A Poison Control Specialist Is Charged With Fatally Poisoning His Wife
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When Mayo Clinic pharmacist Betty Bowman suddenly became ill, it looked like a case of food poisoning. The 32-year-old was admitted to Mayo Clinic’s St. Marys hospital in Rochester, Minnesota, on Aug. 16 with “severe gastrointestinal distress and dehydration,” and she’d mentioned to a friend that she started feeling sick after drinking a smoothie.
But in spite of the care at the prestigious institution, her condition rapidly deteriorated, affecting her heart, lungs and vital organs. She died Aug. 20, and her obituary noted a sudden onset of an autoimmune disease.
Two months later, however, investigators said they’d determined that she actually had been poisoned, and not by a bad smoothie. Her 30-year-old husband, Dr. Connor Bowman, was charged with second-degree murder on Oct. 23 after investigators said he gave her a lethal dose of an obscure drug, and then allegedly attempted to divert suspicion by modifying her medical records, trying to halt her autopsy, and pushing for an immediate cremation of her remains. Connor was then a resident at Mayo Clinic but also worked remotely for The University of Kansas Health System. His role? Advising callers to a poison control center.
The couple had been married just over two years when Betty became ill.
And according to a woman who called the Southern Minnesota Medical Examiner’s Office, all was not well in their marriage. She said the Bowmans were talking about divorce in the wake of “infidelity” and “a deteriorating relationship,” according to a criminal complaint obtained by HuffPost. On Aug. 21, the medical examiner’s office halted a cremation order for Betty based on the “possible suspicious circumstances” of her death and contacted the Rochester Police Department.
It was her husband who had originally requested that she be cremated immediately, according to the complaint. Connor told the medical examiner’s office that Betty “didn’t want to be a cadaver,” investigators said, and he insisted without evidence that she suffered from sudden onset hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, or HLH — the diagnosis that was referenced in the first line of her obituary. Based on Connor’s suggestion, tests had been performed at the hospital for HLH, but the results were inconclusive, investigators said.
Betty had not been diagnosed with HLH or any other disease, and one of her friends described her as a “healthy person,” investigators said. Another test, however, confirmed that colchicine, a drug mainly used to treat gout, was present in her system shortly after her hospitalization, investigators said in the complaint. She did not have gout and was not prescribed colchicine, either before or while she was in the hospital, authorities said.
The medical examiner later determined that Betty had died from toxic effects of colchicine and ruled her death a homicide.
Even as the criminal investigation was taking shape, many people believed that Betty’s death, although mystifying, was natural, and Connor and her loved ones received an outpouring of support from those whose lives she’d touched. In online condolences and tributes posted on Facebook and a GoFundMe page, Betty, a Kansas native who loved rainbows, was remembered for her adventurous spirit, her cheery demeanor, the skill and compassion she brought to her work as a pharmacist, and her devotion to her “fur-baby,” a corgi named Sir Crumpet II of Mulberry. Guests at the “celebration of life” service for Betty, who supported the LGBTQ+ community, were encouraged to wear “rainbow / pride / corgi-themed attire” and donate to a Trevor Project fundraiser — launched in August by Connor — in lieu of gifts or flowers.
“Betty will be dearly missed by her pharmacy family at Mayo,” one co-worker wrote on Aug. 27 on a funeral home website. “She brought a positive, upbeat attitude into every situation, and her kind heart was always open to helping others. She left a lasting impact on everyone who had the pleasure of working with her.”
In a condolence message from Aug. 24, another person said: “Betty really did live life to its fullest. … She was an inspiration, and she would want all of her loved ones to continue living life to its fullest like she did. She really was a truly special, beautiful, generous, thoughtful, kind, loving, adventurous, one-of-a-kind person. She was the best of us.”
The couple’s onetime dog walker, who was recently interviewed by Wichita’s KAKE News, celebrated both Bowmans in an Aug. 24 message. “I will never forget the days of talking to Connor about his proposal plans and how excited and truly happy he was to propose to such an amazing woman,” Karlee Ward wrote, calling Betty a caring and generous “ray of sunshine” who loved laughing about Crumpet’s “crazy antics.”
