Unlikely couple face adversity together amid abuse allegations
May 13, 2003
Carl Chancellor and Andale Gross
Beacon Journal staff writers
Friends, relatives saw signs
The image of Mary Rowles and Alice Jenkins holding hands and professing their love as they dodged cameras when they emerged from the Summit County Jail has, in a sense, become a metaphor for their lives.
Caught up in a storm of abuse allegations, criminal charges, death threats, intense media attention and public speculation, Rowles and Jenkins seem the picture of a committed couple facing adversity by finding strength in each other and their love.
Certainly, like any couple who have been together for any length of time, Jenkins, 27, and Rowles, 30, have had their problems, including charges of domestic violence during what has been described by some as a volcanic seven-year relationship.
The women's pairing seems unlikely given their different backgrounds:
Rowles, married at least once, the mother of six children by at least four different men, had dropped out of high school and was unemployed most of her life.
Jenkins was a single, hard-working and independent Barberton High School graduate who has been working since she was 15 and openly gay for years.
Neither Rowles nor Jenkins would comment for this story, but friends say the women clicked instantly after meeting in the mid-1990s at the Roseto Club, a South Arlington Street bar that caters to an almost exclusively female clientele.
Karen Furbee, a friend who knew the couple when they met, said it wasn't long before Jenkins, whose nickname is "Jamie," moved in with Rowles.
Furbee, who at the time was dating Rowles' sister, also lived with the women and Rowles' children in an apartment at Wilbeth-Arlington Homes.
"Things went downhill when Jamie moved in," Furbee said.
She described Jenkins as domineering, demanding and constantly competing with Rowles' children for attention. "Jamie needed to be the center of attention... It was always me, me, me," Furbee said.
For the three years that Furbee lived with Jenkins and Rowles, she never recalled Rowles holding a job. Rowles' income came from public assistance, Furbee said.
Although Furbee never witnessed physical abuse against the children, she thought Rowles paid too little attention to them.
"It was a child raising children," Furbee said. "I used to tell Mary she was 26 going on 6."
Furbee recalls a heated argument she had with Jenkins because Jenkins wanted the children to call her "Daddy."
"I told her, 'That's not right. You're a woman, not a man,' " Furbee said.
Rowles and her two brothers and sister lived in Hudson, Akron, Northampton Township and Cuyahoga Falls when they were children, her brother said.
She dropped out of Cuyahoga Falls High School before the end of her junior year in 1989, shortly after the death of her stepfather.
Her best friend, Misty Hardy, said Rowles started getting "wild" about then.
At 16, she briefly worked at a Burger King, her brother said.
It was also at 16 that she gave birth to her first child -- a boy.
In quick succession she had five other children, her last born in 1996, when Rowles was 24.
Jail booking records from May 2 note the tattoo on the inside of her right forearm reads "Victim of Life."
"With Mary, everything was someone else's fault," said the 36-year-old brother, who asked not to be named. "It wouldn't surprise me if she tries to put this whole abuse mess on Jamie."
He said he hasn't spoken to his sister for nearly five years, admitting their falling out had to do with Rowles filing a sexual abuse charge against him. The charges were later dismissed.
Documents from a Summit County Juvenile Court hearing April 30 showed three of Rowles' children told officials their mother and Jenkins smoked marijuana regularly.
In a 2001 domestic court proceeding, Rowles admitted to smoking marijuana, but testified she had multiple sclerosis and said a Barberton doctor prescribed "medical marijuana" to ease her symptoms.
Police did not include any drug charges when Rowles and Jenkins were booked into the Summit County Jail on May 2. They were charged with five felony counts of child endangering -- with two additional felonious assault charges for Jenkins.
The couple walked to a friend's home on North Hill, hand-in-hand part of the way, after they made bond May 3. They told a judge they couldn't return to their Florida Avenue home in Kenmore while they awaited trial because of death threats.
Alice Jenkins, the youngest of five children, grew up in Barberton.
"She's never been in any kind of trouble at all," said her mother, Virginia Jenkins. "I never had any problems with her in school or any other time."
While still a student at Barberton High School, she talked to her mother about being gay. Her mother recalls the family being supportive.
Then in 1991, Alice Jenkins' brother died at age 20.
"It was a great total impact to the whole family. He committed suicide," Virginia Jenkins said. "I think it disturbed Alice the most. Her brother and her were very close. He also was gay."
Virginia Jenkins said she made it a point to not be judgmental when it came to her children's lifestyles. To her, Alice Jenkins was the same meticulous, responsible daughter she had always been.
"She's a very neat person. She's very organized," the mother said. "She's a real independent person. Even in school -- you know how kids ask for two or three dollars -- she'd pay me back. My other kids never did. She never took us for granted.
"She's seen how it was growing up with a mother and father having to work with that many kids. She took responsibility."
Two years ago, when Alice Jenkins' father had a stroke and was at Edwin Shaw Hospital, she stepped in to help her mother, who couldn't afford to take off any more time from work.
"Alice was there every day for his therapy.... And she was working, too," Virginia Jenkins said.
She said her daughter made no plans for college after her 1994 graduation, but has held a job since she was 15. Her most recent jobs have been at automobile parts businesses.
"She likes doing that work. She is very intelligent when it comes to cars. She knows just as much as any man," Virginia Jenkins said.
Alice Jenkins' parents accepted her relationship with Rowles. They considered Rowles their daughter-in-law and her children their grandchildren.
Alice Jenkins' cousin, Amy Deem, said Alice Jenkins and Rowles had wanted to get married and planned to have a commitment ceremony, but Deem said it never happened.
Some of Alice Jenkins' family members describe her as arguing regularly with Rowles and being a strict disciplinarian when it came to Rowles' children.
"She had to be the head person," Deem said. "You had to listen to her and do what she says. She's just that type."
Deem recalled an incident on Easter three years ago in which she saw the petite Jenkins push and slap the taller Rowles.
Jail booking records put Jenkins at 4-feet-11 and not quite 90 pounds, and Rowles at 5-feet-2 and about 120 pounds.
But Jenkins' mother said her daughter is not the domineering, physically abusive woman that has been portrayed.
"I know she doesn't mistreat people. She'll do anything for you," Virginia Jenkins said. "I've never seen my daughter hit, strike anyone, and that includes growing up with three brothers. She was very in control of herself. She knows how to handle her emotions."
Alice Jenkins and Rowles had a relationship similar to other couples, Virginia Jenkins said.
"They might have had little spats every now and then -- every couple does -- but nothing major," she said.
Still, that's not the picture Hardy was left with one of the last times she saw her former best friend, Rowles.
"Mary and the children ran to my mother's house on Rhodes Avenue in a panic," said Hardy, remembering the afternoon of April 18, 2000. Rowles claimed that she had been attacked by Alice Jenkins.
Hardy said Rowles, with the children in tow, was frantic.
"She told us about the abuse, about Jamie locking the kids in the closet," Hardy said. "She said that Jamie had kicked her youngest child down the steps."
In addition, Hardy said Rowles told her Jenkins had tried to run her and the children down with a car as they ran to the Hardy apartment.
Hardy said she called the Summit County Children Services Board and urged Rowles to file a police report. The Akron law department would not release that or any other incident reports involving the couple. CSB has admitted it failed in the case of the Rowles children.
But Hardy said what happened next dismayed her.
Rowles and the children returned to Jenkins.
Copyright © 2003, Beacon Journal