Lives of the fellows

David Aubrey Llewellyn Bowen

b.31 January 1924 d.31 March 2011
MB BChir Cantab(1947) MRCP Edin(1954) DPath Eng(1955) DMJ Soc Apoth Lond(1962) MRCPath(1964) FRCP Edin(1971) FRCPath(1975) MRCP(1978) FRCP(1982)

David Aubrey Llewellyn Bowen was professor of forensic medicine at London University and head of forensic pathology at Charing Cross Hospital. During his career he was associated with some 500 cases of murder and suspicious deaths including the investigations into the serial killer Dennis Nilsen, the murder of PC Keith Blakelock and the mysterious death of the banker, Roberto Calvi.

He was born in Pontycymmer, a former mining village near Bridgend in South Wales, where his father Thomas Rufus Bowen was a GP. His grandfather had been a Congregationalist minister. As was traditional for boys in their family, he and his brother Arthur attended Caterham School in Surrey. He studied medicine at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and the Middlesex Hospital. After qualifying in 1947, he did house jobs at the Middlesex and London Chest Hospital before joining the RAMC to do his National Service.

On demobilisation in 1949, he began his pathology training, initially at Bristol Royal Infirmary. Leaving Bristol in 1951, he spent a year at the London Chest Hospital and then became a registrar and senior registrar in clinical pathology at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases. Moving to the Royal Marsden Hospital in 1956, a chance vacancy occurred at St George’s Hospital Medical School and he took up the post of demonstrator in forensic pathology a year later. While there he gained valuable experience working with Donald Teare [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p. 571], Francis Camps [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.88], and Keith Simpson [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.462] who, between them, covered almost all the suspicious deaths and murders in the London area.

In 1974 he was appointed head of forensic pathology at Charing Cross Hospital and, three years later in 1977, professor of forensic medicine at the University of London. He held both posts for over 20 years retiring in 1989. At the University of Oxford he was also a lecturer in forensic medicine.

Among high profile cases that he dealt with during his 40 year career were the deaths of Ross McWhirter, co-founder of the Guinness book of records who was murdered by the IRA on the steps of his London home in 1975 and the New Zealand teacher, Blair Peach, at an anti-racism rally in 1979. In 1983, he was asked by the head of Hornsey CID to examine some small bones found blocking a drain in a house in Muswell Hill. Bowen identified the bones as human and was asked to join a search of the premises. It was largely due to him that evidence was uncovered relating to the crimes of Dennis Nilsen, who killed and dismembered the young men he had lured to his flat in North London; a case that was unique in that one man had been involved in the disposal of more bodies than at any other time in the history of crime in Britain. He was also involved in the investigation of the death of PC Keith Blakelock, killed in the Tottenham riots in 1985, and conducted autopsies into the victims of the IRA bomb at the Baltic Exchange in London in 1992.

In two particular instances, Bowen was asked to investigate suspicious cases in which an initial verdict of suicide was possibly open to question. On examining the case of Roberto Calvi, the Italian banker found hanged below Blackfriars Bridge in 1982, he found evidence to suggest that the man had been taken by force and murdered, although subsequently five Italians accused of the deed were acquitted in 2007. He was also asked, by a British surgeon, Hugh Thomas, to examine the case of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, who was found in 1987, hanged in Spandau Prison at the age of 93. From the bruising on the neck of the victim and on the top of his head, Bowen concluded that there was considerable doubt in the suicide theory and that it was more likely that Hess had been assaulted.

He was an examiner for the University of Saudi Arabia and Colombo in Sri Lanka. The author of more than 50 scientific papers on topics such as forensic pathology, toxicology, patterns of injury and homicide investigations, he also published an autobiography, Body of evidence (London, Constable, 2003).

A keen sportsman, he continued playing hockey for West Hertfordshire until his 60s and ran marathons and cycled long distances. He also continued to compete in triathlons and took up skiing and horseriding in his 70s. Travel was a favourite activity and he especially enjoyed visiting Barbados and Formentera in the Balearic Islands.

In 1950 he married Joan Rosemary née Davis and they had a daughter and two sons. Joan died in 1973 and he married Helen Rosamund two years later. When he died Helen survived him, together with his children Mark, Diana and Rod, and granddaughters, Charlotte, Caroline, Abby and Stella.

RCP editor

[The Telegraph 13 April 2011; The Guardian www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2011/jun/14/david-bowen-obituary - accessed 30 July 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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