University of Utah police have released a timeline and additional details about the murder of student of Lauren McCluskey, who was killed on October 22nd by a man she dated for a month, Melvin Rowland, who took his own life before he could be apprehended. McCluskey broke off the relationship with Rowland on October 9th, after learning that he had lied to her about his name, age and the fact that he was a registered sex offender. On October 12th and 13th, McCluskey alerted university police that Rowland was harassing her, and while her complaints were documented and a detective was assigned to the case, new details make clear that the harassment continued, McCluskey regularly updated police, and yet few investigatory measures were taken prior to her tragic murder.
As Rolling Stone reported on Wednesday, McCluskey was on the phone with her mother and walking home to her campus apartment when Rowland abducted her, forced her into a car in a nearby parking lot and shot her to death; her body was discovered by police a few hours later, after her father called 911. According to new information released by university police, Rowland, 37, was picked up from another part of the school campus by a woman he met on an online dating site, who thought he had just come from the gym. While university police were conducting a manhunt on campus, Rowland and the unidentified woman went to dinner, visited the state Capitol and then returned to her apartment, where Rowland took a shower. By the time the woman dropped him off at a coffee shop, Rowland had been identified as a suspect and she called police after seeing news reports.
Salt Lake City police spotted Rowland in the downtown area and followed him into a local church, preparing to take him into custody, but he shot himself first, using the same gun used to kill McCluskey. Police have since learned that the gun belongs to Rowland’s friend, who told police that Rowland asked to borrow it because he wanted to teach his girlfriend how to shoot. Neither the friend nor the woman are expected to face charges, as University of Utah Police Chief Dale Brony said both had been “duped” by Rowland.
“Rowland was a manipulator. If his lips were moving, he was lying,” Brophy said. “I don’t think he told the truth to anybody based on our investigation.”
That assessment has merit, as there is evidence that Rowland charmed not only McCluskey, but her friends as well; however, university police don’t have firsthand knowledge of Rowland’s manipulative tactics because they never contacted him, nor did they alert the Salt Lake City Police Department or the Department of Corrections, which would have considered the harassment accusations a violation of Rowland’s parole. Initially, Chief Brony suggested that the investigation was stymied because university police didn’t have Rowland’s current address, but as DOC spokesperson Kaitlyn Feldsted told Rolling Stone earlier this week, that information was up to date in their records, and could have also been found through the publicly available sex offender registry. Rolling Stone’s efforts to reach university police for comment have not been answered.
New information released by university police about the timeline of their investigation, as well as the seriousness and unrelenting nature of Rowland’s harassment, has raised further questions about whether McCluskey’s murder could have been prevented. The victim’s mother, Jill McCluskey, contacted campus dispatch on October 10 and asked that campus security escort Lauren to pick up her car, which Rowland had borrowed. Dispatch contacted McCluskey, who declined the escort, as Rowland was bringing the car to her residence. However, she ended up requesting an escort when Rowland opted to leave the car in the school’s stadium parking lot.
Two days later, McCluskey contacted campus police with her first complaint, saying she had been receiving suspicious text messages from people she thought might be Rowland’s friends telling her that he was dead and it was her fault. According to Brony, McCluskey told the officer who took the report that she knew Rowland was alive, and she didn’t feel like she was in danger, but that she believed Rowland’s friends were trying to “lure her” out of her dorm.
The next day, on October 13th, McCluskey filed another complaint, telling university police that the text messages now included demands for money in exchange for not posting compromising photos of McCluskey and Rowland online. McCluskey heeded the threat by sending $1,000 to an account. McCluskey had informed police that Rowland was a registered sex offender and the agency ran his criminal history, Brony said, but did not learn he was on parole. While that may explain why police didn’t contact the DOC, it also appears to contradict Brony’s statement earlier in the week that Rowland’s last known residence was a halfway house; halfway houses are temporary residences for either addicts in recovery and/or recently released prisoners who are transitioning back into society.
According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, Rowland was actually in touch with his parole agent on October 16th, but they were not aware of McCluskey’s harassment complaints, which would have provided probable cause for an arrest warrant. Meanwhile, university police didn’t start an official investigation into Rowland’s extortion attempt until October 19th, after McCluskey received another suspicious text. Brony explained that the delay in investigating was due to the “many cases” his detectives are working at one time, and Rowland wasn’t explicitly threatening physical violence.
On the day of the murder, McCluskey contacted police once again after receiving a suspicious text message from someone claiming to be the Deputy Chief, asking her to come down to the station. University police believe the text was sent by Rowland in an attempt to lure McCluskey out of her dorm, just as she had suspected was the goal of the previous messages. Later that afternoon, Brony said, Rowland spent hours waiting around a common area of McCluskey’s dorm with some of her friends, and police have since recovered campus security video from several days prior, which shows Rowland seemingly looking for McCluskey on campus. Just after 8 p.m. on October 22nd, Rowland, who had spent the last nine days attempting to lure McCluskey to him, finally found her on campus, while she was alone. Shortly thereafter, she was dead.
According to CBS News, University of Utah president Ruth Watkins said outside investigations are being conducted to assess campus security and police protocols, but that so far, she found university police made no mistakes in how they handled McCluskey’s case. Utah Governor Gary Herbert said the Utah DOC had approved independent investigations into the handling of Rowland’s parole.
“Clearly in hindsight, we’re going to say, ‘You should have done this, you should have done that,'” Herbert said during a televised news conference, adding, “You never know when these things are going to occur.”