A Night of Drinking Turns Into Murder
In the early morning hours of Saturday, August 21, 1999 Sergeant First Class Jeanne Balcombe was on duty at Camp Red Cloud, South Korea. She was a platoon sergeant in the 55th Military Police Company doing what every good Non-commissioned officer does, enforcing standards. She was conducting checks that night when she saw one of the soldiers in her platoon who appeared to be drunk and was underage to be consuming alcohol. The soldier had been drinking with the 20-year old, Private First Class Jacob M. Bowley who also a member of her platoon. The soldiers had been on a four-day pass and SFC Balcombe removed their pass privileges and brought the underage soldier to the Camp Red Cloud medical clinic to have his blood drawn to test for alcohol.
Soldiers getting caught underage drinking in in Korea is very common and there was nothing unusual about this incident until PFC Bowley barged into the medical clinic shortly before 4 A.M. with a gun. After PFC Bowley had his pass privileges removed by SFC Balcombe his anger boiled over and he was determined to get back at SFC Balcombe.
On the night Balcombe was killed, she caught Bowley and another underage soldier drinking. Balcombe took away a four-day leave pass from Bowley and made the other soldier submit to a blood-alcohol test.
Messer testified that Bowley was angry the pass was taken away that night. [Stars & Stripes – Jan. 29, 2000]
To exact his revenge he needed a weapon. Korean Augmentee to the US Army (KATUSA) Corporal Suh So-so worked as a military policeman in Bowley’s unit and was on duty that night which meant he had his 9mm pistol on him. Corporal Suh who had no reason to suspect an attack from a member of his unit, was taken by surprise when Bowley approached him and then viciously attacked him. PFC Bowley left Corporal Suh on the ground badly beaten and then took his sidearm. Now that he was armed Bowley next headed to the Camp Red Cloud medical clinic to confront SFC Balcombe.
Camp Red Cloud Medical Clinic via Bruce Richards’ webpage.
SFC Balcombe who was unarmed at the time tried to intervene to stop the gunman and in the ensuing confrontation she was shot three times by Bowley to include once in the head killing her. After the confrontation, Bowley repeatedly said, “She took my pass away!” Investigators also believed that Bowley was attempting to shoot the soldier having his blood drawn because he told SFC Balcombe that Bowley was the one that provided him with the alcohol. However, the confrontation SFC Balcombe had with Bowley provided enough time for others in the clinic to flee.
Other witnesses recounted grisly details during the first day of the hearing for Pfc. Jacob Bowley, who pleaded guilty last week to murdering Sgt. 1st Class Jean Balcombe. Balcombe, 33, worked for 1st Platoon, 55th Military Police Company, at Camp Red Cloud.
Capt. Edward McDaniel, officer in charge of the medical clinic, testified that Bowley silently walked into the facility on the morning of Aug. 21. Another soldier asked Bowley what he was doing, McDaniel said.
“Moments later, he reached behind his back and pulled out a weapon,” McDaniel said. “He pointed it in the direction of Sgt. Balcombe and (Sgt.) Huh.
“I was screaming, ‘Don’t shoot, don’t shoot.’ ”
McDaniel and Sgt. Huh Dong-pil, a Korean soldier assigned to the 168th Medical Battalion, heard three shots. Huh, who said he was within two arms’ lengths of Balcombe, escaped into a nearby room.
“The situation was very bad and dangerous,” Huh said. “I was in a panic.”
Blood seeped under a door in the room where he hid, Huh said. After two more gunshots, he said he heard a “gurgling” sound and Balcombe’s breathing. [Stars & Stripes – Jan. 26, 2000]
Bowley after the murder fled in a military police Galloper Jeep from Camp Red Cloud. At the exit gate for the camp he brandished his gun at the gate guard to let him through. The Galloper was later found parked near the Uijongbu City Hall. Bowley then made his way via train to the southeastern city of Busan. Once there he attempted to withdraw cash from an ATM at the Yangjong-dong branch of the Seoul Bank branch in the city. A Korean national at the bank saw the suspicious looking soldier and reported it to the police. Bowley a short time later was apprehended by Korean police at 11:40am at the bank. At the time of his apprehension he was cooperative as he was taken to a police car, but once in the police car he tried to pull out the gun he had concealed in his waistband. A scuffle with the police ensured and they were able to disarm him. Even during questioning Bowley was out of control and had to be restrained to his chair by the Korean police.
Stars & Stripes newspaper Aug. 22, 1999.
PFC Bowley was charged with murder, aggravated assault, and five other charges after the killing of SFC Balcombe.
Stars & Stripes newspaper Sept. 2, 1999.
As the case went to trial PFC Bowley decided to plead guilty and his defense lawyer asked the judge to show leniency during sentencing blaming drinking caused by the stress of being in Korea for his actions:
During her closing statement, defense attorney Capt. Donna Hansen said
Bowley’s guilty plea showed he had taken responsibility for his actions.
In asking for a 10-year sentence, Hansen said Bowley had the potential
“What Jacob Morgan Bowley did is wrong, but he is not evil,” Hansen
said. “Punishment is a must, but the degree of punishment must be
Heavy drinking and difficult duty in Korea put stress on Bowley, Hansen
said. The murder represented “an aberration to the real Jacob Bowley,”
she said. [Stars & Stripes – Jan. 31, 2000]
Bowley also took the stand pleading for leniency as well blaming stress and drinking for what he did:
Pfc. Jacob Bowley testified at his sentencing hearing Friday that he wished he could “erase this nightmare” begun when he fatally shot a military policewoman in a fit of rage.
