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Judge Convicts Man of Murder in 1984 Slaying of Bensalem Girl, 14

July 31, 2017

Contact: Jennifer M. Schorn, 215.348.6337, jmschorn@buckscounty.org

George Shaw Barbara Rowan edited
        George Shaw                   Barbara Rowan

A Bucks County Common Pleas Court judge today convicted a 57-year-old Florida man of third-degree murder in the 1984 slaying of 14-year-old Barbara Rowan in Bensalem.

George Franz Shaw, who had avoided arrest in the long-unsolved murder for more than 30 years, will be scheduled for sentencing within 30 days, Judge Wallace H. Bateman Jr. said.

Five days after testimony and closing arguments concluded in Shaw’s non-jury trial, Bateman found the defendant guilty of third-degree murder, possession of an instrument of crime, and attempted indecent assault.

Deputy District Attorney Jennifer M. Schorn, who had sought convictions for first-degree murder and rape, said she nonetheless was satisfied that Shaw had been brought to justice.

Schorn praised the work of Bensalem Police Detective Christopher McMullin, who reactivated the investigation more than a decade ago after reviewing the old case records, and Bucks County Deputy Chief Detective Michael Mosiniak, who worked with McMullin on the investigation.

“Without Detective McMullin and the dedication he has to seeking justice, we simply would not be here today,” she said. “That, coupled with the skills and instincts of Deputy Chief Michael Mosiniak, made the case what it is today.

“It should also be noted that the officers and detectives from 1984 did a tremendous amount of work to narrow the focus on George Shaw,” Schorn said. “As a result, George Shaw now is a convicted murderer and sex offender.”

Bateman announced the verdict without comment. Last Wednesday, after hearing seven days of prosecution testimony, the judge announced he would defer his decision until today. He said that he needed time to review trial transcripts, adding, “I want to get it right.”

Shaw was charged with raping and murdering the teen in August 1984, in his apartment on Old Lincoln Highway in the Trevose section of Bensalem. He then enlisted a fellow methamphetamine addict to help him load Barbara’s body into the trunk of Shaw’s car and then dump it in brush nearby, prosecutors alleged.

The slaying went unsolved until 2015, when Shaw’s alleged accomplice told authorities that he was present when the girl was killed and that he had helped Shaw move the body.

Barbara’s badly decomposed remains were found 13 days after her murder in an overgrown area between U.S. 1 and North River Drive, less than a mile from her home. Her arms were bound behind her back at the wrists with industrial-strength tape, as were her ankles.

Her body was unclothed from the waist down which, along with the restraints, was evidence of a sexual assault, Schorn argued. Also encircling the girl’s head were layers of tape around her nose and mouth, which Schorn said caused Barbara to die from asphyxiation as Shaw tried to keep her from crying out.

The slender, red-haired girl, described by relatives and acquaintances as friendly and innocent, was reported missing by her parents on Aug. 3, 1984, after she failed to return home by their strict curfew of 7 p.m.

Although Shaw was questioned repeatedly by police after the murder, he denied seeing the girl at any time close to the time she disappeared, let alone having allowed her inside his apartment.

Schorn, however, called a number of trial witnesses who said Barbara frequently visited apartments in the cut-up house along Old Lincoln Highway where Shaw lived, either to play with one resident’s pets or to babysit or play with Shaw’s toddler daughter.

FBI experts testified that a distinctive brand of tape found on the girl’s body matched the kind of specialty tape that was given Shaw by a friend in July and was used to wrap a filter box in Shaw’s aquarium, Schorn said.

Though under suspicion for years, Shaw wasn’t arrested until October 2015, after a former Montgomery County resident told a Bucks County grand jury that he was in Shaw’s apartment when Barbara was killed.

Robert Sanders, 53, testified that he had gone with Shaw to his apartment with the intent of injecting methamphetamine. Barbara, whom Shaw referred to as “the babysitter,” was in the apartment when they arrived, Sanders said.

Shaw led the girl into his bedroom and closed the door, Sanders testified, after which he said he could hear noises coming from the room. When Shaw emerged from the bedroom, Sanders testified, he was sweating and agitated, and kept saying “I f—ed up.”

Sanders testified that when he went into the bedroom, he saw the girl’s body lying face-down on the bed, wrapped in black plastic bags. He testified that he helped Shaw dispose of the body because he feared Shaw, referring to him as “an animal.”

Sanders has pleaded guilty to two felony counts of hindering apprehension or prosecution, and is scheduled to be sentenced in September.

Sanders later confided to his brother, his father, a friend and his longtime girlfriend about Shaw’s role in the slaying, Schorn said, but continued to lie to police until 2015.

Lead defense attorney Louis Busico offered no testimony or evidence on Shaw’s behalf, only argument. In his closing argument, last week, Busico portrayed Sanders as an inherently dishonest witness, his brain addled by years of drug abuse and drinking, and whose testimony – along with the charges against Shaw – should be discarded.

The case was investigated by the Bensalem Township Police Department and the Bucks County Detectives, and prosecuted by Schorn and Assistant District Attorney Jessica Bryant.

Approved for release by Robert D. James, Deputy District Attorney.

Office of the District Attorney
Bucks County Justice Center
100 N. Main Street
Doylestown, PA 18901 
Phone: 215-348-6344 
Fax: 215-348-6299

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