While Connor was receiving support and sympathy from both his and Betty’s friends and relatives, the woman who called the medical examiner’s office to express her suspicions wasn’t the only one who believed he might have played a role in his wife’s death, according to the criminal complaint.
Another woman told investigators that the Bowmans had separate bank accounts because of Connor’s debt, and that Connor had said he would be receiving a $500,000 life insurance payout from Betty’s death — which he told her was caused by HLH, according to the complaint. Investigators said they found a bank deposit receipt for $450,000 while searching his house after his arrest.
One friend told investigators that he had hung out with Betty the night before her death, saying she later texted him that she was drinking at home with Connor, according to the complaint. The friend said that Betty had also texted him the next morning to say she was so ill that she had not slept at all, and that she believed something mixed into a large smoothie had made her sick, according to investigators.
Connor had used his hospital credentials to access Betty’s electronic health record and monitor her treatment throughout her hospitalization, an investigator said in the complaint. Three days after her death, he modified her health record, the investigator said, citing data found from a search warrant, and he continued to track it until Aug. 31.
In response to questions by HuffPost, a spokesperson for Mayo Clinic said that Connor’s resident training “ended in early October” but declined to elaborate on the circumstances or confirm whether that date had been previously planned. The charge against him, the spokesperson said, was “unrelated to his Mayo Clinic responsibilities.”
Connor worked for six years — throughout medical school and during his residency — as a poison specialist in the poison control center at The University of Kansas Health System, a spokesperson confirmed to HuffPost, adding, “The last three years he worked remotely as needed (PRN) answering calls from the public to the poison control center.”
After Connor’s electronic devices were seized by investigators, including the university-issued laptop he used for his work at the poison control center, a KU Med employee contacted authorities, saying Connor had notified them that he no longer had access to the computer because he was a suspect in Betty’s death, according to the criminal complaint. The employee told police that KU Med staff members were able to view the internet search history on Connor’s laptop, including during his shifts on Aug. 5, 6 and 10, authorities said.
Despite the poison control center not receiving calls about colchicine on the days Connor worked, a KU Med staff member said his laptop was used to research the drug. On Aug. 10, a medical journal was searched for information about lethal levels of different substances, and a lethal dosage rate for the weight of a person equivalent to Betty’s, according to investigators.
Other searches made on the laptop included “Police track package delivery,” “delete amazon data police” and “internet browsing history: can it be used in court?” the complaint states.
Stripe, an online payment platform, had been used on the laptop around the time that searches were being conducted about purchasing liquid colchicine, according to the complaint. Five days after the last search, investigators said, Betty was admitted to the hospital.
The second-degree murder charge carries a maximum sentence of 40 years, according to the criminal complaint, and Connor’s bail was set at $5 million (or $2 million with “conditional” terms like wearing a GPS monitor). His attorney Michael Schatz requested his bail be reduced in a hearing on Wednesday in Olmsted County District Court, which a judge denied. Connor is expected to enter a plea at a hearing scheduled for Jan. 16 in Olmsted County. (Schatz did not respond to a request for comment from HuffPost.)
Betty’s best friend, Sarah Leeser, who organized the GoFundMe, wrote updates there and on Facebook after Connor’s arrest, saying she was “heartbroken and livid.”
“Many of you know that I lost my closest friend in August of this year,” she said. “At first, we thought she passed from a rare autoimmune disorder. However, more information is coming to light to suggest she was purposefully murdered.” She noted on GoFundMe that Betty’s family, who live in Kansas, would likely now incur legal and travel expenses as the court proceedings play out in Minnesota.
“Betty we miss you. Poison was not the way you were supposed to go,” Brianna Stockemer, Betty’s sister, wrote in an Oct. 25 Facebook post. “I don’t understand why Connor did this, you were so perfect, patient, and understanding to him. Connor why did you take her away from all of us?”