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Could a "Money Hungry" Mother Be Behind the Mysterious Deaths of Her 2 Children?
“The idea that someone would leave you out to rot in the woods is just a horrifying concept," Taylor Kuykendall, a former reporter for the Register-Herald, told Snapped after the remains of Cathy Jo McCoy were found.
A pile of bones found in the wooded mountains of West Virginia renewed the search for a missing woman in 2011, more than a decade after she first disappeared. The remains of Cathy Jo McCoy eventually led police to her own mother, Mary Bowles, as shown in Snapped, airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
“Mary looked innocent, but underneath, she was the devil,” Jasmine McCoy, Bowles’ granddaughter, said on Snapped.
Cathy Jo McCoy Goes Missing
Cathy Jo McCoy, who had four children from different relationships, was described as a “free spirit” by those who loved her.
In September 1998, she was involved in a bad car crash that broke her arm, both her legs, and forced doctors to fuse two of her vertebrae together. Left unable to work and dependent on social security checks to take care of her children, Cathy Jo's mother, Mary Bowles, began helping to take care of her.
On June 5, 2000, unable to get a driver’s license in West Virginia because of her disability, Bowles offered to drive Cathy Jo to Tennessee to attempt to get a license. It was supposed to be a weekend trip — but Cathy Jo never came back.
Cathy's young children were in disbelief.
“She seemed normal,” said Carl McCoy, Cathy Jo’s son, on Snapped. “’I love you. See you Monday.’ I was just a kid myself, but I knew something was very wrong. Very, very wrong. My mom would not just up and leave like that.”
But Bowles returned to the kids nine hours after leaving, without their mother, saying she’d dropped Cathy Jo off with friends.
“Mary said she ran off,” Jasmine McCoy said. “It was really weird to us, even as children. We would look out the window constantly, and just pray that she would come back.”
Bowles took over caring for the children, and they described “terrible” living conditions with her, including padlocked refrigerators and verbal abuse.
Investigation into Cathy Jo McCoy's Disappearance Begins
Three years went by, and then Cathy Jo McCoy’s bank notified the Social Security Administration they believed there was fraudulent activity on her account. The SSA believed Cathy Jo’s mother was cashing her money — nearly $19,000 worth of checks.
“I was able to determine very quickly that sometime in mid-2000, Cathy’s signature changed on the checks,” Tim Morton, Social Security Administration Special Agent, told Snapped. “This lady had been missing for three years. At this point, I believed that her mother, Mary Bowles, was forging Cathy’s name on the checks.”
Even though she’d last been seen June 5, 2000, no missing persons report was ever filed for Cathy Jo McCoy until the SSA notified police.
“Certainly, after so many years, I think it’s very odd that family would not file a missing persons report,” said Amy Mann, prosecutor, to Snapped. “So, I think that’s the first red flag.”
Bowles admitted to cashing her daughter’s checks but told police she was using the money to take care of the McCoy kids after her daughter ran off. In December 2003, Bowles pleaded guilty to forgery and was sent to prison. The McCoy children separated to live with various family members.
Bowles was released from federal custody in 2005, and police made no progress on finding the missing Cathy Jo McCoy — until March 30, 2011.
Did Mary Bowles Kill Her Own Children?
Employees with the Department of Highways were cleaning in the woods near Walker Mountain Road in Summers County, West Virginia, when they discovered 13 bones and a skull. Two of the vertebrae had been fused together, enabling police to trace the hospital records of the fused plate to Cathy Jo McCoy.
But when police tried to notify Cathy Jo's next of kin — her mother — they were unable to find Mary Bowles. Instead, they notified Cathy Jo’s children their mother was dead.
“You know what happened. You suspect it. But there’s still that little glimmer of hope that she may come back,” Carl McCoy said. “Maybe there’s some merit to what Mary is trying to tell us. Because she’s your grandmother, right? She wouldn’t lie to you about something like that. This is her daughter.”
Family and friends told police this wasn’t the first time they’d suspected Bowles of killing one of her own children. They told police Bowles’ son, Mark, was in a serious car accident at the age of 17. Bowles decided to pull him out of the hospital, against medical advice, and instead took him to a hotel room. Family members said Mark was in pain, and Bowles wouldn’t let anyone in the room to see him.
“The only one that was in that room was him and Mark’s girlfriend,” Matthew Lukach, Cathy Jo McCoy’s brother and Mary Bowles’ son, tols Snapped. “She just told us Mary took and laid a mattress against the door, where they couldn’t get out. He died right there in the hotel room. Died of a punctured lower intestine. Drowned in his own fluids. No remorse. It’s like it didn’t faze her.”
Bowles benefitted from Mark’s death: She sued the hospital and received $24,000.
“She’s had a lot of people leave out with her…and not come back,” Lukach said.
Police got another break in the case when a former roommate of Bowles', Geraldine Tincher, contacted them. Tincher said Bowles had stolen about $10,000 from her in checks while they lived together. She also told police the night of June 5, 2000 — the last day Cathy Jo McCoy was seen alive — when Bowles returned home, it looked as if she’d been in the woods all day, and her hair and clothes were all wet.
Bowles repeated her story to Tincher, saying she’d dropped her daughter off with friends. But Tincher noticed Bowles still had Cathy Jo's purse and driver’s license in her possession.
“She was getting that driver’s license to cash Cathy’s checks at the bank,” Morton said. “Geraldine said, ‘The children, she wanted custody of those children.’ There had been a feud between the two of them over the children since the accident. Mary wanted custody and Cathy would not give up custody of those children.”
Jasmine McCoy called her grandmother “money hungry.”
“My mother was getting social security checks monthly, she was getting food stamps for kids,” Jasmine said. “So Mary thought that if she had us children, she would get those benefits. And my mother stood in the way of that.”
Vicki Caul, Jasmine’s grandmother, told police another important detail in the murder investigation. She was invited to Jasmine’s birthday party back in 2000 at Bowles’ home, and said Bowles showed her a .22 caliber gun. That size matched the bullet hole found in Cathy Jo McCoy’s skull.
When Lukach got a phone call from his mother, officers were able to track Bowles, down. She was charged with first-degree murder in the death of her daughter.
A trial date was set, but Bowles received a terminal cancer diagnosis. As her health deteriorated, in December 2016, she was released from jail and placed in hospice care. The prosecution dismissed the case against her.
On July 5, 2017, Mary Bowles died. She was never tried or convicted of her daughter Cathy Jo’s murder or in the death of her son, Mark.
“I was mad when I found out,” Jasmine McCoy said. “My mom will never get justice like she deserves. My mother was kind, beautiful. She’d do anything for her kids. I just want people to know my mom didn’t deserve it. She was a good person.”
Watch new episodes of Snapped on Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen, or in the Oxygen app.