Mommy Needs Money: Why Ellen Boehm Murdered Her Children
Ellen Kay Booker was only 18 years old when she met the man who would forever change her life. Paul Boehm was old enough to be Ellen’s father and he was married with children, but those things didn’t sway the teenager’s love for him.
If one looked deeply enough, they would easily see Ellen had Daddy issues; which no doubt accounts for her willingness to believe the lies of a married man and how their life would be different. Ellen’s own father had skipped out on his first family - a wife and seven kids, to be with Ellen’s mother and Ellen was the product of their union. Sadly, her father was more fond of the bottle than he was any of his kids and, like many alcoholics, he had trouble maintaining employment or even staying in one place for any length of time.
In 1980, using the money Ellen inherited from the sale of her paternal grandparents’ land in Mississippi as a down payment in addition to Paul’s Veteran’s Administration benefit, the couple bought a home on Wyoming Street in Saint Louis, Missouri.
When Ellen’s mother lost her job just a few months later, Paul moved Catherine Booker into the basement apartment. Ellen was upset. She’d long tried to escape her family and now her mother was living in the same house with her again. Her house. This was not part of Ellen’s dream, but she didn’t go against what Paul had decided was best and Catherine stayed.
In September 1981, the Boehms welcomed a daughter Stacy Ann*. Four years later, on September 22, 1985, Ellen gave birth to their first son, Steven Michael Boehm. Within a month of his birth, Ellen was pregnant for a third time.
A nice home, a devoted wife, and two beautiful children, with a third one on the way, would have been most men’s idealistic life. But not so for Paul Boehm.
For this rolling stone papa, it was time to get moving.
Long before she’d met Paul, Ellen had been a huge fan of professional wrestling and she frequently attended the events – especially when they were in the Saint Louis area.
After they married, Paul would sometimes attend the matches with Ellen but he cared nothing for the sport. When Ellen met Deanne Smith, who was as big of a fan as Ellen, in 1980, Paul was relieved there was someone else who would go with Ellen.
Deanne quickly became one of Ellen’s best friends and they soon were confiding in one another about their lives. Both ladies found their marriages crumbling, but while Deanne moved forward with divorce, Ellen was pregnant and her husband was spending less and less time at home.
Ellen suspected her husband was cheating, but she didn’t confirm it until the second week of June 1986 when Paul, telling her he was going for an extended hospital stay due to a illness developed while serving in Vietnam, ran off with a young girl.
Ellen, eight months pregnant, was left to take care of two children and a home alone.
All alone. Physically and financially.
Alone and Out of Control
When David Brian Boehm made his way into the world on July 25, 1986, his father appeared at the hospital and put on one heck of a show of being a perfect father. It was the one and only time he ever saw his son David because, following the hospital visit, he took off with his girlfriend (who was soon to become Paul’s third wife) to Kansas then on to Tuscon, Arizona.
It didn’t take long after Paul’s departure for Ellen to fall into financial ruin. She wasn’t a good manager of money to begin with and Paul’s failure to pay the court ordered $105 per week child support didn’t help either.
By the time Thanksgiving 1988 had rolled around, Ellen had filed bankruptcy and the bank had foreclosed on the Wyoming Street house forcing her and the kids to move into more affordable housing at the Riverbend Apartments on South Broadway. Ellen also took a second job delivering pizzas at a nearby restaurant.
Despite working two jobs and raising three kids alone, Ellen still found time to follow the pro-wrestling circuit. Ellen, however, was more than just your typical fan. In addition to writing numerous long and intense letters to her favorite wrestlers, Ellen did all she could to try to land one of her favorites as a boyfriend. Truth be told, she’d have been happy with a one night stand from any of them, but neither a relationship or a single sexual interlude ever occurred despite her best efforts.
Of course, her failed endeavors didn’t stop Ellen from telling people they happened. Ellen frequently claimed to friends she’d dated or slept with some of the wrestlers, except for Deanne who was with her for most of the matches and knew the truth.
Ellen’s fanship had finally caught up to her in 1988 and the financial hardships were rapidly increasing. Her budget was stretched thin with the payments to the bankruptcy courts and Ellen was delinquent on her utilities as well.
As the little family went through the motions of celebrating a holiday of thankfulness, Ellen struggled to figure out what to do. Her ship was sinking fast and there was no help in sight.
Death and Debt
Later in the evening of that Thanksgiving holiday, Ellen phoned a friend to inquire about her festivities. The conversation ended when Ellen told her friend she had to hang up because something seemed wrong with David.
When Ellen noticed her son’s lips were blue and realized he wasn’t breathing, she called 911. The ambulance arrived a few minutes later, but they had trouble getting anyone to answer the door. After repeated knocks, Stacy finally opened the door and let them inside and, according to the frightened little girl, her mother had went downstairs of the apartment complex.
