Leap up Social Ladder for Woman in Rape Inquiry
One night turns a quiet leisurely life into a life on the front page.

By Fox Butterfield
With Mary B. W. Tabor
Special to The New York Times

Palm Beach, Fla.. Apri1 16 - The woman who has accused William Kennedy Smith of raping her at the Kennedy estate here was born into a modest working-class family outside Akron, Ohio, but moved sharply up the economic scale 10 years ago after her divorced mother remarried a wealthy industrialist.

Since then, the young woman, Patricia Bowman, moved from Ohio to Florida, where she held jobs sporadically, took occasional college classes, had a child and moved into a house near Palm Beach that was bought for her by her stepfather, Michael G. O’Neil, the former chairman of the General Tire and Rubber Company. It was in Palm Beach more than two weeks ago, at a chic bar Ms. Bowman frequents, that she met Senator Edward M. Kennedy, his son Patrick and Mr. Smith. After returning with them to their estate in the early hours of March 30, she later told the police, she was attacked.

No Comment on the Case

Mr. O’Neil and Ms. Bowman have declined to discuss the case, and her lawyers did not return messages seeking comment today.

The major family changes Ms. Bowman would encounter began in 1974. Court records show that her father, Robert Bowman, was a welder at an automobile plant and that her mother, Jean, was a secretary making less than $200 a week at the time her mother sued for divorce in 1974. She charged that her husband was physically threatening her.

But Mrs. Bowman soon became involved with Mr. O’Neil, whose wealth was listed at $10.3 million when he was divorced in 1981, according to documents filed in his divorce proceedings, Mrs. Bowman was described as the "longstanding girlfriend" in a memorandum submitted by the industrialist’s estranged wife and was subpoenaed to testify in the case.

Soon after the divorce the two were married, and Patricia Bowman’s new stepfather helped her to make a transition from being an Ohio high School student with below-average grades to a young woman with a leisurely life in South Florida.

In 1989, after she gave birth to a daughter by a local man she did not marry, her stepfather purchased a new contemporary three-bedroom house for her with pale peach walls at a cast of $161,800, according to the deed. The house, in Jupiter, 20 miles north of Palm Beach, is not far from the Loxahatchee Club, an exclusive walled community built around a lush palm-lined golf course and small lakes where her mother and stepfather live. A uniformed guard at a gatehouse checks all visitors.

After the 29-year-old woman reported that she had been raped, her stepfather was furious, according to people who have talked with him. A blunt-spoken man, he is used to getting his own way, friends say.

"This is not about money," he is said to have told one person on the phone. "This is about justice."

And so he quickly hired two prominent criminal defense lawyers to support his step-daughter. The case has thus pitted two of the country’s most successful families against each other.

Ms. Bowman was born on Aug. 11, 1961, and was an only child. After her parents were divorced, when she was 13, she and her mother lived in a series of small homes and apartments in the Akron area.

She had a poor academic record at Tallmadge High School, said a school official who spoke on the condition that he not be named. But she was popular socially and "had a little wild streak," said a woman who knew her at the time. That meant she and her friends liked to drive fast cars, go to parties, and skip classes, the friend said.

In 10th grade, however, she had to withdraw from high school because of a serious automobile accident in which she broke her neck, a school official said. She was a passenger in the car.

At the time, a doctor told her she would never walk again, a friend recalled. But three weeks later she walked out of the hospital.

Nevertheless, she had to wear a body brace and struggled with constant pain caused by arthritis from the accident. This made her self-conscious, but also led her to be "very strong willed, very upbeat" as she tried to overcome the effects of the injury, the friend said. "I think she was more concerned about being accepted by her peers" than with getting good grades, he said.

After a year in treatment, Ms. Bowman, who liked to cook and listen to Bruce Springsteen, returned to high School in nearby Stow. Then after graduating she attended classes at a college in Ohio and talked of becoming an architect, the friend said. But she also talked of moving to Florida to relieve arthritic pain, which she eventually did in 1981 two years after finishing high School. "It was hell on her in the wintertime," the friend said.

Even today the woman must still take medication to relieve the pain, and the friend said he had never seen her run. The doctors told her her neck was like glass - "it’s fine crystal," the friend said.

"This wildness you have heard about, it wasn’t the same kind of wildness as other people," he said. "She knew her time clock was much more fragile than yours or mine."

During her high school years, her mother gradually rose through the ranks at the McNeil Corporation, a manufacturer of machinery for the tire companies of Akron, moving up from being a secretary, to executive secretary to the president of the Company and then to being secretary of the corporation. That made her the only female executive of the Company. The chairman of one of her firm’s largest customers, General Tire, was the man she became romantically involved with and eventually married.

A spokesman for the firm where she worked, Raymond Keller, remembered her as "a very competent lady. She was a very highly though of person."

After Ms. Bowman moved to Florida, where her stepfather liked to play golf, she worked briefly at a law firm, a church and at Disney World.

