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40 years later, a Montgomery County woman shares her grief as her sister’s alleged killer goes on trial

Chris DiDomenico says Robert Fisher “took her other half” when he killed her sister in 1980.

Linda Rowden, seen here in 1973 as the maid of honor at her sister's wedding, was killed in 1980 by her ex-boyfriend, Robert Fisher.
Linda Rowden, seen here in 1973 as the maid of honor at her sister's wedding, was killed in 1980 by her ex-boyfriend, Robert Fisher.Read moreCourtesy Rowden family

Chris DiDomenico remembers the evening of July 10, 1980, as clearly as if it were yesterday.

She was cooking dinner. Her husband was in the garage building a soapbox derby racer for their oldest son. The phone rang, and when DiDomenico picked it up, the voice on the line spoke three, short sentences.

“Are you Linda’s sister? She’s dead. Fisher killed her.” To this day, she said, she still doesn’t know who delivered the terrible news.

DiDomenico screamed so loud that her neighbors three houses down in Schwenksville came by to ask what was wrong. The answer to that question, she said, remains the same, 40 years removed from that terrible day.

“He took half of me away,” said DiDomenico, 66. “I just want him put away forever.”

Her sister, Linda Rowden, was shot in the neck by Robert Fisher, her ex-boyfriend, as Rowden drove the two of them through Norristown, according to law enforcement officials and prosecutors who have pursued him for four decades. Fisher has been in custody since 1987, when detectives finally caught up with him in New York City. He was found guilty of first-degree murder twice, and sentenced to death three times. But his criminal case is still pending.

From his cell in state prison, Fisher and his lawyers have successfully fought to overturn both convictions and all three death sentences on appeals, citing errors made by prosecutors or judges during previous trials.

Fisher, throughout his years of appeals, has consistently denied any involvement in Rowden’s death.

His final appeal was granted by a federal judge in 2018 who said the trial judge’s instructions to the jury were “constitutionally deficient” and deprived Fisher of a fair trial. And Fisher’s fourth trial is set to begin Monday in the Norristown courtroom of Montgomery County Judge Todd Eisenberg.

» READ MORE: Convicted twice and sentenced to death 3 times, a Norristown man goes on trial for a 4th time for the same murder

DiDomenico didn’t attend the three previous trials, for various reasons. But she plans to be there Monday, watching as Fisher, 75, faces his fourth jury.

“Who in their right mind says that his constitutional rights were denied because a judge misread something?” she asked, referring to the grounds on which Fisher’s most recent appeal was granted during his second trial in 1991.

The judge also overturned Fisher’s death sentence from his third trial in 1997. This time, prosecutors have said they are not seeking the death penalty.

As the trial approaches, DiDomenico and her family are seeking closure in the decades-long saga. Justice, she said, has been elusive.

She tries to focus on the good memories she had with her older sister. Of her caring nature as a “crusader for what was right,” a philosophy that saw her lose a job as a nurse at the old Norristown State Hospital for reporting colleagues’ abuse of mental patients. And, most of all, of her infectious laugh and smile.

“Where’s my constitutional rights for my sister?” she asked. “Where’s my parents’ constitutional rights for their daughter, my children, my nieces and nephews? I don’t get a do-over for my life with my sister. She doesn’t get a do-over.

“But because a judge transposed some words, somehow he gets a do-over and I have to stress through this?”

At the time of Rowden’s killing, Fisher, then 33, was wanted in connection with the murder of Nigel Anderson, a federal informant who detectives believe Fisher killed on orders from his boss, a notorious drug dealer in Norristown.

Rowden, who had dated Fisher for a few months, was acting as a confidential informant in the case. And while the two were out for an afternoon drive, authorities say, Fisher shot her at point-blank range. The murder weapon, DiDomenico said, was a pistol her father had given her sister to carry for personal protection.

That knowledge haunted her father until his death in 1999, she said. And it drove her parents to leave Pennsylvania a year after Rowden’s death, suddenly auctioning off their property in a fit of grief.

“I lost both my parents for many years,” DiDomenico said. “It took them a long time to ever return to this state again.”

She said her sister met Fisher through mutual friends. In the late 1970s, Rowden ran a 24-hour answering service in Norristown for doctors, lawyers and other professionals, and her office became an unofficial clubhouse for her friends. Somehow, Fisher entered that sphere.

Rowden brought Fisher to meet her family only once, a few months before her death. It was a weekend getaway, to her grandparents’ house in the Pocono Mountains.

“And you could tell right away,” DiDomenico said, “that it was no good. That he was no good.”

Fisher’s trial is expected to last through Wednesday.