Then, fatigued by the charade, the suspect leaned in close.
Police froze. He was Gary Ray Bowles — one of the most wanted men in America who spent eight months terrorizing gay communities up and down the Interstate 95 corridor on the southeast coast, evading the FBI and authorities in three states as he drifted from town to town killing older gay men he met in bars. Bowles paused, asking for a cigarette. Then he confessed to brutally killing six men.
“It’s time,” he said then. “I want the killing to stop. I’m either getting six life sentences or the electric chair.”
On Thursday, he got lethal injection.
The notorious serial killer, later dubbed the “I-95 killer,” was executed in Florida at 10:58 p.m. on Thursday for Hinton’s murder after the U.S. Supreme Court denied his 11th-hour petition for a stay, rejecting his attorneys’ argument that he was too intellectually disabled to be put to death. No family came to visit him before he died. None of the victims’ family members spoke. No priest came to pray for him, at his request. He ate three cheeseburgers, french fries and bacon for his last meal, and then he offered a written statement to the media.
“I’m sorry for all of the pain and suffering I have caused,” he wrote, apologizing to the families and to his mother. “I never wanted this to be my life. You don’t wake up one day and decide to become a serial killer.”
Bowles became the 99th person executed in Florida since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, as police and prosecutors who handled his case remembered him as one of the most horrific killers they had encountered. In a 2014 A&E special on the series, “The Killer Speaks,” Bowles showed no remorse for the men he killed, saying he believed they deserved it.
“I just wanted to kill as many people as I could before they caught me,” he said.
As he sat with investigators from Jacksonville Beach, after he was caught in November 1994, Bowles started from the beginning.
A native of Clifton Forge, Va., he said he ran away from home at the age of 14 after a series of stepfathers abused him, The Post reported. A hitchhiker he met along the way introduced him to prostitution, he said, and for years afterward, Bowles would continue turning tricks for $10 or $20 with other men, drifting around the country to Louisiana, Missouri and Florida.
He kept the prostitution secret from his girlfriends — but the last one found out, sending Bowles on a violent trajectory.
Bowles had just been released from prison for robbery when he moved into a Daytona Beach apartment with an older woman who became his girlfriend. She was pregnant with his child when she found out about the prostitution, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported, and abruptly left town.
That’s when he started hating gay men, he told authorities. He claimed the woman aborted the baby without telling him — and so he blamed gay men, the News-Journal reported.
He met his first victim, John Hardy Roberts, in March 1994. The 59-year-old insurance salesman frequented a strip of ritzy bars popular with gay men in Daytona Beach, which is where he encountered Bowles, then 32. Bowles was looking for a place to stay. Roberts, a single gay man, was looking for company.
He invited Bowles to live with him at his beachfront home, and in just a week, began to think they could move beyond a sexual relationship to something more meaningful. But Bowles kept talking about his ex-girlfriend.
On March 14, Roberts gave him an ultimatum, as Bowles would recount to police: “Make up your mind,” he said. “It’s me or her.”
Bowles left the room to think for a moment. He returned and bashed Roberts’s skull in with a lamp, then stuffed a tightly rolled towel down his throat.
Bowles fled the scene in Roberts’s 1992 Saturn — but he left something behind: a letter from the probation office, addressed to Bowles. Police would find it lying directly beneath Roberts’s body. It was almost too easy to be real, former Daytona Beach detective Alison Sylvester told A&E.
“How stupid could someone be to leave their identification behind at a murder?” she said.
Sylvester feared they were going to lose Bowles if they didn’t act quickly. They followed a trail of his transactions with Roberts’s credit card leading from Daytona Beach all the way to Nashville ― but the trail ended there.
And the killings piled up.
A few weeks later, a 39-year-old loan officer named David Alan Jarman would be last seen leaving a gay bar in Dupont Circle with a man closely resembling Bowles. He would fail to report for work the next day, and his body would be discovered in a pool of blood in his home April 14.
“That guy is the fear in the back of every gay man’s mind,” Laramie Simpson, 22, a Washington bartender told The Post in 1994. “Nobody ever totally forgot that he might be out there.”
By then Bowles was already gone from D.C. He headed south to Savannah, Ga., and started frequenting the gay bars again. He met Milton Bradley at one called Faces — right next to the Savannah FBI office.
Bradley, a 72-year-old disabled World War II veteran, was a beloved fixture in Savannah. The veteran was left mentally incapacitated after a shrapnel wound to his head but was known as a “kind, gentle old man” who liked to feed the pigeons in the park and help around his family’s locksmith shop, a Savannah police lieutenant and friend of Bradley’s told The Post at the time.
On the night Bowles met him, he volunteered to give Bradley a ride home from the bar after a night spent shooting pool with the regulars. Instead Bowles took him to a golf course. Behind a plywood shed, he beat Bradley with an old toilet and suffocated him by stuffing leaves down his windpipe.
Before long, police and the FBI started connecting the dots, as two more gay men ended up dead. Authorities in Savannah released a bulletin to hundreds of police agencies describing similarities of the recent killings. The victims were older men who socialized at gay bars. Most had objects grotesquely snaked down their throats. And the killer always took their car and wallet, leaving a short trail of transactions before disappearing somewhere along the I-95 corridor.
Sylvester saw the bulletin go out, she told A&E. She knew it had to be Gary Ray Bowles.
Now police just had to find him.
“He’s a wild card,” Detective John Best, lead investigator from the Savannah police, told The Post at the height of the manhunt. “From what we’ve seen, he can be as persuasive and charming as he wants to be, and then, next thing you know, he does a 180-degree turnaround and he can kill you. That’s what makes him extremely dangerous.”
Bowles knew the FBI was after him. His face was all over television, on “America’s Most Wanted” and in the newspapers. Gay bars put his picture up to warn people to stay away. So Bowles became “Timothy Whitfield” — an identity he stole after finding all of the identifying documents for Whitfield in the home of one of his victims.
He went to the DMV and got a new driver’s license in Whitfield’s name and started living in the open again in Jacksonville, working as a day laborer and renting an apartment. When his landlord thought he was Bowles and called police, Bowles convinced them he really was Whitfield and just happened to look like the wanted killer. He went to jail on the real Whitfield’s outstanding traffic warrants and several times went to jail for petty offenses. He thought that if they hadn’t figured him out already, police never would.
But then Whitfield was suspected of murder.
The other day laborers knew Whitfield was living with Hinton, the florist, when he was found stabbed and strangled. Police arrested him at the job center and hauled him in for questioning for hours before Bowles finally caved, revealing his true identity.
The detective asked why he killed Hinton; Bowles said he didn’t know. He had been drinking and smoking pot all night, but he couldn’t think of anything specific that had made him angry.
He only said, “It was time to move on.”