TRAVERSE CITY — When cage fighter Charlie Rowan didn’t show up for a mixed martial arts fight a few months back in Traverse City, his fellow fighters immediately worried for his well-being.
Their concern quickly turned to grief when Rowan’s girlfriend, Rosalinda Martinez, told organizers of the Caged Aggression fight series that Rowan was dead — killed in a devastating car accident — on his way to a scheduled bout at Streeters.
“I felt horrible,” said Christos Piliafas, a professional fighter and owner of Caged Aggression. “A fighter on their way to fight at (our event) gets in a real bad car accident? It’s something you don’t want to even think about.”
What followed next was an outpouring of support from Traverse City's mixed martial arts community. Money was raised for Rowan’s funeral and burial expenses, with many fighters donating from their own pocket. Their Caged Aggression fight event March 9 at Streeters was named the “Fight for Charlie.”
“We were on the radio talking about it, promoting it,” Piliafas said. “It was all about Charlie.”
But this week, Piliafas and others learned Charlie Rowan is not only very much alive — he's in jail.
Earlier this week, local television stations broadcast news of a violent robbery in Gladwin County. Reports showed the mugshots of familiar faces: Rowan and Martinez, described by law enforcement as “persons of interest” in the disturbing beating of a Gladwin gun store owner.
Gladwin County Sheriff Mike Shea said Thursday Rowan is in custody at the Gladwin County jail. He's suspected of pulling the same faked death scam in central Michigan as well.
“Somebody from the Midland area — he did the same thing,” Shea said.
Shea declined to say whether Rowan is formally charged in the gun store robbery. The gun store owner is in critical condition from a beating with a hammer.
However, a television news report from the Saginaw area Thursday indicated both Rowan and Martinez — who Shea said was the 911 caller in the gun store robbery — were arrested in connection with the heist. A third suspect who was not immediately identified publicly is in custody as well.
Court records show Rowan is a convicted felon with a lengthy criminal history. A sex offender who previously failed to register with authorities, he also has prior convictions for attempted delivery and manufacture of marijuana. Rowan was sentenced to up to five years in prison in January 2012 for uttering and publishing. He’s now labeled a parole absconder by the Michigan Department of Corrections.
For many in the Traverse City mixed martial arts community, the level of deception used to raise the money for Rowan's funeral is mind-boggling. Scott Diponio is a Traverse City resident and owner of the Diamond D fight team. He said Rowan fought on his team and that he talked to Martinez about Rowan's death.
“We (went to) Rosalie’s house and there were five or six kids there — people were crying, talking about Charlie,” Diponio said. “I now know it was all an act. Every bit of it. I gave them money out of my own pocket.”
Diponio said he learned Rowan was alive when he saw the mugshots from the Gladwin County robbery.
“I didn’t believe it,” Diponio said. “I kept fighting it ... until I saw the mugshot and then, literally, I about passed out.”
Diponio said he will file a police report with the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department about the matter.
“I could not believe someone would actually do this,” Diponio said. “I want these people brought to justice.”