Ronald Bower’s eyes gloss over with tears as his face twists with each and every syllable.
“You have to believe me,” he implores, the tone of his voice a sharp contrast to the hushed conversations taking place around him. “I’m innocent!” he weeps, his stare broken only by a quick glance toward a corrections officer sitting watch at the front of the room, which oddly resembles a classroom. “I never hurt anyone,” he insists, tears streaming down the side of his mouth and dribbling onto a tiny wooden table he’s sitting at.
It’s been nearly two decades since Bower was picked up by Queens sex crimes detectives during his shift at the Douglaston Mall, where he worked as a security guard, three days after his 30th birthday. It’s been nearly two decades since he’s laid eyes on his youngest daughter, then a mere 2 years old. Nearly two decades, yet he’s crying as if it all happened yesterday. May 10 marks Bower’s 20th anniversary behind bars; he’ll turn 50 on May 7.
The nightmare of that fateful day in 1991 and the endless horrors he has encountered each day since haunt his every move, possess his every breath, own his every thought. Bower speaks fast, frantically, as if the words have been recoiled and gaining tension on his vocal chords since his birth. Names, dates, memories, countless snapshots of horrifyingly sinister incidents of abuse and mistreatment he’s seen on his hellish tour through many of New York’s most infamous maximum- and medium-security correctional facilities—Auburn, Gowanda, Green Haven, Sullivan, Clinton (his current residence)—they all pour out, rapid-fire, like a dammed river that has just given way; each fragmented yet intimately connected in their sheer terror. They are stomach-churning, heart-stopping threads of absolute, darkest-of-dark, dread.
The tragic tales are echoed by Ronald Bower’s family—his slightly older brother Steven, 53, and 81-year-old mother Margaret—whose world remains frozen in a state of perpetual torture, utter pain and devastating anguish and whose modest apartment in Flushing has been transformed into a massive, livable shrine to “Ronnie” populated with photographs, stuffed animals and religious icons.
Bower is about to begin his 20th year of an 18- to 54-year sentence for sodomy, sexual abuse and attempted robbery, with an official maximum expiration date of May 3, 2041. He’d be a few days shy of 80 when he gets out, if he survives.
The then-30-year-old father of two, who had no prior criminal record, was arrested, paraded through several lineups and eventually charged with two crimes Queens sex crimes unit investigators dubbed the work of the “Silver Gun Rapist”—an assailant eyewitnesses described as having considerably similar physical characteristics to Bower who accosted young women and girls in a series of at least nine sexual attacks through a corridor of eastern Queens and western Nassau counties in the vicinity of Union Turnpike between 1990 and 1991. Internally, the crimes were known as “Pattern #1/91.”
The perpetrator’s M.O. was to approach his victims—sometimes two at a time—while they walked or as they entered their vehicles, force or drive them to secluded areas and demand them to perform oral sex on him at gunpoint.
Sometimes, he’d also rape them. Victims described the weapons used as a small silver handgun and a snub-nose .38-caliber revolver.