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Key Witness Who Impeded 1984 Murder Probe Gets 3 to 6 Years

September 8, 2017

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

Robert Sanders(5)
      Robert Sanders

A witness who waited more than 30 years before providing information to solve the 1984 murder of a 14-year-old Bensalem girl was sentenced today to serve three to six years in state prison.

Robert Scott Sanders, 53, was a 20-year-old methamphetamine addict the night that George Shaw, a fellow meth user, murdered Barbara Rowan in the bedroom of Shaw’s apartment on Old Lincoln Highway.

Sanders was in the apartment at the time of the murder and later helped Shaw dispose of the girl’s body. Yet he kept that information mostly to himself for three decades before finally helping detectives bring charges against Shaw in October 2015.

Sanders was the Commonwealth’s key witness when Shaw, 57, was convicted last month of third-degree murder, possession of an instrument of crime, and attempted indecent assault by Bucks County Common Pleas Court Judge Wallace H. Bateman Jr.

Shaw is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 2.

Sanders pleaded guilty Feb. 7 to two felony counts of hindering apprehension or prosecution, one for lying to investigators, the other for helping to hide the victim’s body. He has been incarcerated since 2015 in Monroe County.

In addition to the prison sentence, Sanders was placed on seven years of concurrent probation.

Bateman acknowledged today that Shaw’s arrest and conviction likely would not have happened without Sanders’ ultimate cooperation. At the same time, the judge said, Sanders’ years of silence and deception allowed Shaw to enjoy years of freedom that he didn’t deserve.

“You have a great deal of responsibility for this man being free for 30 years,” Bateman told Sanders. “One could argue that you helped [Shaw] get away with it when you helped him dump the body.”

Sanders testified that he had gone with Shaw to his apartment on Aug. 3, 1984, with the intent of injecting methamphetamine. Barbara Rowan, a slight, bespectacled girl who lived nearby and sometimes looked after Shaw’s toddler daughter, was in the apartment when they arrived.

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. At Shaw’s request, he helped move the body into the trunk of Shaw’s car and dump it in a wooded area along North River Drive, where Barbara’s decomposed remains were found 13 days later.

Sanders testified that he helped the killer that night, and stayed silent for years after, because he feared Shaw, referring to him as “an animal.”

“I’m sorry, I wish it could have come out sooner,” Sanders told Bateman today. “I’ve lost a lot of family members in the last few years and I feel sorry for [Barbara’s family].”

The victim’s mother, Patricia Rowan, sat silently in the courtroom, as she did throughout Shaw’s trial.

“Mrs. Rowan and her family have waited over 30 years for some justice in this case,” Bateman said. “I don’t know what it’s been like for her (but) they’ve shown a great deal of dignity.”

Sanders, the judge said, contributed to their pain by not only failing to tell police promptly what had happened, but by not intervening on the day of the murder.

“What you did was you sat there while that animal took a 14-year-old girl into his bedroom,” Bateman said. “What did you think was going to happen?”

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

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

Approved for release by Marc J. Furber, 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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