Doncaster family's 25 years of anguish over missing John Bowkett

He was a Doncaster dad of three known in his home village as the man who would could fix your broken fridge.

Friday, 20th October 2017, 8:22 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 1:00 am
John Bowkett

But 25 years ago, John Bowkett appeared to have vanished from the face of the Earth.

His family had no reason to believe anything was wrong. He had told no one that he was planning on going anywhere.

John Bowkett

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But in July 1992, John disappeared.

Two weeks after he was last seen, the police were called in - but since then no trace of either John or a body have been found. His is now one of South Yorkshire Police's cold cases.

John was 37 and a father of a toddler at the time he went missing from his home in Welfare Road, Woodlands.

It may have been a quarter of a century since he was last seen, but John's family has not given up finding out what happened. His bank account has not been used since he went missing.

John Bowkett

His older sister Joy Bowker, aged 66, and still living in Adwick, says the family are still searching for answers. Even now, she takes posters out to put them up in shops both in Doncaster and beyond.

She said: "There was nothing to suggest he was going anywhere. Everything was normal. The first thing I remember is two weeks after he went missing, when my sister came here and said we should all get our heads together.

"No one had seen him for two weeks, and no one has seen him since. There was no phone call or anything. He would never have left his baby. He wouldn't have just gone. He would have come to his mum or dad."

Police were called, and made enquiries. Missing people's charities publicised his disappearance.

There were occasional flashes of hope. At one point there was a reported sighting in a pub in Whitley Bay. The family went out there and put up posters appealing for information.

There was also a reported sighting at a tram stop near Crystal Peaks in Sheffield.

But neither produced any solid information.

At one point the family was told police were searching for a body in Grimsby - but it did not produce anything.

Since he went missing, both John's parents, Dot and Vin, have died, as has one of his brothers, and it saddens Joy that their parents died not knowing what had happened to him.

She said: "My feeling is that I think he is dead. he would never had gone - he would have kept in touch.

"But we refuse to give up on him. I had hoped we'd know what happened in mum and dad's lifetime.

"I remember yeas ago, mum was in the garden and she was asked what she'd do if she saw him. She said she wouldn't know whether to kiss him or hit him..

"Another of my brothers died suddenly. John would have been there for him. Dad died of cancer, and John would have been there for him, too. John's first wife also died, and if he'd known, he would have been there for his children."

Joy searches crowds that she sees on the television to see of John is among them. At one point she thought she had spotted him in a brief clip on breakfast television crossing a bridge in Prague. She phoned the television station to get the footage. She thought the man on the footage had the same walk as John. It was passed on to the police but it drew a blank.

She still goes out and puts up posters. She plans tpo go out again to Whitney Bay in the next few days.

John is not forgotten in his community. When they former friends see Joy and the other brothers and siblings around the town, they still ask if there is any news.

Joy wants to know what happened, and the police still contact her occasionally about the case.

She said: "In my head I don't feel anything - I don't feel he's there, and that's why I think he's dead. I see a skeleton, not my brother, But we just want closure. If he is still alive, I want to see him. We all still love him."


When police appealed for information to help find John in 2002, they thought there were three possible answers to the question of what had happened to him.

Det Insp Andy West was at the heart of the police investigation at the time.

He said the three theories were:

*He could have gone abroad to make a fresh start with a new identity.

*John could have woken up with memory loss and forgotten who he was

*He could have met an 'untimely end' and his body lying undetected. He also said at the time it would be hard after 10 years to identify a body.

No comment was available from South Yorkshire Police as we went to press.

Growing up

John Bowker grew up one of 10 brothers and sisters living on Lawn Avenue, Woodlands, the son of miner Vincent, a World War Two Veteran who served in Burma, and his wife Dorothy.

They all went to Woodlands Primary School, and later to Adwick High School.

When he left school, John, like so many others in his village went off to get a job at the local pit, Brodsworth Colliery.

After the mine had closed, John found work mending fridges and and washing machines. He was also well known locally for running auctions in pubs in the area, selling off bric-a-brac for friends and residents. He was well known in Adwick's Tally Ho pub.

He had two children with his first wife, a boy and a girl, before they split up. His first wife later died suddenly.

John remarried, and had a daughter with his second wife.

But he disappeared when she was aged just two.

Sister Joy Bowker said: "We were a close family. We all went to the same school and we all shared each others friends. We did so much together."

She has many happy memories of her brother.

On one occasion, John, who has wanted to be a helicopter pilot, tried his hand at hang gliding. She remembers his crashing the hang glider in a field near where they lived.

He loved children, and on one occasion turned up in his car outside her house. He honked his horn and called her son out.

"He passed him a kitten through the window and drove off again," she said. "I thought 'thanks very much' - not." The kitten became a family pet.