In chilling detail, cold-case key witness recalls night Bucks teen was raped and killed

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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 emerged from the bedroom, in which he had shut himself with the teenager and his toddler, whom she was baby-sitting, Sanders testified in Bucks County Court on Thursday, the third day of Shaw’s trial in the 1984 rape and killing of Barbara Rowan.

Barbara Rowan, 14-year-old victim of 1984 killing.

“He came out all sweaty and wired and says he f—ed up and s—like that,” Sanders, the prosecution’s key witness, 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-blonde 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 them up the road.

“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 Sanders drove them toward Hatboro Township, where he got out of the car, angry and scared about what had happened.

He never saw Shaw again, save for one time when they passed on the street, he said.

“I had all kinds of emotions going on,” testified Sanders,a 54-year-old man with scraggly gray hair and beard, who answered questions succinctly and at times defiantly.

Sanders’ testimony at 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 on 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 as his former acquaintance and meth partner testified at the nonjury trail. Several of Shaw’s family members were in the courtroom.

George Shaw, charged with rape and murder in 33-year-old case.

On Wednesday, the detective who first interviewed Shaw testified that Shaw gave conflicting stories immediately after Rowan’s death.

Other witnesses have placed Rowan in Shaw’s apartment or with an older man and have said she often babysat Shaw’s toddler daughter.

Sanders is currently imprisoned in Monroe County on DUI charges and is set to be sentenced Tuesday on charges of prohibiting prosecution in the Rowan case.

For decades, he did not tell investigators his story about Shaw and the body. He was interviewed in 2004 while in Montgomery County prison on DUI counts 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 were then arrested.

Shaw’s attorney, Lou Busico, asked Sanders questions about his longtime use of methamphetamines 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.​

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