There wasn’t a day that went by that Cathy Terkanian didn’t think about the daughter she placed for adoption in the 1970s, when Cathy was a teenager.
“My fantasy was she had the best life,” Terkanian, 62, tells PEOPLE.
Terkanian, a retired nurse, decided she would wait until her daughter was a teenager before she would search for her.
“I would not mess with her life as a young kid,” she says. “So I left it alone until she was about 15.”
Her heart sank when she learned the daughter she'd named Alexis had a closed adoption but in 2010, she received a letter from Social Services asking her to get in touch.
“I thought I was going to meet her,” Terkanian recalls in this week’s issue of PEOPLE.
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Instead, she was told that Alexis had gone missing in March 1989, when she was just 14 years old -- but Social Services refused to reveal her name or her adoptive parents' names. They did tell her the state where her daughter had gone missing, though, so Terkanian and her husband Edward became Internet sleuths. Soon they uncovered the name of her missing daughter, Aundria Bowman, on a Michigan police website.
“It was such a shock,” Terkanian remembers, “and then we got to work.”
For more on Cathy Terkanian's search, subscribe now to PEOPLE, or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.
Terkanian learned that Aundria had told school friends she had been molested by her adoptive father, Dennis Bowman. She also learned that Bowman, a Naval reservist, pled guilty to assault with intent to commit criminal sexual conduct in a 1980 case involving a 19-year-old woman he tried to lure into the woods.
″I was like, ‘This guy did this,'″ she says. ″I had a gut feeling about him."
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Terkanian reached out to authorities in Michigan about her daughter’s case, passed out fliers where Alexis went missing and worked with a private investigator.
“I was just absolutely determined to find out what happened,” she says.
Sadly, Terkanian finally got her answer. In Nov. 2019, Bowman was charged with murder after DNA linked him to the murder of 25-year-old Kathleen Doyle, a Navy pilot’s wife who was found raped, strangled and stabbed in her Norfolk, Virginia, home in 1980. In June, Bowman, 71, pleaded guilty to murder, rape and burglary and was sentenced to life in prison.
Bowman allegedly admitted to detectives in Dec. 2019 that he'd hit Aundria during an argument, causing her to fall down the stairs and break her neck.
In February 2020, authorities found Aundria's remains in Bowman’s backyard. Bowman has since been charged with homicide, child abuse and mutilation of a human body. He has yet to enter a plea.
“I felt her kind of lift out of me,” says Terkanian.
Now, Terkanian plans to have her daughter’s adoption annulled and have her name changed back to Alexis.
“I'm having her cremated and bringing her home with me,” she says. “She's my child. She belongs with me. No mother would do otherwise. And then when I'm buried, she'll be buried with me.”