Between 1981 and 1990 she also enrolled in a number of liberal arts courses at Palm Beach Community College, though she never received a degree, according to the registrar’s office. In addition, while she lived for a time outside Orlando in central Florida in the mid-1980’s she took English classes at the Hamilton High School, the continuing education division of Rollin College, a School official said.

But she was still drawn to the Palm Beach area, and in 1989 had a brief affair with Johnny Butler, the son of a once prosperous family here that owned a lumber Company. The firm has since declared bankruptcy.

Mr. Butler was the father of her child, friends say. It is unclear why the couple did not marry.

Although Ms. Bowman is known and is introduced as Patricia O’Neil around Palm Beach, her driver’s license lists her as Patricia Bowman. Records of the Florida Department of Highway Safety show she received 17 tickets for speeding, careless driving or being involved in an accident between 1982 and 1990. In several cases she was driving more than 70 miles per hour in a 55 miles per hour zone.

In 10 cases, the woman’s license was suspended for failing to pay the fines assessed her for these violations. In one instance her license was suspended from August 1986 until September 1987 for driving without a license and failure to appear in court. Over the past three years she had been driving a black Mazda sports coupe.

During the 1980’s the woman also became a fìxture in Palm Beach’s expensive bars and nightclubs. "She was always having lots of fun out there on the scene," said Dick Hurley, a former bar-tender at the 264 bar and now a bar-tender at the Safari and Polo Club. The Safari and Polo Club sometimes features a black doorman in full African tribal regalia, complete with a headdress and a spear.

Taste for Café Society

Another acquaintance, Nathaniel Read, Said, "She liked to drink and have fun with the ne’er-do-wells in café society." Mr. Read, a Palm Beach resident, was at Au Bar, this year’s most chic watering hole, the night the woman met Mr. Smith there.

At La Trattoria di Capri, an Italian eatery with primitive murals of peasants on the Wall, she struck up an acquaintance with the chef, Enrico Pontirole. One evening a few weeks before the incident at the Kennedy estate, Mr. Pontirole recalled, she came in at midnight after the kitchen was closed but complained of being hungry.

So Mr. Pontirole went back to his pots and sauces and fixed her his speciality, rigatone a la vodka. Later he escorted her to a nearby bar, E.R. Bradley’s, but was disappointed when she fell into conversation with several other men, according to Mr. Pontirole.

Holly Montgomery, another local resident who was at Au Bar the night of the incident, recalled that the woman "was just kind of hanging out." She saw the woman at the Kemredys’ table and was not surprised when she left with Mr. Smith. "How many times a night does that happen in Palm Beach?" she said rhetorically.

Ms.Bowman is believed to be staying at the O’Neil house inside their guarded compound.

Her own house in Jupiter appears empty, with the blinds drawn, except in her daughter’s room. There, on a window-side shelf, are children’s books, including a copy of "Babar’s Anniversary Album" and "Two Minute Bible Stories."

Inset: On Names in Rape Cases

For a week after the accusation of rape at the Kennedy compound in Palm Beach, Fla., news organizations held to their usual policies and did not name the woman who made the complaint. Then on April 7, The Sunday Mirror in London, a tabloid featuring scandal, society news, and sports, published her name and photograph along with a lurid account of the incident.

A week later a national supermarket tabloid, The Globe, based in Boca Raton, Fla., published the same photograph and named the woman, Patty Bowman. The Globe reported the "British Press reports" had identified the woman, who said she had been raped by William Smith, a nephew of Senator Edward Kennedy, in the Kennedy mansion in Palm Beach.

NBC News used Ms.Bowman’s name yesterday evening in a newscast about the issue of whether news organizations should withhold the names of rape victims. A prominent part of the report focused on the article in The Globe.

Michael G. Gartner, the president of NBC News, said in a statement that the network decided to use the name "after much debate."

Mr. Gartner Said: "We believe in this case, as in all news events, the more we tell our viewers, the better informed they will be in making up their own minds about the issues involved. We do not mean to be judgmental or take sides; we are merely reporting what we have learned."

Tom Goodman, a spokesman for CBS News, said that that network has a fìrm policy against naming rape victims. Sherrie Rollins, a spokeswoman for ABC News said that it has an understanding that the name would only be used in the most unusual of exceptions.

But an ABC News executive said that network news executives had "debated whether this particular case might be an exception because the rape is being charged on one side and denied on another."

Like many other news organizations, The New York Times ordinarily shields the identities of complainants in sex crimes, while awaiting the courts’ judgment about the truth of their accusations. The Times has withheld Ms. Bowman’s name until now, but editors said yesterday that NBC’s nationwide broadcast took the matter of her privacy out of their hands.

The practice of withholding names became almost unanimous in the 1970’s when women argued that it would make rape victims more likely to come forward.

Many editors said that using names would increase the pain of a traumatic experience. But some editors now believe that failing to identify rape victims perpetuates the idea that rape is a crime that perpetually damages a woman’s reputation.


TLS Aug. 14,1998

The Shredding of Public Privacy

By Thomas Nagel