Tommy Ross Jr., right, sits with attorneys Harry Gasnick, left, and John Hayden during Ross’ first appearance in Clallam County Superior Court on Wednesday in connection with the 1978 murder of Janet Bowcutt. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Tommy Ross Jr., right, sits with attorneys Harry Gasnick, left, and John Hayden during Ross’ first appearance in Clallam County Superior Court on Wednesday in connection with the 1978 murder of Janet Bowcutt. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

$1.5 million bail set for man accused of 1978 Port Angeles murder

PORT ANGELES — Bail was set at $1.5 million Wednesday for a Los Angeles man accused of killing a Port Angeles woman more than 38 years ago.

Tommy J. Ross Jr., 58, was being held Wednesday in the Clallam County jail for investigation of the 1978 murder of 20-year-old Janet Bowcutt.

He will be arraigned Dec. 2.

Port Angeles police said Ross strangled Bowcutt to death in her apartment in April 1978.

Ross was convicted of a similar murder that occurred in Victoria in May 1978, Clallam County prosecutors said.

He had been serving a life sentence in Canada for the murder of Janice Forbes of Victoria and was granted parole last week.

Ross was arrested by Whatcom County sheriff’s deputies at the Peace Arch border crossing in Blaine for investigation of the Port Angeles homicide, authorities said.

He was booked into the Clallam County jail at 8:26 p.m. Tuesday, according to the jail roster.

Former Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Deborah Kelly is handling the Ross case because of her familiarity with the history of it, current Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols said.

Kelly requested a $2 million bail for Ross at his initial court appearance Wednesday.

“Mr. Ross is still considered by this office to be extremely dangerous, extremely capable of committing these same sorts of crimes,” Kelly said.

Defense attorneys Harry Gasnick and John Hayden of Clallam Public Defender argued that a warrant for Ross’ arrest had been quashed in 2014.

“They tore up the warrant and they didn’t bother issuing a summons, and then they snatched the guy off the street, and that’s wrong and it’s illegal,” Gasnick said.

Gasnick said Ross did not have the financial means to make a fraction of the requested bail amount. He objected to his client appearing in court in shackles.

“This man shouldn’t be here in the first place, much less in shackles,” Gasnick said.

Clallam County Superior County Judge Erik Rohrer found probable cause to hold Ross for investigation of the Bowcutt murder.

“I understand the defense’s concerns about this,” Rohrer said.

“I have the same concerns. I don’t think I’m going to resolve the search warrant issue today.”

According to the affidavit for probable cause, Bowcutt’s mother reported that her daughter would not come to the door and that she could hear Bowcutt’s infant son crying inside an apartment at 615 W. Eighth St. on April 24, 1978.

Officers kicked the door open and discovered a deceased Bowcutt on her stomach, fully clothed, with her hands and feet bound together.

“A scarf was tightly wrapped once around her neck, securing a washrag stuffed in her mouth as a gag, and twice around her neck,” Port Angeles Police Detective David Arand wrote in a Wednesday arrest report.

“The scarf was tied through the cordage around her ankles in such a manner that struggle would only tighten the scarf around her neck.”

Local residents identified Ross as a suspect in a series of photographs, investigators said.

Ross’ fingerprint was found on an interior doorknob, prosecutors said.

Kelly said there are fingernail clippings that could be used as evidence at trial.

“At this point, I have every reason to believe that this is a viable case,” Kelly told Rohrer.

“It appears to me to be a genuinely strong case, despite the passage of 38 years.”

Forbes, the Victoria murder victim, was found in her apartment “fully clothed, bound, gagged and strangled in a very similar manner as Bowcutt” on May 24, 1978, Arand wrote in his report.

“It was apparent to both Port Angeles and Victoria police that the cases were related,” Clallam County prosecutors said in a Wednesday news release.

Ross was identified as a suspect and extradited from Los Angeles to Canada after Forbes’ murder, police said.

A British Columbia jury convicted Ross in July 1979. He was sentenced to life in prison but was eligible for parole after 25 years, prosecutors said.

“He had a parole hearing last week, frankly much to the surprise of the Clallam prosecutor’s office,” Kelly told Rohrer.

Ross was paroled from the Pacific Institution in Abbotsford, B.C., on Nov. 10.

He was deported by Canada Border Services Agency on Tuesday, prosecutors said.

In 1988, Port Angeles police and former Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney David Bruneau interviewed Ross at a Canadian prison in Saskatchewan, court papers said.

During that interview, Ross admitted that he killed Bowcutt; two other females in Anaheim, Calif.; and another female in Los Angeles, Arand wrote in his report.

“There are no convictions down in California,” Kelly told Rohrer.

”I don’t know frankly at this point the status of their cases. I don’t know what they have in the way of evidence.”

Ross in 1988 “showed no remorse for the killings and stated that if he had to do things in his life over again, he’d do everything the same way,” according to the affidavit for probable cause.

“However, when asked, Ross refused to disclose any details of the homicides without guarantees from [Port Angeles police] that he would receive the death penalty,” Arand wrote.

Kelly served as the elected Clallam County prosecuting attorney for 12 years and worked in the office for about 28 years, said Nichols, her former chief deputy.

Kelly retired in January 2014 shortly after her successful prosecution of Sequim double-murderer Darold Stenson.

“Deb’s experience prosecuting homicide cases combined with her familiarity with the history of this case made for a great fit,” Nichols said in a news release.

“We are grateful to her for her assistance on the case.”

________

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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