On September 6, 2011, Jesse James Cowans escaped earthly justice by dropping dead of an apparent heart attack. Cowans was a twice convicted killer that lived on Ohio’s death row since April 16, 1997 for murdering Clara Swart, a 69-year-old widow who lived alone in Amelia; a small village outside of Cincinnati.
A spokesman for the prison said that Cowans collapsed outside of his cell in Youngstown, Ohio around 6:35a.m. He was pronounced dead an hour later. Cowans had recently lost his latest appeal before a federal court in Cincinnati in April.
Although Cowans’s death may not bring relief to the sons of Clara Swart, at least they know he won’t kill anyone else.
Sometime in July, 1996, Tim Swart had visited his mother. While taking out some trash to the curb, Cowans pulled up and asked if he could have a discarded swing. Tim Swart gave the item to Cowans and even helped him load it into his vehicle.
On August 29, 1996, Tim Swart had stopped by to visit his mother; instead, he found the body of his mother—brutally murdered. Clara Swart was found with a purse strap and an electrical cord wrapped around her throat and her hands bound with a telephone cord.
Before her death, Mrs. Swart had told Mildred Kilgor, a neighbor that Cowans had approached her and frightened her. Swart told Kilgore that Cowans was the same man who had picked up a seat from her trash.
After speaking to Kilgore and finding a foreign palm print inside the home, the police went to meet with Sandra Higgins, Cowans’s parole officer to find out if the print had belonged to Cowans.
Higgins and 2 deputies proceeded to search Cowan’s home for evidence of a parole violation. While searching the home, they uncovered a wooden car, a clown figurine and a wooden jewelry box.
The authorities had hit the jackpot as all the items belonged to Clara Swart.
Deputies also spoke to a neighbor of Cowans, who said that she had asked him if he had heard about the murder. The neighbor testified that Cowans said that it was terrible to hang a lady by the refrigerator with her hands tied behind her back. These words would lead to Cowans’s downfall because the authorities never revealed those details. Only the killer would have known.
On September 2, 1996, Deputy Sheriff Robert Evans picked up Cowans, who slowly drove by Swart’s home to get a reaction. The ploy worked because Cowans began to talk about the murder. He claimed that he had known about the strangulation from a local news report—which wasn’t true. Cowans claimed that authorities focused on him because he was an ex-con.
While locked up, Cowans spoke to Marvin Napier, another inmate. Cowans had confided to Napier that he had robbed and killed Swart. Cowans told Napier that he had jerked Mrs. Napier off the toilet before killing her. This information was confirmed since urine was found in the toilet bowl. Cowans also told Napier he wished he would have taken Swart’s wedding ring and earrings, which he had left on the body.
A jury indicted Cowans on 4 counts of aggravated murder and recommended death for his brutal crime. Unfortunately, his day to pay for his crime never arrived. In the meantime, Cowans remained on death row at taxpayer expense from 1997 to 2011.
Furthermore, to add more salt to the wound, the Swart’s family also learned that this was an avoidable crime. The victim’s family learned that Cowans had previously killed before. In 1977, at the age of 16, Cowans murdered a man in a wheelchair and robbed him. He then tried to cover his crime by setting the dead man’s home on fire. After serving a 12 year sentence, Cowans persuaded a parole board to release him.
His first parole lasted for under 2 years before he was arrested for having a knife, drugs and running away from an accident. After going back to prison, he would serve more time until he received his second parole. Eventually, the parole board decided to release him back into society and into the same Amelia neighborhood with Clara Swart.
Although, Cowans had gotten into trouble for causing trouble in jail and being violent, he was still released against the recommendation of the prison medical staff, who felt that Cowans was dangerous.
Once Cowans was released, he moved into a home with his wife in Amelia. It wasn’t long before he viciously killed Mrs. Clara Swarts on Lindale-Mt. Holly Street in Amelia. Cowans was nothing but a predator that preyed on the elderly and handicapped.
Although this monster won’t ever harm or kill another victim, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth to know that Cowans didn’t live long enough to become a “dead man walking.”