Twenty years ago, Donald Rowson, then 38, came to Hinesville from Manly, Iowa, for contract work fixing railroad tracks on Fort Stewart.
At at 6:26 a.m. Aug. 15, 1992, Rowson was found dead in the parking lot of the Main Gate Square shopping center, his body laying near his pickup. Current Hinesville Police Department Sgt. Gerald Morris discovered Rowson during a routine security check.
HPD Detective Maj. Thomas Cribbs recalled the scene.
“They stabbed him and then they hit him in the head with something like a sledgehammer,” he said. “We were able to find the knife and the hammer nearby.”
Rowson is one of four unsolved homicide cases at the HPD, and officers are intensifying efforts to solve the cold cases to bring closure for the department and the victims’ families.
“He has a mother that calls here religiously,” Cribbs said about Rowson. “She is getting up in age but she still calls here about every three months to see if there has been any break in the case.”
Rowson’s case is difficult, Cribbs said. At the time there were no video surveillance cameras in the area. There were no witnesses and, according to Cribbs, no clear motive.
The opposite is true in the unsolved death of Damon Hardy. According to HPD Det. Doug Snider, there were 40 or more witnesses who saw someone shoot Hardy at close range around 1:15 a.m. on May 29, 2007. Hardy was trying to disperse a rowdy crowd.
Earlier that day, nearly 200 people had gathered in the Regency Apartment Complex to celebrate the end of the school year.
“It was five years ago this weekend (Memorial Day weekend),” Snider said. “Everybody that we’ve talked to can at least confirm that at least 40 people saw it. There is no doubt that people know who did it.”
Snider said nearly everyone interviewed claimed they didn’t see anything.
“Now there are a variety of reasons why people don’t see a thing,” he said. “One of the reasons is because they are afraid… And I can understand that, but at some point in time I would like to think that we could overcome some of that.”
In the summer of 2009, Hardy’s mother Johnette Valley held a vigil at Liberty Independent Troop Park and asked the community for information. Snider said she is still looking for closure.
“She’s had some problems in her life since then,” Snider said. “Things that would be devastating to people, but I don’t think that it causes anywhere the pain inside of her that the loss of her son has caused her. She still calls here and cries. She is devastated by this.”
Snider called Hardy’s death senseless and tragic.
“They need to ask themselves what kind of community they want to live in and what kind of person do they want to be,” he said.
Michael Jones knows all about suffering. His son Steven Edwards Jones was shot in the head on the evening of Dec. 6, 2008, while he was sleeping in his bed in a home in the 600 block of Second Street.
“I am offering a $3,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of whoever killed my son,” Jones said. “He was a two-year HOPE Scholarship recipient and was about to enroll at Armstrong for his third year. He didn’t deserve to be shot while he was sleeping.”
HPD Lt. Susie Jackson said they received the call just after midnight. She said Jones’ younger brother Nathan and girlfriend Francis Scott were also at the house. Jackson said the couple had several visitors that day. As evening approached, most of the visitors left for a concert in Savannah.
“Sometime later there was a knock on the door, and when Nathan opened the door two people rushed in and pistol whipped Nathan and held Francis at bay,” Jackson said. “One of the suspects went to the back of the house, and that is when the others heard the gunshot ring out, and once that happened they fled.”
Jackson said they believe the suspects ran down Second Street, but the trail ran cold.
Jackson said she interviewed numerous people.
“Nobody could tell us who they were,” she said, adding the shooters had covered their faces.
Two years later and less than half a mile away, two men wearing masks burst into Orlejandro Mark Smalls’ South Main Street apartment, breaking up a poker party and shooting Smalls to death.
The shooting occurred on Oct. 29, 2010, according to HPD Det. Jeff Davis.
“Basically, Mark Smalls and some friends of his would throw a poker game twice a week … and that night there were six other people there,” Davis said. “There was a bang on the door. Mark goes to see who it is … The door opens and people hear a scuffle taking place in the kitchen. Mark gets pushed out into the living room. The two guys come out into the living room. They are wearing masks and carrying guns and they ordered everybody down on the floor.”
Davis said one of the men was barking out commands and later shot Smalls.
Davis said the other poker players started jumping out windows to get away. He interviewed the witnesses but they couldn’t establish a case.
Anyone with information on these cases should call 368-8211.