Crime Traveler: What happened to Rowan Ford?

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Colleen questions Rowan’s stepfather, David Spears, about where her daughter might be. Spears’ response is that Rowan stayed at a friend’s house.

However, after searching the entire neighborhood, Colleen still doesn’t know where her daughter is.

Hours tick by with no news of Rowan. So, a frantic Colleen dials 9-1-1 to report her daughter missing.

Newton County Sheriff Chris Jennings took on the case.

“We initially sent officers to the scene to assist with the search,” said Jennings.

However, officers couldn’t find any sign of Rowan. So, they turned their attention to the person who saw her last, Rowan’s stepfather. It didn’t take long for authorities to become suspicious of Spears.

“He didn’t report her missing until eight or ten hours after she was gone, which we thought was extremely strange,” said Jennings. “His story changed several times. We caught him in several lies.”

Police also have another person of interest, Christopher Collings.

Christopher Collings, Missouri Department of Corrections

Spears had been friends with Collings for many years and Collings lived with Spears’ family for several months during the summer and fall of 2007.

According to the PC statement Collings slept in the basement, and Rowan referred to him as “Uncle Chris.” In late October of 2007, Collings moved to his family’s farm and lived in a travel trailer on the property located in Wheaton, Missouri, in Barry County.

Authorities spoke with Nathan Mahurin a mutual friend of Collings and Spears about the night before Rowan disappeared. According to Mahurin, the three men met at a farm where they were working.

They went to a liquor store to buy two or three six-packs of malt liquor and then went to Spears’ home to play pool and drink. At 8:30 p.m., Colleen left for work and left Rowan in Spears’ care. The men continued to drink after purchasing more alcohol.

Later that evening, Collings asked Mahurin to drive him home. Mahurin and Collings talked Spears into going with them, leaving Rowan home alone, asleep on the floor in her bedroom. On the way to Collings’ trailer, the men stopped to buy more alcohol.

At Collings’ trailer, they continued to drink and smoked marijuana. After an hour, Mahurin and Spears left to go home. Mahurin decided to take the back roads instead of the direct highway route to Spears’ house because he was intoxicated and he did not want to get stopped by the police. Mahurin dropped off Spears and returned home by midnight.

Colleen returned home from her overnight work shift at 9:00 a.m. After searching the house, Colleen woke Spears and asked him where Rowan was. Spears told Colleen that Rowan was staying with a friend, but he could not identify the friend.

Colleen wanted to call the police right away but Spears insisted Rowan was at friends.

On November 4th, Newton County deputies spoke with Collings in the parking lot of a local restaurant. Collings gave the deputies the same account Mahurin did about their activities that evening but omitted that they had smoked marijuana.

Collings told the deputies he stayed home and went to sleep after Mahurin and Spears left. Collings denied speaking to Spears since he left and claimed he was unaware Rowan was missing until the police spoke to him.

On November 5th, the FBI became involved in the investigation and community members continued to search for Rowan as well.

While Newton County deputies continued to interview Spears, FBI technicians seized and searched Spears’ pickup truck and a vehicle Spears’ mother said she loaned Spears after Mahurin dropped him off on the night Rowan disappeared.

In the meantime, Newton County deputies approached Collings at work and requested he answer more questions. Collings agreed and drove himself to the sheriff’s department.

Collings gave a similar statement to the one he had given the day before. He also agreed to submit to a polygraph test and a Computer Voice Stress Analysis (CVSA).

Collings continued to deny any knowledge of Rowan’s disappearance and offered to aid in the search.

Later that afternoon, Wheaton Chief of Police Clinton Clark was on routine patrol in Wheaton. Collings and Chief Clark had a relationship spanning 17 years.

Collings flagged down Chief Clark, told him that Rowan was missing, and he was trying to find her. Chief Clark would describe Collings as “kind of excited” and “not his normal self.”

After speaking to Collings, Chief Clark notified the FBI that Collings contacted him about Rowan’s disappearance. Clark believed Collings knew something about Rowan’s disappearance and offered his help in the investigation. The FBI encouraged him to continue talking with Collings.

On November 9th a mother’s worse fear was made a reality. Rowan’s body was discovered in Fox Cave.

“It’s not really a cave in the sense of what you and I think of a cave,” said Jennings. “It’s more like a sinkhole.”

The sinkhole was twenty to thirty feet from the road in a heavily wooded area. Rowan was found with only one sock on.

It didn’t take investigators long to realize foul play was involved.

“I wasn’t there when the body was discovered, but I don’t think anyone had any question that it was a homicide,” said Jennings.

Rowan’s mother describes the moment when she found out her daughter was gone.

Once Rowan was found, Collings revealed to investigators what really happened that night.

At the time Johnny Cox was the Barry County Prosecutor and presented Collings confession to the judge.

According to the autopsy report revealed Rowan died from strangulation.

Collings was charged with one count of first-degree murder, one count of forcible rape, and one count of statutory rape.

Collings would later file a motion to suppress, seeking to exclude evidence of all statements taken from him by law enforcement agents throughout the entire investigation and all evidence obtained from the searches of his body, pickup truck, trailer, and property.

Collings was overruled.

The jury would find Collings guilty of the murder of Rowan Ford.

In 2012, Collings would be convicted of first-degree murder and received the death penalty.

As for Spears, he would plead guilty to child endangerment and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

The case of Rowan Ford not only impacted the lives of her family and friends, but also the investigators who worked to bring her home.

“I still carry her picture with me,” said Jennings. “I’ve worked hundreds of homicides and this one will always stay with me.”

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