February 3, 2010

Parole Hearing of Fr. John Karastamatis

Parole Hearing Stirs Memories of the Murder of the Santa Cruz Greek Orthodox Church's First Priest

Santa Cruz Sentinel
February 1, 2010
By Jennifer Squires

SANTA CRUZ -- It's been nearly 25 years since Foti Karastamatis found his father bludgeoned and stabbed to death outside the office of The Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church in downtown.

Now in his 40s with children of his own and living thousands of miles away, the son of priest John Karastamatis, who was instrumental in establishing the Greek Orthodox community in Santa Cruz, only returns to the Central Coast every four or five years so he can speak at the parole hearing of the parishioner who killed his dad.

He'll make that trip again next week.

Edward Bowman, now 62, pleaded no contest to first-degree murder and is serving a sentence of 25 years to life for the brutal slaying of the 47-year-old priest. His third opportunity for parole is Feb. 8.

The victim's son and other relatives plan to be at the hearing to advocate against Bowman's release.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Foti Karastamatis said during a phone interview last week from his home in the Southeast. "I certainly don't think the world's going to be a better place if he's released. I know he has no remorse. ... He's still making up stories as to why he did it."

He built the church

Sentinel articles from the mid-1980s describe Karastamatis as exuberant, ever-smiling and the heart of the local Greek community.

The cleric, born on the Greek island of Andros in 1937, came to Santa Cruz as a visiting priest, back when Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church borrowed chapel space at other churches for its services.

Edward Bowman

While growing the congregation, Karastamatis also helped build a permanent home for the church.

"My father put his blood, sweat and tears in. You've got all of that there and more," said Foti Karastamatis. "With the help of some parishioners and myself, he literally built the whole inside of the that church."

In 1982, Prophet Elias moved into an old mortuary at Church and Center streets and Karastamatis was appointed as its presbyter.

Karastamatis recited mass in Greek and English. He gave services in area parks, filling the open air with the sound of Byzantine chants, and welcomed newcomers -- from street people to college students -- into the church, according to Sentinel archives and the publication The Orthodox Word.

A quarter-century after his death at age 47, Karastamatis' memory remains dear to many, and his widow, Anastasia, remains active at Prophet Elias.

"Some would say she's the driving force behind the church," Foti Karastamatis said.

There is an international campaign to keep his killer behind bars.

Karastamatis' two grandsons, who never met their grandfather, have used Facebook to build support. Their group, "Justice for Father John Karastamatis," has drawn more than 1,200 members since it was launched in January and dozens have posted that they sent statements to the Parole Board advocating against Bowman's release.

Assistant District Attorney Jeff Rosell, who will represent the Santa Cruz County District Attorney's Office at the parole hearing, said he's received letters from friends, relatives and police who worked the case.

"I think he's a dangerous person who could easily come out and commit violence and do horrible things to whoever crosses his path," Rosell said.

Anna Bowman

They butchered my father

Bowman and his wife, Anna, were accused of beating the priest with a fish whacker, a club used by fishermen, and stabbing him several times late on May 19, 1985. Then the couple went home and welcomed Karastamatis' son into their house.

"I was at their house 10 minutes after they butchered my father and I didn't even know it," said Foti Karastamatis, who was 17 at the time.

"I was their perfect alibi."

He returned to the church -- where he, his father and mother lived -- to find his father's bloody body in the hallway.

"That was the most horrific crime scene in the history of Santa Cruz, if you ask the officers who were there," Foti Karastamatis said. "That was, literally, the fight of his life."

The murder confounded detectives for months. One later described it as "a real, real murder mystery," according to Sentinel archives.

The priest's son said he suspected the Bowmans early on.

The investigation homed in on the couple in December 1985, and a Santa Cruz police detective went to their River Street home to speak with Anna Bowman, who had been Karastamatis' volunteer secretary. But the case took a bizarre twist when she shot at the officers through the door. During the six-hour standoff -- with nearly every Santa Cruz police officer surrounding the house -- the 43-year-old fatally shot herself, according to Sentinel archives.

From that point, Edward Bowman, a former taxi driver, was the prime suspect. He was arrested in January 1986.

Anastasia Karastamatis

While the district attorney contended Karastamatis was murdered because he interrupted the Bowmans as they burglarized the church, the defense made allegations of sexual misconduct against the priest.

"It was all lies. It was all smoke screens," said Foti Karastamatis, adding that the sensational reports from court hurt his family even more.

Weeks before his trial was set to begin, Bowman pleaded no contest to first-degree murder, sparing him the possibility of being sentenced to death or life without parole.

"Who would have ever thought this would have happened to my father? Who could have ever imagined this?" the priest's son said. "We did everything right for these people. We befriended them and it destroyed a huge part of our family."