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Published: Monday, October 4, 2004
By Barbara Carmen
The Columbus Dispatch

Down a twisted rope of a road -- past shacks, trailers and tasseled cornfields -- lies Laura.

The epitaph on her tombstone reads, "Suffer little children.''

She did.

Laura died one month after her third birthday. Testimony, autopsy and police reports say the child was raped, sodomized and battered in January 1987.

Laura weighed 36 pounds; stood 41 inches tall; and had blue eyes, brown hair and more than 80 bruises.

Her mom, Celia Skinner, worked a temp job during the day. She also had a night gig dancing in a bar while Bruce Lower, her unemployed boyfriend, baby-sat.

The day before Laura was fatally injured, a neighbor said, Lower had answered his apartment door wearing only a white bathrobe. Laura stood behind him, in a bedroom doorway, naked and crying.

Two months before, Laura's collarbone had been broken. Relatives were relieved when Franklin County Children Services found no abuse and left her in the home.

Suffer little children.

Even after the child's death, the system failed to protect her.

Prosecutors settled for a plea bargain. Lower drew 10 to 25 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. The rape evidence was never prosecuted. And Lower maintained he was innocent.

In court testimony, he said:

That Laura bumped her head while eating oatmeal. That he was scared to summon medical help because of the earlier Children Services investigation. That he'd carried Laura, unconscious, around all day.

He shopped for furniture. And he took a walk in a park, where he said he fell down an embankment, explaining her bruises.

As for the bite mark on her thigh, he said he was trying to awaken her.

Common Pleas Judge Daniel T. Hogan concluded, at a hearing to rule Lower a sexual predator, that Laura had been tortured. Hogan said what anyone who reads her case thinks: He hoped she was unconscious during her ordeal.

Lower served only 16 years of his sentence. At the predator hearing, the assistant prosecutor admitted he conducted an "ineffective prosecution.'' He said he should have called a witness who told police that Lower had confessed horrible details one long night at the jail.

Lower, the witness reported, said he was tanked up on pornography and liquor and killed Laura when she resisted being raped again.

Suffer little children.

Now get this. Lower was released from prison in September 2003. But twice since then he has been before the parole board, accused of violating his parole. And twice he has been let go.

The injustice against Laura might have gone unnoticed if not for one man, Bret Vinocur. I met the marketing executive two years ago when he set up a Web site,, after a spate of child kidnappings.

Vinocur spends nights tracking sexual predators to warn the 17,000 people who have logged on to his site.

" When I stumbled on Lower's name,'' Vinocur said, "I thought it was a mistake. Involuntary manslaughter? So I called the sheriff's office. I was told it was no mistake.''

The more Vinocur learned of Laura's case, the less sleep he got.

" I don't know if you can become a victim by association, but I am. I can't get this little girl's story out of my head,'' he said.

He doesn't blame Lower for being free. He blames the system for setting Lower free.

Suffer little children.

Last month, when Lower was picked up for the second time and accused of parole violations -- possessing liquor and pornography -- Vinocur saw history repeating itself.

Todd Marti took Vinocur's phone call at the Ohio attorney general's office.

" This case was kind of shocking, to be honest,'' said Marti, an assistant attorney general. "I knew (Lower) was not a guy you want on the streets.''

Marti, the father of a daughter about Laura's age, worked the weekend to draft an appeal to the parole board to send Lower back to prison.

But the board already had ruled. And it wouldn't reconsider.

So Vinocur works to remember Laura. At her grave -- the tiniest plot in the cemetery near Bremen in Fairfield County -- he has placed a pot of red begonias.

" What kind of injustice is it if her killer walks free and she's in the back of a cemetery?'' Vinocur asks. "I'm hoping we can use her life to make sure this never happens again.''

Vinocur told Laura's story to friend Jason Dhir, who offered to help. In the spring, an $800 bench -- paid for by Dhir -- will arrive at Antrim Park in Worthington, where Vinocur goes to find peace, to remember Laura. The bench will bear her name. But we must tell her story.

Suffer little children.

**Permission granted 11/5/2004 by Columbus Dispatch to reprint the article "Knowing girl's killer is free pushes activist..." published October 4, 2004 in The Columbus Dispatch. 

Tributes and Condolences
Resting in the arms of God   / Brandi Graham
Saddens me to hear stories like this, and there are many, but this story stays with you. It's a reminder to help stop child abuse, love your children and put them first. Baby Laura, you suffer no more. R.I.P. little Angel.
Heartbroken  / Tammy Pettit (None)
This is soo sad...he needs to be locked up
gloria fernandez   / Gloria Fernandez (just read her story )
I want to start of by saying baby girl u are a baby angel u were always a blessing and always wil be to all of us. I never got the privilege to ever know you but u are in a better place. Im so sorry to the family that this happened to keep your head ...  Continue >>
Mr  / Shayne Arkley (no relation )
I have stopped asking myself - how could they? This brave little angel - saddens me and angers me when I think of the pain she endured and what she went through CPS had a chance and did nothing - how many others how many more - I do hope there is a h...  Continue >>
Horrible.  / Amanda Snyder (none)
This evening was a gorgeous fall evening at Antrim Park. My husband and I took our 4 year old son on a walk through the woods. We had stopped to rest on a bench overlooking the lake, when I noticed a plaque on the ground. As I read it, tears welled u...  Continue >>
Sad.... / Anna Stevens     Read >>
Little Sweet Angel  / Leah Kelley     Read >>
Sorry About ur Lost  / Lydia Nieves (JESUS LUVS THE LITTLE CHILDREN )    Read >>
Sorry About ur Lost  / Lydia Nieves (None)    Read >>
:-( / Shawna S. (None)    Read >>
God, Watch Over Her Forever....  / Leana Jo Hover (None, just a sympathetic stranger )    Read >>
Baby Laura  / Marion Hohensheldt     Read >>
Laura was victimized by both Bruce and the courts!  / Theresa Huff (no relation )    Read >>
My heart hurts ...  / Assia Mom To Wasim Nancy     Read >>
For Laura  / Irena Hill (UK) (Nanny to angel Kayleigh Erceg )    Read >>
More tributes and condolences...
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