In the late 1980’s, single mother Ellen Boehm was struggling with parenthood and the lack of support from her ex-husband. To cope, she attended several professional wrestling matches and was a diehard fan. It was at these matches that she met her best-friend Deanne. Deanne did her best to be supportive and helpful to her friend, but when Ellen was faced with not one but two tragedies, Deanne grew suspicious of her friend. This is the story of the Boehm children of St. Louis, Missouri.
Ellen Booker was born June 9th, 1960, and was raised in St. Louis, Missouri by her mother Catherine Booker. When her mother met her father, he was married with seven children. Her father soon abandoned his family and set up house with Catherine. Ellen’s birth followed soon after. Her father was an alcoholic, however, and could not keep a job. He was largely not involved in Ellen’s upbringing.
Perhaps this is why Ellen was so susceptible to promises from older men. When she was eighteen years old, she met Paul Boehm. Paul was much older and was a Vietnam Veteran. He was a bus driver and he met young Ellen when she was a passenger. At the time he started dating Ellen, Paul was married with two children. He soon left his wife and kids and married Ellen. The two used some inheritance money Ellen had and Paul’s VA benefits to purchase a home on Wyoming Street in St. Louis in 1980.
In 1981, the couple welcomed a daughter they named Jennifer. Their son Steven followed in 1985. Only a month after the birth of Steven, Ellen found herself pregnant again. She was struggling with the demands of motherhood and felt her husband pulling away from her. She turned to her favorite hobby, watching professional wrestling matches, to cope with her stress. Ellen and her friend Deanne attended several matches locally and even took trips to other cities despite Ellen and Paul having financial constraints.
When Ellen was eight months pregnant with the Boehm’s third child, Paul dropped a bombshell on her. He told her that when he served in Vietnam, he was exposed to agent orange and needed urgent medical treatment, or he may die. He told his wife he had no choice but to travel to Texas to get his treatment. Shortly after he left the family, however, he filed for divorce so that he could marry a young lover he had run off with. He was not sick and had made that story up.
On July 25th, 1986, Ellen gave birth to her third child, a son she named David Brian Boehm. Paul showed up at the hospital to meet his son. According to relatives, he put on quite the show trying to convince everyone he was an amazing father to his children. Those who knew Paul, however, knew the reality. He ran off a few days after David’s birth to marry his lover. He would never see David again.
As a single mother with three young kids, Ellen struggled financially and emotionally. Her friends and family never saw any signs of abuse or neglect however, and the kids seemed to always have their needs met. Ellen worked two jobs but continued to struggle to pay her bills. Paul was ordered to pay child support to both Ellen and his first wife, but usually failed to do so. Ellen lost her house to foreclosure and eventually filed for bankruptcy.
Despite her financial troubles, Ellen continued to be a die-hard wrestling fan and often attended matches. She had even started to write letters to some of the wrestlers, apparently trying to start a romantic relationship with one of them. Being a wrestling groupie seemed to be the only thing that made Ellen happy. She would even spend money she needed for bills on her hobby. She eventually moved with her children to an affordable housing apartment on South Broadway in St. Louis.
As Thanksgiving 1988 approached, Ellen was facing mounting financial stress and must have been under enormous pressure. On Thanksgiving Day, a friend called her, and they discussed what each was doing for the holiday. Ellen hurried off the phone, however, telling her friend that she thought something was wrong with her two-year-old son David. Ellen soon called 911 because David was lying on the living room floor unconscious, not breathing, and turning blue.
When EMS arrived at the house, they had to knock several times before someone let them in. Young Jennifer finally opened the door for them, and Ellen was not present. Her daughter said she went downstairs. Paramedics went to work on the toddler, attempting to stabilize him. As they were preparing to transfer him, Ellen reappeared. She reported that David had been suffering a cold for the last few days.
Resuscitation efforts on young David were partially successful and he was placed on life support. After a few days, however, doctors informed Ellen that David had no brain activity and would never come off life support. They asked her what she wanted to do. According to her friend, she was calm and almost cold when she said, “Pull It”, referring to stopping life support. David Brian Boehm passed away November 26th, 1988, at the age of two.
That same evening, Ellen was making arrangements to bury her son when she also spoke to her friend Deanne. She asked her friend if she wanted to attend an upcoming wrestling match at the Kiel Auditorium in a few weeks. Deanne found this strange but concluded that everyone grieves differently and perhaps Ellen was just trying to keep her mind off the tragic loss of her baby. Her lack of tears and emotions did not go unnoticed, however.
It was the day after his funeral when Paul Boehm finally made contact with his mother-in-law and learned of his son’s death. Paul called Ellen, who explained David’s death as a result of sudden infant death syndrome. SIDs typically occurs in children under six months hold, however. Paul told Ellen that she could bury David for free in Jefferson Barracks Funeral Home by utilizing his military benefits, but Ellen declined to do so. She buried him at the Saint Trinity Cemetery in Lemay. The funeral cost $2,348, but Ellen never paid the expenses.
Ellen had life insurance through her employer, which entitled her to a $5,000 pay out after the death of her son. This was the first time Ellen had extra money in her adult life. This was the first time she was able to pay her expenses, take care of her kids, and indulge in her wrestling hobby. However, the money went quickly leaving Ellen broke once again.
According to Ellen’s friends, she coped with David’s death by attending wrestling matches and never seemed emotional about the loss. She never cried or even talked about David. Many people found her behavior odd, but everyone grieves in their own way. She used bereavement time to attend out of town wrestling tournaments. She told her friend she wanted to marry a wrestler and often lied about having sexual relations with wrestlers.
