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Witness Who Cracked 1984 Cold Case Tells of 14-Year-Old's Death

July 20, 2017

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

Robert Sanders Barbara Rowan edited George Shaw
      Robert Sanders                Barbara Rowan                George Shaw

The witness whose statements cracked a decades-old Bensalem murder case testified today that he was in accused killer George Shaw's apartment during the 1984 slaying of 14-year-old Barbara Rowan and helped Shaw hide her body afterward.

Since Shaw's murder trial began on Tuesday, several witnesses have placed the thin, red-haired victim in or outside of Shaw's apartment in the afternoon hours before she disappeared on Aug. 3, 1984. But only Robert Scott Sanders, a methamphetamine addict who went to Shaw's home that evening to shoot up, has said he was in the residence when prosecutors allege that Shaw raped and killed her.

"I feared for myself," Sanders, 53, said of his choice to help hide the remains at Shaw's request. "Because George was an animal."

That same fear, Sanders said, kept him quiet over most of the ensuing three decades, and motivated him to lie when police confronted him. 

"I was fearing for my life," he testified today in Bucks County Common Pleas Court. "That's why I never said nothing."

Sanders, a former Montgomery County resident who is now incarcerated in Monroe County, testified on the third day of Shaw's non-jury trial before Judge Wallace H. Bateman Jr. In February he pleaded guilty to two felony counts of hindering apprehension or prosecution in the case, admitting that he had lied to investigators and had helped Shaw dispose of Barbara's body.

The girl's badly decomposed remains were found 13 days later among trees and undergrowth between U.S. 1 and North River Drive in the Trevose section of Bensalem. An autopsy determined she had died of asphyxiation.

Sanders is scheduled to be sentenced by Bateman next week.

He was charged in October 2015 after telling authorities how his quest for a meth high with Shaw had dropped him into a murder scene and forced him into becoming Shaw's cover-up accomplice. He repeated that account today under questioning by Deputy District Attorney Jennifer M. Schorn.

Sanders, 20 at the time of the slaying, lived in 1984 with his family in Willow Grove, not far from Hatboro, where he said he sometimes met with Shaw to exchange drugs, needles and syringes with other meth users. On Aug. 3, 1984, he said, Shaw offered to give him meth to settle a debt, and to let him get high at Shaw's apartment.

Shaw picked him up in a red, 1971 Pontiac LeMans, Sanders said, and drove to the Hatboro McDonald's to pick up needles and syringes from friends. Unaware that Shaw recently had moved with his wife and child from Hatboro, Sanders said he was surprised when Shaw started driving toward Bensalem.

On the way, he said, Shaw told him that his young daughter "was at the house with the babysitter ... He said he gave the babysitter something to make her feel better."

The men arrived at Shaw's apartment on Old Lincoln Highway and went inside, where Sanders saw a "petite, small" girl he identified today as the victim. Immediately, he said, Shaw turned on the living room TV, walked the girl into his bedroom and closed the door. 

Sanders said he sat on the living room couch and heard some noises coming from the bedroom, not knowing what the sounds were. "I was just waiting to get high," he testified.

While he sat there, Sanders said, someone knocked on the front door. When Sanders answered the door, he said, a man identifying himself as Rowan's father demanded to know if Sanders had seen his daughter.

"I told him I didn't know what he was talking about," Sanders testified, acknowledging that he had lied. "He says he's going to go home and call the police."

Soon after, Sanders said, Shaw emerged from the bedroom "looking all sweaty and wired, saying he (messed) up and all that stuff." Shaw took Sanders into the kitchen, still "just ranting and raving," Sanders said, and gave him some meth, a syringe, and some water for mixing it.

As Sanders injected the drugs, Shaw returned to the bedroom, where Sanders heard more noises. "He comes back and says he needs a hand with something," Sanders testified. "He's all nervous and all."

Stepping into the bedroom, Sanders said, he saw a small body wrapped in black plastic trash bags on the bed, with only strands of red hair visible at one end. At Shaw's bidding, he said, he helped carry the body to Shaw's car and place it into the trunk. Together the men drove "up the road a little bit and pulled over," dumping the body on the other side of a guard rail, Sanders testified

Shaw then drove him back toward Hatboro, Sanders said. As the LeMans got closer to his house, "I told him to let me out ... I was pretty upset and frustrated at what had happened."

Exiting Shaw's car, Sanders said, "I told him I never wanted to see him again."

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Louis Busico, Sanders acknowledged lying to police in interviews in 1984 and 2004, telling investigators he had not seen Barbara at Shaw's apartment that night. He also admitted initially lying to a Bucks County grand jury in 2015 before admitting, by the end of the proceeding, that he had seen the victim just before she was killed.  

"Were you realizing that the past was finally catching up to you?" Schorn asked.

"Yes," Sanders replied. 

Testimony is expected to resume Friday morning.

Approved for release by Jennifer M. Schorn, 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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