April 2001

A disturbing look into a broken family

By Julie Salamon
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The Rowe family would probably have argued that the birth of their second son with severe visual and mental impairments didn't constitute a tragedy. Indeed, the efforts of parents Bob and Mary Rowe to raise and educate their son Christopher garnered great admiration among their friends and neighbors. But tragedy overtook the Rowes in February 1978.

That year, Bob Rowe murdered his wife and three children. After an unsuccessful and perhaps halfhearted suicide attempt, the New York lawyer was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Even the prosecution's psychiatrist expressed no doubt that Rowe was mentally ill at the time of the murders. Now journalist Julie Salamon recounts the tragedy and its aftermath in Facing the Wind, a true-crime narrative of extraordinary breadth and compassion. Salamon dwells not on the details of the murder but on the events that led to Bob Rowe's psychosis and those that followed, in which Rowe, heartsick over his deed but sure in his heart that he was not responsible, attempted to pick up the pieces of his life. Salamon tells the story of many remarkable people, among them a devoutly religious young woman named Colleen who met Rowe after his release from a mental institution. Burdened by her own secrets, she was able to see Rowe for who he was and not what he did. Eventually, she married him and bore him a daughter.

Salamon never met Rowe, but the picture of him she assembles from court documents, letters, journals and interviews is of an intelligent, charming and ambitious man whose belief that he was not responsible for the lives he took led to an eight-year quest to regain his law license. Rowe's insistence on living his life when his family lay dead by his hand is seen as an affront by some. But the reader is left with the impression never explicit that in the dark of night, Rowe had trouble forgiving himself for what he did.

Facing the Wind never disintegrates into a lurid tale of a sensational murder. Sensitive, moving and disturbing, it is a masterful work of journalism.

Gregory Harris is a writer and editor living in Indianapolis.

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