Longform

The Dead Lawyer Made Him Do It

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Though Bob Owens has listed various birthdates in court documents, he probably was born in Tucson on March 1, 1963. His father was Dr. Sherwood Owens, a prominent dentist, and Owens was raised in an upper-middle-class household as one of five siblings.

Owens has claimed in writing over the years that he graduated from the University of Arizona, but he never attended the institution. He moved to Phoenix in early 1982, and went to work as a paramedic for two area companies.

But his yen for crime -- family members later recalled he'd been stealing from them for years -- soon took center stage in his life. In March 1986, sheriff's deputies arrested Owens at the Sun City fire station. A search of his duffel bag revealed credit cards belonging to many people, including elderly residents whose cards had vanished while paramedics responded to their homes.

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.

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.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin