York-area man accused of killing girlfriend supposed to be on house arrest

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
Ross Crawford

Editor's note: This article originally ran in The York Dispatch on June 12, 2012:

Ross William Crawford was supposed to be on house arrest Friday when he allegedly killed estranged girlfriend C. Jennifer Dowell in her Manchester Township home, then slashed his own neck and arms in a botched suicide attempt.

He'd been out of prison less than three weeks.

Criminal court filings spanning nearly three years tell part of the story of the on-again, off-again relationship between Dowell and Crawford.

Northern York County Regional Police filed charges against Crawford over and over — for arson, aggravated assault, simple assault, burglary, making terroristic threats, unlawful restraint, theft and other alleged offenses.

On Friday, police charged Crawford, 41, of 570 Harvest Drive in Manchester Township, with Dowell's homicide.

Police said Crawford killed the 53-year-old Dowell by hitting her in the head. She'd been dead at least 24 hours when a concerned co-worker discovered Dowell's sheet-covered body inside her 507 Cedar Village Drive home.

That friend also saw Crawford inside the apartment, covered in blood and holding a knife, according to police. Crawford remains in York Hospital, recovering from his wounds.

Under guard: Crawford is under guard at the hospital by county sheriff's deputies, according to Lash. After he's released from the hospital, he'll be taken to York County Prison without bail.

Crawford had been locked up there from March 14 until May 21, 2012, on a probation violation for a 2010 case in which Dowell was the victim. His probation was violated because he incurred a new charge on March 6 — a summary harassment citation, again with Dowell listed as the victim, according to court records.

Dowell testified against Crawford at the March 14 hearing for that summary offense, and Crawford was found guilty.

His probation officer then filed a probation-violation petition on the 2010 case and had Crawford committed to prison.

C. Jennifer Dowell

House arrest? On May 21, 2012, as part of an agreed-upon resolution between the prosecution and defense, Crawford was released from prison and ordered to spend nearly four months on house arrest, according to defense attorney Ron Gross.

Gross said it's his understanding that at the time of the homicide, Crawford was still waiting for the county to set up his house-arrest monitoring.

Gross hasn't had the chance to speak with Crawford since the homicide, and said he doesn't know whether he'll be representing Crawford for it.

Although Dowell testified against Crawford at the March 14 hearing, that was not always the case, according to court records.

No victim, no crime: Sometimes charges against him — including serious ones — were dismissed because she wouldn't appear to testify against him.

A temporary protection from abuse order Dowell obtained against Crawford on Aug. 24, 2010, was dismissed with prejudice a few weeks later when she failed to appear for a hearing on the matter, records state.

In that petition, Dowell stated Crawford had set her home on fire, physically assaulted her and destroyed all her personal and business records.

"When I was representing him, she didn't want him in jail," Crawford's previous defense attorney, Suzanne Smith, recalled. "She would ask me how to get him out of jail, and when he'd be eligible for release. ... I encouraged them both to stay away from each other because bad things always happened when they were together."

'Unhealthy': But both Crawford and Dowell would tell Smith they loved each other, Smith said.

"They had a very unhealthy relationship," Gross said.

Dowell's ex-husband, James Dowell of Manchester Township, said he believes Jen Dowell was scared of Crawford.

"This guy was evil. He threatened her all the time," he said. "At first, she'd go to see him in jail. I told her, 'You've got to stop this.' She said she had feelings for him."

James Dowell said he feared Crawford would hurt Jen Dowell. He said he doubts she was still seeing Crawford.

Lt. Lash said that's one of the questions police are still trying to answer.

"Was she having contact with him? Did he break into her house? It's too early in the investigation to say," Lash said.

Help available: Barbara Woodmansee, community education director of Access-York, said there are a number of reasons why some domestic-violence victims won't leave, or press charges against, an abusive partner.

Some are afraid, she said, while others want to believe the abuser has changed.

"The dynamics of domestic violence are complex," Woodmansee said.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.