One cold January evening in 1975, Ronald Kenneth Thomas and John Cowan rushed into a High’s Dairy store in New Market, Md., a small rural community between Charlotte Hall and Mechanicsville in St. Mary’s County, to rob the store just twenty minutes before closing and executed one clerk and pumped three bullets into another clerk and left her for dead.

I didn’t know the killers or the victim. However, I have known one of the men who were involved.  Like many others, I frequented the store as a customer regularly. The High’s Dairy Store sold all the usual convenience store items and specialized in dipped ice cream as well. The notion that two young men, with another driving their getaway car, would take a life while intent on picking up less than two hundred bucks from the till of that store, was at that time, hard to believe.

The money that they later split up, money which had been used to purchase cups of coffee, would be a reason to end the life of one young woman and crippling another, both of whom were working at minimum wage to be able to pay their rent, keep on the lights and take their kids to the doctor – seemed to be the news from the big city, not a simple country crossroads.

It was 1975 and being close to Washington, D.C. where such murders were a common event, and national and international news were dominant meant that only local newspapers and radio stations would reveal much about this story.

They did a surprisingly good job of it, an effort which is rare today as newspapers have cut back reporting budgets amid dwindling advertising revenue.

The reporters of that time covered the eventual trial and conviction. But the victim wasn’t really important, just a working stiff, not the wife of a local banker or society matron. The only time the news reports mentioned the survivor was when she gave vivid and emotional testimony in court.

The local radio stations didn’t have the staff to give full news coverage and mainly gleaned the news stories from newspapers, much like today. Two local newspapers in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, that existed at the time, were very good at digging into details in 1975, but the qualifier for detailed coverage was in line with the standing in the community of the victim and killer. The prominent in local high society rated more attention – the poor, not so much. Thus, the story died quickly.

Just like everyone else, for me, the story would have faded from memory, but this busy convenience store was one of my regular coffee stops when coming back from up the road. I didn’t know the clerks, but it was likely they had waited on me many times. I didn’t know but one of those charged with the murders.

The one I knew and still know decided to cooperate with prosecutors, and in return for his cooperation, his charges were dropped. His knowledge of the planned crimes of robbery and murder was shocking, and his failure to call the police while the killers were on the way to the commit the crime is abhorrent. He testified in court that the plan of his friends was “none of my business.” 

He testified in court that the plan of his friends was “none of my business.” 

Instead of calling the police, he called a girlfriend. The killers returned to his location, and they split up the money, with this young man also getting a cut of the loot in the form of a tank of gas for his car. He testified against his friends and kept his excellent job from which he has now retired. But now, the killer is free to hunt him down.

MURDER USA: True Crime, Real Killers
Now in paperback and Kindle at Amazon


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