On the night 14-year-old Barbara Rowan was killed, Robert Sanders was sitting in George Shaw’s living room, waiting to shoot meth.
Then Shaw came out of his bedroom, in which he had shut himself with the teenager, who was babysitting his toddler, Sanders testified in Bucks County Court on Thursday, the third day of Shaw’s trial in the 1984 killing.
“He came out all sweaty and wired and says he f—ed up and s— like that,” Sanders, the key witness for the prosecution, said on the stand.
Then Shaw returned to the bedroom and Sanders used the meth. Sanders heard noises from the room, which died down, and then Shaw returned and “says he needs a hand with something.”
On the bed, Sanders said, he saw a body in a black trash bag, with reddish-blond hair sticking out of the top.
“I didn’t want to [help], but I was told I’d be heading the same way,” Sanders said. “I fear for myself. ‘Cause George is an animal.”
Sanders testified that the pair loaded the body into the trunk of Shaw’s 1971 red Pontiac LeMans and Shaw drove a short distance.
“He get out, open the trunk up, and he put her on the other side of the guard rail,” Sanders said. They dragged the body into a brushy area. Then they drove to Hatboro, where he told Shaw to let him out of the car and told him he never wanted to see him again. He said was angry and scared about what had happened.
“I was fearing for my life, so that’s why I never said nothing,” he said.
“I had all kinds of emotions going on,” testified Sanders, a 54-year-old with scraggly gray hair and beard, who answered questions succinctly and at times defiantly. He is currently imprisoned in Monroe County on a firearms charge and is set to be sentenced Tuesday on charges of hindering apprehension and prosecution in the Rowan case.
Sanders’ testimony before a 2015 grand jury was the basis for the homicide and rape charges against Shaw in the long-cold case. Rowan, who lived in a Trevose trailer park with her parents, was killed Aug. 3, 1984. Her body was found in a nearby patch of woods abutting Route 1 days later.
Shaw, 56, of Geneva, Fla., watched stoically Thursday as his former acquaintance and drug buddy testified. Several of Shaw’s family members were in the audience.
After Sanders, a man testified who had reported to police back in 1984 that he and his wife had seen two men taking something out of a car trunk along Route 1 and throwing it off the highway the night Rowan was killed, in the same location where her body was found.
“The trunk was open … and I could see two people pulling, it covered the whole trunk, what looked like a body or something,” Daniel Green said. “It didn’t look right.”
When the body was discovered, the ankles and hands were bound with tape, a detective testified Wednesday. A longtime friend of Shaw’s, Daniel D. Colangelo, said on the stand Thursday that he was working in 1984 at a company that cut large spools of tape into smaller spools to be sold. “I gave out electrical tape and box tape and duct tape and fiber tape,” he said, adding he had given some to Shaw in July.
After Rowan’s killing, Colangelo encountered Shaw in the neighborhood one day. “He said he was thinking of me and the tape,” testified Colangelo, who later reported the comment to police. “I just thought it was important, the way it came out. … [He] had a weird look in his eyes.”
On Wednesday, the detective who first interviewed Shaw testified that Shaw gave conflicting stories immediately after Rowan’s death.
Other witnesses who have testified over the last two days have placed Rowan in Shaw’s apartment or with an older man and have said she babysat Shaw’s toddler daughter.
For decades, Sanders did not tell investigators his story about Shaw and the body. He was interviewed in 2004 while in the Montgomery County prison for DUI charges and said he had heard Rowan was killed because her father owed someone money.
In 2015, Sanders was called to testify before a grand jury. After lying initially, he said, he told investigators that he had been in the apartment and aided with dumping the body. He and Shaw, who maintains his innocence, were then arrested.
Shaw’s attorney, Lou Busico, asked Sanders questions about his longtime use of methamphetamine and cocaine, which Sanders said he gave up 18 years ago, and asked why Sanders was testifying. Sanders is facing jail time for his involvement.
“Your conscience awakes after you knew you were doing 14 years, possibly?” Busico said. Sanders said he had struggled “all the time” with guilt and remorse and had told the grand jury the truth before being charged.
“I wanted to come clean,” Sanders said.