few years, it would be destroyed, except in death penalty cases. Why Mary Jane Burton insisted on saving such samples is as big a mystery as Burton herself. Some speculate that Burton had a premonition that science would improve, that the samples she saved would one day prove useful.”

Because Burton saved a piece with her lab records those cases could be researched again. Are we sure that in the Lowe case there are no biological evidence pieces left in the lab’s or in the technician’s records in storage?

I will keep digging online to see what else I can find. If you have any information about Eunice or a link to a picture, please contact me. We owe her this much.

Rest in peace Eunice Shrivers Lowe.

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In the series “Case of the Month” I highlight old cold cases. These posts are not an in-depth analysis and of course, sometimes more information can be found online and in newspaper archives. The goal of these posts is to get the cases back in the spotlights, to get people talking again, and if anything to make sure that we do not forget the victims. Just because their cases are cold does not mean that we can forget about them.

If you have any thoughts about Eunice Shrivers Lowe’s case I urge you to post them on your own social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, etc. Every time we mention Eunice’s name online we enhance her digital footprint.

We must make sure that Eunice Shrivers Lowe retains her web presence if we ever wish to find answers in her case. You can help by linking to or sharing this post. If you do, the post will show up in new news feeds, reach new people and networks with new connections. And who knows. We may reach someone who can help advance the case. And that is the goal.

Thank you for remembering Eunice Shrivers Lowe with us.

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Resources:

New York Times

New York Daily News

Bay City Tribune

Scotus Blog

Dallas News

NBC

News OK