May 30, 2010 at 1:00 am

Skater Bowman's troubled life to play out in court

Christopher Bowman, shown during the Mens Figure Skating event at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, in January 2008 was 40 years old, some 100 pounds over his skating weight and dead of an accidental drug overdose. (Chris Cole / Allsport)

Pontiac -- When police found the lifeless body of a bearded, tattooed man in a Los Angeles motel room two years ago, it looked like just another seedy drug overdose.

Room 205 of the Budget Inn was littered with cigarette packs and empty bottles of beer and vodka. Prescription drugs and drug paraphernalia were inside a toiletry bag.

The man's fingernails were painted black. On his right arm was a tattoo of a flaming skull and the words "LIVE FREE OR DIE." On the left, an image of the devil with "NOBODY'S PERFECT." But this wasn't just some random addict off the street.

It was Christopher Bowman, a former world-class Olympic figure skater, whose flamboyant, stylized performances earned him international admirers and the nickname "Bowman the Showman."

He was 40 years old, some 100 pounds over his skating weight and dead of an accidental drug overdose.

It was a strange and sad end for Bowman, made stranger by a lawsuit set to play out in an Oakland County courtroom this fall. The suit pits his family against a Lake Orion woman they claim tried to take advantage of the famous skater in his final years.

Bowman's family members in California and Dearborn Heights are suing April Freeman, alleging she tried to control his life and, now, his legacy. Plaintiffs include his mother, Joyce Bowman, of Van Nuys, Calif; his ex-wife and skating coach, Annette Bowman Jasinkiewicz, and their teenage daughter, both of Dearborn; and the Bowman Skating School in Dearborn, run by Jasinkiewicz.

Bowman's family declined to comment on the suit, but Freeman contends the claims are false and amount to harassment. She claims she and Bowman were intimate for six years and planned to marry.

"This had been a rough two years since his death," she said, starting to weep. "I don't want anything from them. I just want to be left alone."

Seeking damages

The suit seeks more than $25,000 in damages from Freeman for allegedly misappropriating Bowman's personal property. It cites unauthorized use of the skater's name, likeness, photograph and signature, as well as trademark infringement, alleging Freeman has registered businesses that are identical or similar to those of Bowman's ex-wife.

The suit also seeks to bar Freeman from disturbing or even visiting Bowman's grave.

According to the lawsuit, Bowman's family buried him in an unmarked grave in a cemetery they will not reveal in an attempt to keep Freeman from stealing his body.

The cemetery staff has been ordered to check the identification of anyone going into that section of the cemetery and refuse any flower deliveries to keep the location secret. The case is set for a Sept. 14 trial before Judge Edward Sosnick. In the meantime, the Bowman family declined to talk about the allegations.

"I really can't discuss this matter," said Sara J. Rajan, the attorney representing the Bowmans, who also declined interview requests.

Jasinkiewicz, who divorced Bowman in 2004 after a 10-year marriage, said: "We are pretty private people and just following our attorney's instructions." Freeman, 46, a self-described producer of entertainment promotions and product placement, was more willing to talk.

"They've done everything they can to discredit me," Freeman said in an interview at her attorney's office. "I don't really know why. They're worried I am going to try and steal Christopher's body. Why would I do that? What am I going to do with it? All I ever wanted was to make sure he was resting at peace somewhere."

Freeman believes Bowman's still-unpublished autobiography, "Gone in Circles," may be of concern to his family because of his struggles with being a childhood actor, skater and drug addict, including a $950-a-day cocaine habit. She has a working draft and said it could still be made into a book or film.

"I think Christopher never stopped looking for approval, and all he really wanted was love, unconditional love," said Freeman.

Freeman: 'Intimate friends'

The Hollywood-born Bowman first tasted celebrity as a childhood actor on commercials and two episodes of TV's "Little House on the Prairie." He began skating at age 5 and competing in his teens, and had a skyrocketing career of 18 years. He retired from competition in 1992, followed by one year in the Ice Capades.

He worked briefly as a skating coach in Detroit, where he married Annette, and lived in Michigan between 1995 and 2007. His death still haunts those who knew him, including former friends and skaters at the Detroit Skating Club in Bloomfield Hills, who declined comment due to the family's lawsuit.

On Jan. 17, 2008 -- one week after his death -- an estimated 700 mourners attended a Mass of the Resurrection at Saint Cyril's Catholic Church in Encino, Calif., followed by a private reception attended by about 500 people.

Joyce Bowman alleges that while family members were at the reception, Freeman phoned the coroner's office and claimed to be in charge of making arrangements to dispose of Bowman's remains.

The next day, Freeman applied to the probate division of the Supreme Court of the County of Los Angeles for control of his remains, stating she was his fiancee. "I didn't want Christopher to be left there (morgue)," she said. "They only hold a body 10 days. He had been there nine."

Freeman, who is married and still lives with her husband, said Bowman had lived in Lake Orion with her and her husband and two daughters for the last six years of his life. She said she met Bowman at the Detroit Skating Club, where he coached her daughter.

"We became friends, then intimate friends and also business partners," she said, adding her marriage was "one of convenience." She and Bowman were partners in a company called Competitive Edge Marketing and Management, established in 2007, according to business records. And as such, believes she does not need the estate's consent in the use of Bowman's likeness or name.

Bowman had been sober for about three years and had been attending AA meetings a month before his death, Freeman said. He was in the process of rebuilding his life and his career, including working as an assistant coach for a film, she said.

She said Bowman was legally taking drugs, including Vicodin, to help combat pain from a herniated disc suffered from his skating career.

"If Christopher slipped up on the evening he died ... he was only human and he paid the ultimate price," Freeman wrote in an online memorial guestbook for Bowman.

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April Freeman recently talked about the lawsuit brought against her by the ... (John M. Galloway / Special to The Detroit News)
In 2005, Bowman was sentenced in Rochester Hills to 18 months probation ... (AP Photo / Carlos Osorio)
With her attorney, Ben Glazebrook beside her, Freeman shows a copy of ... (John M. Galloway / Special to The Detroit News)