The Dead Lawyer Made Him Do It

Finally in jail, courthouse scam king Bob Owens plucks his defense from the grave

Police later tied Owens to at least 15 cases with 161 pieces of stolen property. He ultimately blamed his crime spree on cocaine addiction.

As in later years, Owens tried to talk his way out of a prison sentence by promising to tell all about more serious crimes -- major drug smuggling and murder -- that allegedly had been committed by other paramedics and his bosses.

But Owens' supposedly hot information never passed muster. Then, as he awaited sentencing, Owens defrauded a loan company of thousands of dollars.

Robert Shawn Owens, about four years ago.
Robert Shawn Owens, about four years ago.
Owens was sentenced to 20 years for stealing from sick, elderly people.
Owens was sentenced to 20 years for stealing from sick, elderly people.

A probation officer wrote of him at the time, "[He] is the picture of a young and upwardly mobile junior executive, both respectful and successful. Digging deeper, it does not take long to see it is merely a carefully constructed façade of success and respectability -- there is no substance there. Mr. Owens has demonstrated an ability to manipulate situations and individuals for his benefit and personal gain, with no thought for those he has victimized."

In December 1986, Maricopa County judge E.G. Noyes Jr. sentenced Owens to 20 years in prison, the maximum.

Before sentencing Owens, Judge Noyes told him, "I am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that I can't believe you, that you can't be trusted, and will steal from everybody that you contact with and will lie to anybody that you do come into contact with."

The judge was prescient.

But Bob Owens served less than seven years before convincing authorities that he had more to offer as a police snitch outside prison walls than as an inmate. Noyes, by the way, wasn't consulted before another judge agreed to cut Owens loose.

Records obtained by New Times indicate that Owens provided leads to various local police agencies, usually about druggies and deals allegedly about to happen. It isn't certain how valuable his information was, though he continued to work behind the scenes with cops until just a few years ago.

According to the recent affidavit for a search warrant of Owens' home, Owens has worked as an informant for the Tempe and Glendale police departments, the Attorney General's Office, and possibly the FBI.

At the same time he was making his bones as a street snitch, Owens began to find work with local criminal-defense lawyers as a budding private investigator.

In the mid-1990s, he hooked up with Thinnes, one of the Valley's top criminal-defense attorneys for more than three decades. The pair became fast friends and business partners, and Owens bought into half of Thinnes' downtown Phoenix law office building in 1999.

Getting freed from prison prematurely did not equate with going straight.

The evidence suggests that Bob Owens has lived for the next con since he was a youngster in Tucson. His early release seemed to empower him, and solidified his reputation in legal and law enforcement communities as an untouchable.

His fortuitous connection with the powerful Thinnes only accelerated his rise.

Bob Owens' own uncle, a clinical psychologist, testified in 1986 that Owens is a "classic sociopath."

If authorities are accurate about the case of Goodyear widow Elizabeth Pfeifer -- which only recently came to light -- that description only partially covers it. The grand jury indictment against Owens lists Pfeifer as an alleged victim of theft and fraud, major felonies that both carry long prison sentences upon conviction.

Agent Edwards recently described in a court document how he discovered a November 2001 life-insurance check stub to Pfeifer while going through Owens' records after an earlier search in May 2004.

That check was for $253,028.

Edwards also saw another check from Pfeifer to Owens for $2,000, dated one week after the big insurance check was issued.

The agent tracked down Pfeifer, and heard her story: She said her husband had died in January 2001 at the age of 44, and her priest had recommended Tom Thinnes as an excellent choice to help sort out her legal and financial affairs.

Pfeifer told Edwards she'd spoken to Thinnes just once, on the phone, and he'd referred her to Bob Owens. Owens had come out to her home, and promised to help her for free because he attended the same church as she did.

Pfeifer said she'd assumed Owens was an attorney who worked with Thinnes, and still believed that to be so when Edwards visited her years after the fact. She said Owens had arranged to have the insurance check sent to him "to lower taxes" -- whatever that meant.

Owens soon started to dole out the insurance proceeds to Pfeifer in a series of cashier's checks. Pfeifer said she'd believed Owens eventually had given her the entire amount, which she said was exactly $225,000.

Agent Edwards then showed her a copy of the insurance check for $253,028. She said she'd never seen that check before, and hadn't endorsed it, though it had her name and signature on it.

Pfeifer said Owens had provided her with one cashier's check for $187,000, which she'd immediately transferred toward the purchase of a new home. She said she'd been so pleased with Owens' charitable help that she'd written him a check for $2,000.

Edwards also examined some of Owens' journals and saw a handwritten entry, "December 1. Pfeifer, Liz. $28,028."

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