A Modern-Day Bluebeard

Lowell Amos

Carolyn Lawrence Amos might still be alive today if she had followed her instincts and not taken her estranged husband, Lowell Amos, back the day after his mother died.
 
Instead, in 1989, Carolyn was murdered by her husband, a modern-day Bluebeard, who collected $800,000 from an insurance company. Ironically, Carolyn threw Amos out in 1987 when he refused to cancel the overly large policy he took out on her life.
 
According to Amos, Carolyn was accidentally electrocuted by a hair dryer while she stood at the bathroom sink. However, the autopsy revealed no evidence of electrocution, but did show that Carolyn had ingested Valium and alcohol shortly before her death. The coroner ruled the cause of death undetermined and the case was closed.
 
In hindsight, it is surprising that the Middletown, Indiana, police did not look a little more closely at the circumstances of Carolyn’s death. It occurred less than a year after Amos’s mother, Mary Toles, died under mysterious circumstances only a few weeks after Amos moved in with her. Just what killed the 77-year-old woman was never determined. Because of her age no autopsy was performed.
 
But that’s not all. In 1979 Amos’s first wife, Saundra Heard Amos, 36, died after she allegedly fell and hit her head in the bathroom. Traces of Dalmane, a sleep aid, and alcohol were found in her blood during the autopsy. Again the coroner ruled the cause of death undetermined and closed the case. Amos collected $350,000 in life insurance.
 
Amos wasn’t finished, however. In 1994 his third wife, Roberta Wagner Amos, died of a drug overdose under circumstances that can only be called bizarre.
 
The couple were in Detroit for Amos’s consulting firm’s Christmas party. They spent the evening drinking and around midnight returned to their room in the Atheneum Hotel where they began using cocaine.
 
A friend of Amos’s business partner told police that she was with the Amoses until around 4:30 a.m., December 10. She said that Roberta looked tired and “like she was drinking” while Amos appeared to be “jumpy and talkative.”
 
Amos and Roberta went to bed and when he awoke later that morning he found Roberta dead next to him. She had apparently been dead some time because one employee called by Amos after discovering Roberta’s body said Amos graphically told him her corpse was cold.
 
“I touched her and she was cold,” an equally cold Amos reportedly said. “She’s laying in the next room — cold as a mackerel.”
 
Amos told them he had waited to call anyone so he would have time to get rid of the evidence of cocaine use. Amos handed the man an overnight bag and asked him to take the bag from the hotel before the police arrived. When the man got to his home he opened the bag to find a syringe without a needle, a “foul-smelling hotel washcloth with an unrecognizable substance on it,” according to reports, and a sports coat. He turned the evidence of — something — over to police.
 
Unlike the Indiana authorities, Detroit cops, who coined the phrase “routine murder,” opened a homicide investigation even before the results of the autopsy were in. Amos was talking with Detroit homicide detectives back at the hotel where he admitted the couple had used cocaine. Amos told the cops that the couple had inserted the coke anally and in Roberta’s vagina.
 
“Obviously, Roberta is a 37-year-old healthy female that had a completely unexpected death,” said Detroit homicide detective Patrick Henahan. “Then the following day we started getting calls from these other locales regarding the other wives and that’s what made us delve into it.”
 
Roberta’s autopsy revealed that she had a “tremendous” amount of cocaine in her body, according to Wayne County medical examiner Sawait Kanluen.
 
“It was 15 times the amount typically seen in a cocaine overdose,” he later testified. The ME pronounced her death a homicide.
 
There was good reason to rule the manner of death homicide: Roberta’s mother, Marie, testified that Roberta did not use drugs, and a professor of emergency medicine told the court during Amos’s preliminary hearing that Roberta’s symptoms as described by the friend who was with her that night did not fit with a cocaine overdose.
 
“The symptoms of a typical cocaine overdose include nervousness and hyperactivity,” said Dr. Suzanne White. “Mrs. Amos would not have simply fallen asleep or died quietly had she overdosed.”
 
In addition, other friends of Roberta’s told police that Roberta was afraid of her husband and preparing to leave him because he was seeing another woman, something that was part-and-parcel with Amos’s psyche. He cheated on his first wife, Saundra, with Carolyn Lawrence, who he married just months after Saundra died. Two days after Roberta’s death, Amos treated a pair of women to a $1,000 dinner. The women reciprocated the favor by engaging in a menage a trois.
 
Unlike with the other deaths, Amos did not benefit financially from Roberta’s death.
 
“It makes me wonder how much did he have to hate her to do this,” said Marie Wagner. “Or did he just think he could get away with it here? No one has that much bad luck.”
 
Roberta’s death did prompt Indiana authorities to reopen the cases involving the deaths of Saundra, Mary Toles, and Carolyn Lawrence Amos.
 
“When you have one situation, you don’t have a track record. When you have two you start looking,” Anderson Detective Michael Williams said. “When you have three you get into a situation where you may have some kind of pattern.”
 
It took the Detroit police 11 months to gather enough evidence to charge Amos with first-degree murder. He was arrested in Las Vegas, where he moved after Roberta’s death.
 
There was plenty evidence presented at the preliminary hearing to indicate that Amos was a serial killer. Similar to a grand jury, the rules of evidence in a preliminary hearing held before a judge in state courts are different than those at trial, so prosecutors were able to introduce evidence connected to the deaths of Amos’s previous wives.
 
Connie Alexander, a former neighbor of Amos and Saundra, said the night Saundra Amos died in 1979, Saundra and Alexander shared a beer at Alexander’s house in Anderson, Ind. Saundra Amos went home about 11 p.m. A few hours later, her young children knocked at Alexander’s door.
 
“They said, ‘Something is wrong with Mommy, and the ambulance is stuck in the snow,”‘ Alexander said. She said her husband helped free the ambulance.
 
Alexander testified she went to the Amos house after hearing Saundra Amos had died. She found Lowell Amos burning something in the fireplace.
 
Binding Amos over for trial, Wayne County District Court Judge Deborah Lewis Langston asked rhetorically: “Is Mr. Amos unlucky in love? I have my own opinion.”
 
Then she looked down from the bench at Amos.
 
“May God have mercy on your soul,” she said.
 
At trial, Amos testified that he loved Roberta and was heartbroken when he learned she planned to end the marriage.
 
His stepson told jurors that Amos knew he would be under suspicion because of the earlier deaths. Gary S. Lawrence, Carolyn’s son, said he talked to Amos outside an Indiana funeral home after his third wife died.
 
“He told me he was glad he had no life insurance on Roberta. I told him it wouldn’t matter because if she had stepped off the curb and got hit by a bus people would swear he paid the bus driver. He said, ‘I know it.'”
 
Amos’s defense attorney argued that the state had not proved its case in his closing argument.
 
“As horrible, as sordid, as unfortunate as this particular case is,” the attorney said, “it is not murder.” At most it was a case of manslaughter.
 
The jury was allowed to hear evidence involving the death of Carolyn, but not those of the two other women, which helped establish a pattern of behavior. Jurors did not take long to convict Amos of murder. In Michigan the penalty for first-degree murder is a mandatory life sentence without possibility of parole.
 
At his sentencing Amos continued to proclaim his innocence.
 
“You’re a young judge,” Amos said. “I hope this is the first time and the last time you have to sentence an innocent man.”
 
Judge Jeffrey Collins was unmoved, describing the former General Motors plant manager as a dangerous killer without conscience.
 
“Thank God for the safety of our community you will be locked up for the rest of your natural days,” he said.
 
As of May 2014, Amos is serving his sentence in an Upper Peninsula prison. No charges were filed in the deaths of Saundra, Carolyn, or Mary.