Police investigating child-sized remains found in a basement freezer in southern Maryland believe the children have been dead since at least last fall and the bodies may have been moved several times.
Lt. Paul Starks of the Montgomery County police says investigators are working on the premise that Renee Bowman's two adopted daughters were killed while the family was living in Rockville. Bowman's former landlord there has told police the family moved away in November.
Police searched the Rockville home Tuesday. Investigators told CBS station WUSA in Washington D.C. that they noticed a patch of disturbed earth in the backyard and called in a dog trained to sniff out bodies, or places where bodies have been recently removed.
The dog sent out an ambivalent signal, so police brought in a tarp and more shovels and spent hours digging.
But Capt. Patty Walker, head of Montgomery County Police's Major Crimes Unit told WUSA the digging turned up nothing but more dirt.
The remains in the freezer were found Saturday at Bowman's home in Lusby. Calvert County deputies searched the house after arresting Bowman on child abuse charges related to a third daughter. Autopsy results are pending.
Officials say Bowman was convicted of a misdemeanor and had past financial problems, but was still able to adopt the girls and collect a monthly stipend for their care even after their deaths.
The disturbing case has advocates questioning how the District of Columbia's troubled social services agency evaluates potential adoptive and foster parents.
Bowman told investigators the remains police found over the weekend were those of her two daughters - age 9 and 11 - both adopted from D.C. Bowman, 43, is suspected of killing them and has been charged with first-degree child abuse in the beating and neglect of a third adopted daughter, who is 7.
She was a foster mother to all three before adopting them in 2001 and 2004.
"There is pressure across the board to get those adoption numbers up," Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, said Tuesday. "My question is: Did the D.C. workers have the time to look at it case by case?"
It is the latest tragedy linked to the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency, which has been reeling since the January discovery of the decomposing bodies of four young sisters in a home that had a past report of abuse.
In the Bowman case, officials in D.C. and Maryland say they had no information about any abuse, either before or after the adoptions. But Bowman had a 1999 misdemeanor conviction for threatening to hurt someone, according to court records. Bowman also appeared to be financially unstable, filing for bankruptcy in 2000 and in 2001.
It is unclear when Bowman became a foster mother. Bankruptcy could disqualify a person from becoming one, said D.C. council member Tommy Wells, a former social worker. Bankruptcy might not automatically keep a person from adopting, but it should be considered, he said.
Calvert County deputies made the gruesome discovery of the frozen remains Saturday in Lusby, about 50 miles southeast of Washington.
After adopting the three "special needs" children - a broad category that includes any child over age 5 - Bowman received a monthly stipend of about $2,400 from a federal program for adoptive parents, D.C. Acting Attorney General Peter Nickles said. He said Bowman apparently was being paid even after the children had died.
Before Bowman was allowed to adopt, she was cleared by the FBI and police and passed a background check, which includes a home study, officials said. Bowman worked as an appointment scheduler at a surgery center in northeast D.C. a couple times, the last ending in 2000, a spokeswoman said.
"She had a stable home, her health evaluation, all of those things checked out," city government spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said.
Bowman's background was checked by a contractor, the Baltimore-based Board of Child Care of the United Methodist Church. The organization's president did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Nationally, many social services agencies have probationary periods, during which workers visit homes before adoptions are final, said Wexler. However, that might be waived if an applicant had already been observed as a foster parent, as was the case with Bowman, he said.
D.C.'s child welfare system is evaluating its adoption process and the Bowman case, CFSA Interim Director Roque Gerald said in an e-mail.
Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children's Rights, said the New York-based advocacy group has long had concerns about whether D.C.'s child welfare agency adequately supervises private contractors. The group brought a class-action lawsuit against the city nearly 20 years ago that eventually forced the child welfare system into receivership.
In July, Children's Rights sought to hold the city in contempt for failing to make adequate progress. Lowry said work done by contractors was one of the concerns.
Wexler, of the reform group, said he worries that D.C. social workers might have been under pressure to hastily finalize adoptions because of payments - up to $8,000 per child - that state and local governments get from the federal government for adoptions.
Gerald said D.C. received an incentive award only in 2004, the year Bowman adopted the two younger girls.
Calvert County deputies found the remains when they went to Bowman's home with a search warrant to investigate what happened to the youngest daughter, who was found wandering the neighborhood, injured and hungry in a blood- and feces-soaked nightshirt. Bowman admitted beating her with a "hard-heeled shoe," officials said.
CBS station WJZ in Baltimore reports that neighbors in Lusby rarely saw Bowman or an apparent boyfriend and they nearly never saw any children.
"I never once saw kids from the time they moved in," Melinda Miller, a neighbor told WJZ.
That was until this past weekend, when the 7-year-old girl escaped.
Phillip Garrett found her wandering and was shocked at what he saw.
"Wounds, injuries, scars, scrapes, the smell, none of this could have happened overnight," Garrett told WJZ. "It definitely was something that developed over time."
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