“All I know is keep it pushing,” Millicent Benson, 37, said at her residence in Jonesboro, Monday, September 9, 2019. In 2018 Millicent was assaulted in her home by alleged Clayton County serial rapist Kenneth Thomas Bowen III. Following the assault, Millicent spoke with media personnel with hopes that her story would encourage other women to speak and her perpetrator to be caught. She said that she has been in contact with at least 3 other women that were allegedly attacked by Bowen. “I wasn’t going to be ashamed, not me. And not any other women,” Millicent said. “I didn’t want to steal my future.” (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Clayton women relieved years of terror over with serial rapist arrest

For four years, police say suspected rapist Kenneth Thomas Bowen was careful never to use the same method of attack twice.

He is accused of raping one victim after breaking into her home through an unsecured window. With another, he allegedly forced his way into her dwelling after she answered his knock at her door. A third woman was attacked outside as she walked to her apartment.

Without a pattern, the rapes, which began in 2015, weren’t immediately connected. Broad knowledge of the serial nature of the attacks weren’t known until sketches of the man were reported by the media in 2018, setting the community of edge.

One of the victims says she may have been in the police station building at the same time that Bowen, who wanted to be a cop, was undergoing training as a 2018 recruit.

“I probably walked past him,” said Millicent Benson, thinking about the times she went to the police station to get an update on her case. “That is crazy to me.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution does not typically disclose the names of victims of sexual assault, but was given permission by Benson.

Clayton Police arrested Bowen in late August and charged him in connection to seven rapes and one sexual battery assault in the south metro Atlanta community. The attacks took place mostly in apartment complexes in the Battle Creek Road area between Jonesboro and Riverdale.

“I am grateful to God that he was captured because people really were beginning to live in fear,” Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Winn-Dixon said. “He was really slick to have gotten away with it as long as he did.”

On Wednesday, Channel 2 Action News reported that Clayton Police believe Bowen could be linked to other attacks. Lt. Thomas Reimers said Bowen is a suspect in six additional rapes and another case of battery.

An attorney for Bowen told the TV station his client has said the community should not assume he is guilty.

“Mr. Bowen asks the public not to prejudge his guilt based on a one-sided and unfair accusation made by law enforcement in this case,” attorney John Turner said Wednesday. “Mr Bowen has not made any statements admitting guilt in this case and the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence has not been tested in the court.”

Police had said during an August press conference after Bowen’s arrest that he could be connected to other attacks, but did not provide any specifics.

Bowen’s arrest eased the fears of a community aware that a rapist was at large, but never knew where he would strike next. Parents warned their daughters to be careful, leaders discussed ways to keep their constituents safe and women, who already employed techniques to survey their surroundings, doubled up on those efforts.

“When I get out my car, I’m looking,” said Clayton State University political science major Vanessa Battle, who added that she always backs into parking spaces rather than pulling into them because it forces her to look in every direction. “When I park, the first thing I do is I glance around.”

Samantha Alverna, a 20-year-old sophomore in nursing at the school, said “It took a while for them to catch him, but I am so glad they did. I was really concerned for my friends who live away from campus. I was always telling them to be careful when they went in their houses.”

Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day commended the police on their investigation.

“They solved the crime just like ‘Law and Order,’” she said. “They put all those pieces together.”

Putting the pieces together began in June 2018 when GBI offiicals said they used DNA evidence to link a suspect to five rapes between July 2015 and May 2017. Later, a review of 911 calls of suspicious people near the area of the attacks led detectives to Bowen, whose name was among those reported.

After noticing the similarity between Bowen’s picture and a GBI sketch of the rapist they were hunting, they matched his tattoos with that of the suspect and learned that he had a silver Ford Focus with tinted windows, a description similar to the gray car with tinted windows that victims reported.

Cassandra W. Merilles, a retired educator, said she was relieved by his capture, in part because there was scant information about the attacks early on in the investigation.

“I was glad he was caught No. 1,” she said. “Initially [the police] didn’t broadcast it, but kept it under wraps. Once they brought it to the community, especially when one of the victims spoke up and said she was going to show who she was because of the impact it had on her life, they were able to apprehend him.”

Police said detectives were working separately on the cases initially until test results from the GBI linked the crimes.

Victim Millicent Benson said she publicly discussed her attack because she wants to help victims erase any shame they may feel because of an assault and to persuade them to fight for justice.

“I’m doing this for the woman who is not like me,” said Benson, who was attacked in June 2018, about the same time Bowen was hired as a recruit for the Clayton Police Department. “In the beginning I thought it was just me. I didn’t know there were others. But I fought from Day One and I refused to be ignored.”

Merilles said Benson’s courage she be applauded. “I admire her for coming out,” she said. “She should get an award for that.”

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