If Donnie Russell Rowe’s trail of random, innocent victims is any indicator of what he might resort to now, the police hunting him and fellow escapee Ricky Dubose can’t catch them soon enough.
The pair are thought to have killed two corrections officers on a Georgia prison bus as it passed through Putnam County early Tuesday.
Rowe and Dubose allegedly overpowered the officers, grabbed two .40-caliber Glock pistols the officers had and shot the officers dead before escaping in a passerby’s Honda Civic, which the inmates stole at gunpoint.
Rowe, 43, a blue-eyed, lanky, bearded man with a criminal record in at least three states, was part of what a prosecutor once referred to as a “continuous crime spree” that ended one night 14 years ago just south of Macon.
At trial months after his October 2001 arrest for a string of armed robberies and aggravated assaults at a rest stop and a motel along Interstate 75 here, Rowe testified that he and an accomplice had been driving from his home in Tennessee to visit his sister near Alma in southeast Georgia.
Authorities on Monday night converged on that sister’s place south of Hazlehurst but didn’t find him or Dubose, who is 24 and has a rap sheet that includes armed robbery, theft, aggravated assault and credit card fraud.
The older Rowe — who has past addresses in the Tennessee cities of Nashville as well as nearby Murfreesboro, Smyrna, La Vergne and Manchester — appeared to have no qualms about robbing total strangers in his fall 2001 holdup spree in Middle Georgia.
He denied the stickups when he took the stand in his own defense in Bibb County Superior Court in May 2002, saying he had “no idea” how two of his victims’ belongings ended up in the Lincoln Continental he was in. He did admit to past burglaries in Tennessee and Florida.
Rowe, who was convicted and was still in prison for the crimes, along with another man, Edward Shane Rust, 45, who is still serving a life sentence for his role in the case, were said to have robbed a Michigan man at gunpoint at an I-75 rest stop in south Monroe County.
Not long after that, in the wee hours of Halloween 2001, they busted in on two Indiana men staying at the Super 8 Motel on Arkwright Road in north Macon.
“I heard footsteps behind me,” the Michigan man, James Ferrio, said in court.
“What’s going on?” Ferrio recalled asking the person behind him.
“You’re getting robbed,” a gunman, thought to have been Rowe, told him.
One of the victims in the holdup that happened soon after that at the north Macon Super 8 told of Rowe’s conniving. The victim, Greg Anderson, who was in town from Indiana working on a cellphone tower, heard a late-night knock at his second-floor room.
Someone outside said “room service.” Anderson peered through a peephole just as Rowe shoved his way in.
Anderson testified that Rowe, in a camo jacket, and Rust, his accomplice, cut the room’s phone line with a knife and then fired a shot into the headboard over his bed. A man who was traveling with Anderson and inside the room said Rowe told him that “if I moved or tried to call police, he’d kill both of us.”
Rust and Rowe were caught about half an hour later along Hartley Bridge Road by a Bibb sheriff’s deputy who was on the lookout for their Lincoln.
In court, Rowe claimed he had met one of the men in the motel room at an Atlanta strip club earlier that night and that they’d arranged to meet at the motel so Rowe and Rust could buy marijuana.
The prosecutor in the case, Sandra Matson, told jurors that wasn’t true, but that something else was.
Rowe and his accomplice, she said, were “dangerous con men” who “preyed on people.”