“I wish I could stop the suffering I’ve caused, but there’s no going back,” said Bowley, who pleaded guilty last week to murder in the Aug. 21 shooting of Sgt. 1st Class Jeanne Balcombe, 32, of the 55th Military Police Company at Camp Red Cloud, South Korea.
“All I can do is say that I’m sorry, but that will never be enough.”
Bowley made the statements during unsworn testimony, meaning he could not be questioned by government prosecutors.
Unsworn statements carry less weight in court during deliberations.
Bowley said he wishes he knew why he took a gun into the medical clinic at Red Cloud and shot Balcombe to death. Balcombe belonged to the same unit as Bowley.
“I shot an MP,” Bowley said. “I shot my platoon sergeant. I have to live knowing that I could do something like that.”
Bowley said he had a drinking problem, and alcohol “was pretty much the only way I could find to release (tension).” He said he tried to enroll in a treatment program, but that noncommissioned officers in his company wouldn’t let him. As a result, his drinking continued, Bowley said.
Reading from two prepared statements, Bowley apologized to the slain woman’s husband, Michael Balcombe, who flew from McMinnville, Ore., to attend the sentencing. But Bowley said he felt he could someday become a productive member of society.
“Still, I beg for mercy,” Bowley said to Col. Ronald White, the military judge. “I ask that I have another chance for life. Sir, I ask you to give me that chance.” [Stars & Stripes – Jan. 29, 2000]
It must have worked because the judge in the case, Colonel Ronald White sentenced Bowley to 56 years in prison, but he was given the possibility of parole after 10-years. Bowley wanted another chance at life and the possibility of parole left that opportunity out there for him.
Why Did He Do It?
The violence perpetuated by Bowley seemed to be out of character for him if you believe what his friends and family from his hometown in New Hampshire had to say:
Bowley’s father, Freeman Bowley, who lives in Henniker, N.H., told The Associated Press his son was “just a wonderful kid. He loved the Army. He was having a great time.”
“All I’ve heard was there was some kind of altercation at the base where he was at . . . and one person is dead. And it’s not Jacob. And he’s involved in the questioning somehow,” he said.
He said his son has been serving at Camp Red Cloud since November and was planning to go into the criminal justice field after leaving the Army. [Stars & Stripes – Aug. 24, 1999]
Others in his hometown called him a “teddy bear” and a “gentle giant”:
Other testimony Thursday came from numerous people who knew Bowley from his hometown of Hillsboro, N.H. All said they were shocked to learn of the murder, many describing Bowley as a “teddy bear” and a “gentle giant.” [Stars & Stripes – Jan. 29, 2000]
Clearly the so called “gentle giant” had some lingering anger management issues that was made worse by the drinking and drugs he was doing while in Korea. In 2007 while confined at the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Bowley wrote a letter that was published by a Buddhist publication called Mindfulness Bell that discusses his anger and substance abuse issues and how Buddhism helped him address these problems:
I was confined in the summer of 1999, twenty years old and more a prisoner of my own deep inner fears than the walls around me. Wrapped up in the great speed of the world, I had been able — with the help of drugs and alcohol — to maintain in my mind an impressive illusion of control. Here in prison the reins were clearly not in my hands; I knew no way to keep up my speed. Forced to stop, or at least slow down, I had to face the bitter truth: my will did not rule the world. This disappointment was too much for me to contend with day after day so I closed my eyes in anger. I would rage against the whole world until it consented to the perpetual gratification of my senses. [Mindfulness Bell]
You can read the rest at the link, but Bowley in the article said that he would like to become a monk whenever he is released.
SFC Balcombe was 32 at the time of her early death and left behind a husband Mike Balcombe who was a retired Army NCO and two young daughters. Her family was living in her home state of Oregon during her one year tour of duty in Korea. SFC Balcombe was buried in McMinnville, Oregon at the Evergreen Memorial Cemetery.
She was buried with full military honors by an honor guard from Fort Lewis, Washington. SFC Balcombe had previously served at Fort Lewis and all the soldiers in the honor guard either knew or served with Balcombe there. Her husband Mike was presented her Soldier’s Medal, the second-highest honor that can be bestowed during peacetime. The medal was posthumously awarded to SFC Balcombe because of her actions confronting Bowley which allowed other soldiers to escape the medical clinic. Additionally in front of the Camp Red Cloud medical clinic a marker with a tree was planted in honor of SFC Jeanne Balcombe. It can still be seen there today. A final honor for SFC Balcombe was that in 2016 she was inducted into the National Army Museum.
As for Bowley I could not confirm whether or not he was paroled. However, I was able to find a Jacob M. Bowley that lives in Hillsboro, New Hampshire, that is the same age as the Private Bowley that was incarcerated.
Additionally the Jacob Bowley in the listing is related to a Freeman Bowley. Freeman Bowley is the name of Private Bowley’s dad as identified in the prior Stars & Stripes article. So I think it is a pretty safe assumption that Private Bowley has in fact been paroled. If he has been paroled it seems like pretty light punishment to be in jail for less than 20 years after committing such a horrible murder. Hopefully he lives the rest of his life trying to atone for taking away a fine NCO from her soldiers and more importantly a wife and mom from her husband and two kids.