In July of 1989, eight months after David’s death, Ellen began shopping around for life insurance on Steven and Jennifer. She took out several policies on each child, totaling approximately $100,000 each. She was broke, however, and could barely pay her bills. She would not be able to pay the high premiums for very long to keep the insurance policies in place.
On September 13th, 1989, Ellen was cooking and cleaning while her eight-year-old daughter took a bath. She was playing with her barbie dolls when she felt a sudden jolt. There was a hair dryer thrown into the bathtub. The girl said the pain was terrible, and she felt like something was pulling her down in the tub. She was eventually able to unplug the hair dryer, and the pain stopped. Three-year-old Steven and Ellen came into the bathroom after hearing her screams.
Ellen asked how the dryer got into the tub, but neither child knew. Ellen saw some blood dripping down her daughter’s mouth, so gathered the kids up to go to the emergency room. A neighbor heard the screams too and called 911. The police arrived as Ellen was rushing her children out of the apartment. Her daughter would later say that Ellen told her and Steven repeatedly to tell the doctors and hospital staff that Steven threw the hair dryer into the tub because he thought she needed to dry the dolls’ hair. Ellen would later tell that story at the hospital. Jennifer was released from the hospital with no major injuries. It was considered an accident.
Just nine days later, Ellen Boehm called 911. She said that her four-year-old son was non-responsive. Ellen explained that she had taken Steven a few days earlier to get his vaccines. She said he has been sick after getting the vaccines and she found him unresponsive on September 25th. She had called off work that day related to him being sick and told co-workers she had taken him to the doctor. In fact, she had not taken the boy to the doctor that day. She also told a co-worker “The same thing that happened to David is happening to Steven” (Bryan, S., 2017). This concerned some of her colleagues.
At 3:45 pm on September 25th, 1989, Steven Boehm was pronounced dead. He had just celebrated his fourth birthday a few days prior to his death. Ellen once again acted strangely detached and unemotional. This time, her friends could not get past the feeling that something was very wrong. Her friend Deanne contacted authorities with her suspicions and an investigation into the deaths of Steven and David began.
Medical examiner Dr. Michael Graham was convinced that something was suspicious with Steven’s death as well. He believed that Steven had been smothered. “Sometimes the effects of smothering will show up in an autopsy, sometimes it won’t. There are ways that a small child can be killed and the cause not show up in scientific tests” the medical examiner explained (Bryan, B., 1991). On a hunch, the medical examiner sent the autopsy reports for both boys off to several other pathologists to review.
Ten days after Steven’s death, Paul Boehm was notified that his son had died. He did not return to St. Louis immediately, however, but did call the police department and child protective services on his ex-wife. Less than a month after Steven’s death, Ellen walked into a car dealership and bought a brand-new car. She had planned to receive over $90,000 in life insurance, but the insurance was not paid out immediately due to the ongoing investigation.
The investigation was slow paced and took two years. In the fall of 1991, the FBI advised the local police on the best way to interview and illicit a confession from Ellen Boehm. Medical examiners who were consulted agreed that the deaths were caused by asphyxiation. With this, police were ready to arrest Ellen Boehm for the murders of her two sons. She was arrested in September of 1991 and charged with two counts of murder.
Using the tips from the FBI, St. Louis police explained the evidence against Ellen and urged her to “clear her conscience” (Bryan, B., 1991). Confronted in this manner, Ellen broke down and gave a full confession. She then repeated the confession on video tape to be used at her trial. She said that “she knew it was wrong, but she was desperate for money” (Bryan, K., 2017). On Thanksgiving of 1988, she put Steven and Jennifer to bed, but allowed two-year-old David to stay up. She grabbed a pillow from the couch and smothered him. She repeated this ten months later with Steven. She also admitted to throwing the hair dryer into the bathtub in an attempt to kill her daughter days before Steven’s murder.
“I put the couch pillow over him. Any my hands were on both sides. And he was really strong. He did struggle a little. And, then I put that [couch pillow] right there for about forty-five seconds at the most. Then I put the pillow back on the couch and at this point he was lying on his back. And, I called my girlfriend… we talked, you know, about what each of us did for our Thanksgiving” Ellen Boehm said in her confession to David’s murder (Bryan, K., 2017).
Ellen Boehm’s daughter Jennifer was placed into foster care. Her father attempted to get custody of her, but his first ex-wife and others claimed he was unfit. He admitted to failing to pay child support, often being without a job and homeless, and struggling to support the two young children he had with his new wife (Bryan, B., 1991). He said, however, he was getting a monthly disability check and could provide for his daughter. Jennifer’s current whereabouts are unknown since she was placed in the foster care system.
At age thirty-one, Ellen Boehm was charted with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. She prepared for trial with her public defender as she never was able to collect Steven’s life insurance. The prosecution planned to seek the death penalty in the case. However, a month before her trial was to begin in 1993, Ellen Boehm accepted a plea deal with the prosecution. In exchange for pleading guilty to one count of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder, Ellen Boehm would not be put on death row. Instead, she was sentenced to one term of life in prison without parole and one term of life in prison with possible parole. Ellen Boehm remains in the Missouri Department of Corrections where she will be the rest of her life. She is currently housed at the Chillicothe Correctional Center.
Bryant, T. (1993) Mother gets lift term in murders of 2 boys. St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 07 APR 1993
Bryan, B. (1991) Mother arrested in death of sons. St. Louis Post Dispatch. 14 SEP 1991
Bryan, B. (1991) Help from FBI cited in confession. St. Louis Post Dispatch. 16 SEP 1991
Obituary (1989) Boehm, Steven. St. Louis Post Dispatch. 17 Sept 1989
Obituary (1988) Boehm, David. St. Louis Post Dispatch. 29 Nov 1988
Bryan, B. (1991) Father seeking custody of girl in Boehm case. Man rarely paid child support. St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 19 Sep 1991