1992 and ’93 was a period many Wichitans can remember as a time of terror and uncertainty while a serial rapist was on the loose with at least 13 victims.

Many of the victims were young girls too, snatched out of their bedrooms while sleeping.

It’s a time former Wichita Falls police officer Derek Knowles remembers as frightening and stressful for residents and police alike.

He remembers it well.

Knowles: “He was a local musician.  He played in some different bands.” 

Knowles was an officer in the early ’90’s, and was among those working long hours to try to bring an end to the breakins and sexual assaults putting residents on edge.  

Knowles:  “It kind of caused a small hysteria here.  Gun sales went up.  Everybody was worried about their daughter, their wife.”

Knowles says it was a scary time before they found Michael Gowan with the help of a composite sketch, and an officer who stopped a man in a white van.

A woman had told police she’d seen a man carrying a screaming girl across her yard early in the morning and put her into a dirty white van.

Knowles: “Some of your victims were in their teens into their 20’s.  These were young women, vulnerable.  He was real brazen.  He was sometimes even removing an air conditioning unit.  Climb into a home while parents were there.  Other people were there.  He would spend time with the victims instead of just in and out.”

Eventually, detectives were able to start placing Gowan at the scenes where  victims were attacked, and Knowles says he was identified by his victims before being tried in December, 1994.

Knowles says Gowan’s arrest and conviction of aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping and burglary, came before he could have become even more vicious.

Knowles:  “After committing the crime a couple of times, he was becoming more and more comfortable in what he was doing.  You know, one of our fears was that instead of just abductions and releasing his victims, he would start turning from a serial rapist to a serial killer.”

Bob Estrada/Wichita Falls Attorney:  “I considered it a big case.  I considered it a very important case.”

Gowan was first convicted in 1995 while several more aggravated sexual assault cases were  pending.

Then in 1999, Gowan returned to Wichita Falls to face those with local attorney Bob Estrada representing him.
He’d eventually plead no contest to five more counts of aggravated sexual assault.

Estrada:  “I think a frank assessment of the facts is what caused that plea.”  “The strength of the case looked like if it had gone to trial the result for the defense would not have been good.”

Later, Gowan changed his mind and wanted a trial, but by then it was too late.

He’s now serving two life sentences plus a total of 290 years for 14 other charges.

Authorities say how many other crimes and victims there could be is hard to guess.

Even with  two life sentences, Gowan will become  eligible for parole in October 2023.

He was 24 when convicted, and will turn 47 in a few days.