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When a 15-year-old disappeared from southwestern Michigan in 1993, authorities used all tools at their disposal — including psychics.
Becky Stowe came from the small town of Niles, just north of the Indiana border. She and her family enjoyed summers at Lake Michigan filled with cookouts and campfires. That summer, the once-tomboyish child seemed to be coming into her own and started dating her crush, Robert Leamon.
“Becky was vibrant. She was a little on the wild side, I mean, she was very adventurous,” Becky’s sister Cindy Slates told “Buried in the Backyard,” airing Thursdays at 8/7c on Oxygen. “She was excited and happy to have a boyfriend. Rob was the big crush that summer, the guy she told me she was dating.”
Robert Leamon was the all-American teen, popular in high school for his handsome looks and plays on the football field. On the other hand, Becky was more of the school’s rebel. She lived with her mother, Diane, and Diane’s long-time boyfriend, Steve. She smoked a pack a day and argued with the adults frequently, as many teenagers do.
“When Steve first moved in, he was being a father figure for Becky,” said Slates. “But Steve would come across as bossy to Becky, and Becky didn’t like that, and they would butt heads at times.”
On July 9, 1993, Diane agreed to let her daughter sleep over at her friend Jacqueline’s house when Becky said she’d had enough of Steve and their arguments. The following day, Becky left a note for Jacqueline and her boyfriend, Todd Kizer, saying she went off to visit Rob.
Jacqueline and Todd grew concerned when Rob called them an hour later, asking where Becky was.
“He insisted that he had not seen her all day,” said Kizer.
Becky left her wallet, money, and cigarettes behind. When Diane heard the news and was unable to locate Becky, she called the police.
Authorities questioned Becky’s friends, and Jacqueline made a shocking confession: Becky was pregnant. In a later interview, Rob Leamon told authorities that the relationship wasn’t as serious as Becky thought it to be. He claimed he knew about the pregnancy and tried to convince Becky to have an abortion. He denied seeing Becky on the day she disappeared.
“I do remember the comments about him dating Becky,” said Becky’s cousin Pam Thomas. “That he’s going on the other side of the tracks, dating someone that was way beneath him.”
In fact, Rob maintained he was already in a serious relationship with another girl, but the girlfriend was away in New York for the summer. Rob also said the day she disappeared he was busy doing landscaping work, spending time with his family, and later going to the restaurant where he worked as a busboy.
“He had an alibi,” said Cass County Prosecutor Scott Teter. “We didn’t have any reason to doubt that he was telling us the truth.”
Authorities began to wonder if Becky, a young and frightened pregnant teen, disappeared of her own volition. Those closest to her didn’t think so, noting that Becky seemed to leave all her belongings behind.
When detectives learned Becky and her mother’s boyfriend, Steve, had a tense relationship, it prompted authorities to look closer at the home. Steve had taken the day off work and maintained he was at the house alone when Becky vanished.
The small town of Niles buzzed with local searches for Becky, and Diane posted missing persons flyers on telephone poles and storefront windows. But months went by and there was still no sign of Becky. Although surveillance on Steve produced nothing suspicious that could link him to Becky’s disappearance, detectives asked him to take a polygraph test.
Not only did Steve refuse to take the polygraph test, but he also packed his things and moved away without a word.
“He couldn’t have done anything else to make himself look more guilty than the way he was behaving,” said Teter. “Instead of taking a polygraph, Steve moved out of the house.”
Detectives failed to locate Steve, and as the months went by, dozens of searches were executed in hopes of finding Becky. Diane, now without her daughter and boyfriend, began to become desperate. She turned to psychics for answers, but they all told her the same thing: Becky was dead, and they would never find her alive.
“In the over 25 years I’ve been a prosecutor, I never had any law enforcement agency consult with a psychic,” said Teter. “In this case, because [this] had gone on for over a year and a half, and we were coming up empty, the decision was made to consult with a psychic that had assisted law enforcement in another case.”
The psychic indicated an industrial area with water nearby.
“It was interesting, [but] it wasn’t specific enough for us to pin down,” continued Teter. “It didn’t break a case.”
Two years after Becky’s mysterious disappearance, the leads dried up and the case grew cold — until officials with the Cass County Sheriff’s Office got a shocking call from a woman who claimed she knew what exactly happened to Becky Stowe.
The woman was Angela Snyder, Rob Leamon’s high school sweetheart. She said Rob admitted to killing Becky and buried her on his uncle’s farm. According to Snyder, Becky’s remains could be found near a treeline by a lake; a grave concealed by a large woodpile.
On Oct. 5, 1995, investigators went to the scene and removed the woodpile, as described by Snyder. Using a backhoe, they dug inch by inch before the machine pulled red-colored clothing and skeletal remains from a hole in the ground.
“It was easy to recognize it was a pelvic bone and a thigh,” said Teter.
Dental records confirmed it was the body of Becky Stowe. Decomposition made it impossible for a medical examiner to determine how she died, nor could they find physical evidence that she was pregnant at the time of her death.
Rob went with detectives and voluntarily provided his account of what happened. According to Rob, he took Becky to his uncle’s house to spend time together. The pair began to wrestle, Rob alleged, saying he maneuvered Becky’s arms around her head before hearing something pop. It was an accident, Rob claimed.
Investigators, however, believed it was a premeditated murder after learning Rob and his cousin — a male with learning disabilities — dug the hole the previous day.
Authorities arrested Robert Leamon for open murder (meaning a jury would decide if it was a case of first- or second-degree murder). Although he was only 16 years old when the murder occurred, Rob was tried as an adult.
“When we found out that Robert had been arrested, it was kind of a bit of relief,” said Kizer. “Because we had spent a couple of years looking and hoping, and that’s pretty stressful.”
More information about how Becky died came to light during the 1997 trial when prosecutors put forth their version of events.
“I think he took her out there, showed her the hole in the ground, and said, ‘Do you understand how serious I am about you getting an abortion?’” said Teter. “And then she started to fight. She was strangled to the point that she lost consciousness and then put in the hole. She might not have died instantly from being strangled. Becky Stowe was buried alive.”
A jury found Robert Leamon guilty of murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.
“Becky Stowe died because she had a crush on a kid, and she fell in love with him, she slept with him, she got pregnant,” said Teter. “And this kid, out of all the people she could have picked, was a homicidal sociopath. And when faced with the choice of being embarrassed that he slept with her or killing her, he chose killing her.”
In January 2021, Robert Leamon was released from prison after serving 26 years after the Supreme Court deemed life sentences for juveniles unconstitutional.
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