There is a psychological compulsion that drives child molesters to relive their sexual fantasies with their victims. This compulsion can provide the child molestation investigator with critical corroborative evidence. The case of Harold Sowers demonstrates how a molester’s innate craving to seek and maintain mementos of their victims often ensures that crucial evidence will remain undisturbed, waiting for the investigator to discover it — even after 20 years.
While enjoying his summer, 8-year-old Andrew’s only thoughts were of Little League baseball and having fun. At his young age, there was no way for him to understand the perverted intentions of a friendly 35-year-old man, Harold Sowers, who lived several blocks away in La Mesa, California, a suburb of San Diego.
There was also no way for Sowers to foresee that his compulsive desire to relive his deviant fantasies with his victims by keeping mementos of their relationship would eventually seal his conviction 27 years after the crime — despite no DNA evidence and no confession. The Sowers case offers intriguing insight into the motivations of child molesters and the type of evidence an investigator can hope to find, even years beyond the initial crime.
The investigator can be assured that more likely than not — the probable cause standard for a search warrant — the molester will keep those mementos for years, and probably forever.
Harold Sowers patiently took specific steps toward befriending young Andrew and gaining his trust, which eventually led to him being able to severely and repeatedly molest Andrew over a three-month period. Harold Sowers was a preferential child molester, one who preferred his male victims to be about 7–12 years old. Once a victim becomes older than the age that a preferential molester is fixated on, the molester is compulsively driven to continue to relive his perverted fantasies with the victim through photos, writings, computer and text messages, and mementos of the child at that particular age. The sexual fantasies of these molesters are so powerful that they compel them to save these “trophies” as their most prized possessions, often keeping them for life.
At the end of summer, Andrew’s parents relocated the family, and Andrew lost contact with Sowers. Andrew never told his parents nor anyone else about the molestation until 20 years later. That’s when 28-year-old Andrew reported the molestation to the La Mesa Police Department.
Even though a new California state law had just taken effect months earlier that eliminated the statute of limitations for child molestation, the chances of successfully investigating and prosecuting Harold Sowers after 20 years were practically nonexistent — that is, until the investigator asked Andrew if Sowers had ever taken any photos of him. Andrew tearfully described several posed nude photos Sowers had taken of him after some of the molestation incidents. Now, there was at least hope to corroborate Andrew’s 20-year-old secret.
Substantial experience of child abuse investigators demonstrates that child molesters may tend to use photos and mementos of their victims to fantasize about molesting them over and over again. If a child molester ever poses and takes photos of his victim, the investigator can be assured that more likely than not — the probable cause standard for a search warrant — the molester will keep those mementos for years, and probably forever.
The molester’s psychological desire to repeatedly relive their fantasies with their victims can provide the investigator with some of the best corroborating evidence possible, particularly since molesters’ compulsive sexual desires keep them from rarely, if ever, discarding those mementos. The experience of molesting their victims is so euphoric to them that they often search for mementos of the molestation experience to maintain their perverted sexual fantasies at times when they do not have access to a child.
In fact, in an unrelated case in San Diego, one child molester had cut his multiple victims’
toenails. Investigators later found numerous Ziplock plastic baggies with each victim’s cut toenails individually preserved with the victim’s name written on each baggie.
If Harold Sowers was typical, then he would still be in possession of the posed nude photos of young Andrew after 20 years, even after Sowers had moved to another city years after the molestation. The investigator (this author) subsequently
convinced the local deputy district attorney and judge to approve a search warrant to search for these photos, thereby corroborating Andrew’s allegations.
La Mesa Police detectives executed the search warrant at Sowers’ residence. Just as expected, nine nude photos of 8-year-old Andrew were discovered in a box inside Sowers’ bedroom closet. Each of the photos had been blown up to 8-by-10 framed pictures. Investigators also found a thank-you note young Andrew had written Sowers 20 years earlier for a swimsuit Sowers had given him for Andrew’s ninth birthday.
During the search warrant, investigators discovered two report cards for a child named Brian. The report cards were not dated and there was no other identifying information. After an extensive investigation, Brian was found and it was discovered that he had also been molested by Sowers 15 years previously, when Brian was 13 years old.
Conviction and lessons learned
Harold Sowers was charged with several counts of child molestation (of both Andrew and Brian) and the production and possession of child pornography, the nude photos of Andrew. However, during a pretrial motion, the defense was able to successfully argue that the recent state law that eliminated the statute of limitations for child molestation was unconstitutional, particularly for those offenses where the statute of limitations had previously expired.
Seven years later, the California State Supreme Court ruled in a 4–3 decision that the law eliminating the statute of limitations was in fact constitutional. Sowers was convicted — 27 years after the crime.
Without an understanding of the psychological compulsion and sexual fantasies of child molesters, this case could never have been successfully prosecuted. The very nature of the molester’s perversion drives them to continually relive their sexual fantasies with their victims, past and present. To this end, they may seek mementos of their molestation and, if so, will more likely than not retain them. They will tend to crave and maintain these items as their most prized possessions, often for life. This understanding is invaluable in investigating child molestation cases and obtaining corroborating evidence of the victim’s allegations. Now, investigators have a verified case and precedent of such an instance where a molester kept such a memento for 20 years, even after moving.
It is imperative for child molestation investigators to ask victims if any photos were taken of them or traded with the molester. Investigators need to ascertain whether cards, letters, emails, texts, gifts or other writings were exchanged as well. Often these items will be the only evidence available to corroborate the victim — evidence the molester is likely to never throw away.