As paramedics prepared the toddler for transport, Ellen suddenly reappeared and without prompting, told the emergency medics David had been suffering a cold for the last few days.
For the next couple of days, David remained unconscious and was living solely by machine. After many consultations with doctors, Ellen decided it was best to take David off life support and David was officially declared dead on November 26, 1988.
That evening, Ellen began making arrangements for her son’s funeral. She also called her friend Deanne about a wrestling match to be held at Kiel Auditorium in December. Ellen said if Deanne wanted to go, she’d swing by and buy the tickets going on sale that day on her way to the funeral home.
Needless to say, Deanne was perplexed by her friends offer but brushed it off by telling herself everyone grieves differently and thinking of her beloved sport was probably Ellen’s way of coping.
The day following David’s funeral, his father's newest mother-in-law was able to track down Paul and his now-pregnant third wife and tell them about David’s death. Paul called his ex-wife and they spoke on the phone for three hours, during which Ellen told Paul David’s death had been declared crib death (SIDS). She also told him she couldn’t afford to bury their son and Paul instructed her to use his veteran’s benefits for a no-charge burial at Jefferson Barracks. Ellen told Paul that wasn’t where she wanted her son to be buried, but Paul insisted. When Ellen continued to balk, the man who had only seen his son once in his 28 months of life shouted, “It’s my son!”; the implication being that Ellen needed to respect his wishes.
Despite Paul’s demands she use the free military services, Ellen buried the child at Trinity Cemetery as she wished.
Just a few days later, Ellen received $5,000 dollars from a life insurance policy she had on David through her employer but she refused to pay the funeral expenses of $2,348.
Stay Calm and Buy More Insurance
To those around her, Ellen seemed to carry on as if nothing had happened. Later they would say they never saw her cry and she never mentioned David’s name. It was uncomfortable and unsettling for many of them.
Ellen continued to follow the pro-wrestling circuit and write sappy letters to her favorite wrestling stars. She had taken a couple of month’s bereavement leave from her second job, which allowed her extra time to dedicate to her pastime.
In July 1989, Ellen began gathering quotes on life insurance for her two remaining children. By the end of August, both children were insured for $100,000 each through six different polices written by three separate companies.
The companies were unaware of the other policies or that two healthy children were so obviously over insured. Nor could they know the mother, who was beneficiary of the policies, struggled to pay her electric, water, and telephone, much less the monthly premiums for life insurance.
But it was all part of Ellen's greater plan.
Ellen was exhausted on the evening of September 13, 1989. She’d worked all day and now she’d come home only to be stuck with mundane chores such as preparing dinner and taking care of the children.
As Ellen went about the household tasks, Stacy was taking her bath and playing with her Barbies. Suddenly, without any warning, Stacy felt pain course through her body. Trying desperately to get out of the tub, Stacy would later say she felt as if something kept pulling her under the water. She screamed for her mother, but it was her little brother Steven who answered first, only then to be followed by Ellen.
The pain and pulling ended when Ellen unplugged a hair dryer that was in the tub. Although she said it with irritation, Ellen was eerily calm when she demanded of Stacy and Steven to know how the hairdryer got into the water. Neither child had an answer for her.
With a small trail of blood trickling from her mouth down her chin, Stacy got out of the tub. Ellen told her children to get dressed because she needed to take Stacy to the emergency room then she told them she was going to seek help from a neighbor who worked as a paramedic.
The neighbor wasn’t home, so Ellen returned to the apartment and began rushing the children to dress. Stacy, terrified and confused, began to wail and Ellen grew frantic.
Soon the verbal exchanges between mother and children became loud enough to attract the attention of another neighbor. Overhearing Ellen’s harsh tone and cruel words, he was compelled to call the police.
At the same time a Saint Louis police officer was responding, Ellen and her children were exiting the apartment complex. Unfortunately, the cop didn’t overhear what Ellen was telling her children or it may have saved a life. She was telling her children what to specifically say when they were asked by doctors and nurses about the incident. The children were told to say Stacy was bathing and playing with her Barbies when Steven decided she would need to dry their hair. Not understanding the consequences, Steven threw the hairdryer into the tub. Stacy cried uncontrollably and insisted her brother was asleep when it happened, but Ellen was adamant they stick with her story.
Ellen told this story at the emergency room and Stacy was treated and released with very little fanfare.
Only nine days later, tragedy would strike the Boehm children again.
Against All Odds
Steven Michael Boehm had just celebrated his fourth birthday on Friday, September 22, 1989, with friends and family. The next day he made a visit to his pediatrician and was updated on his vaccinations.
The doctor reminded Ellen children sometimes ran a mild fever and/or experience tiredness, or alternatively hyperactivity, following vaccinations. Ellen would later claim Steven reacted with exhaustion and he also experienced vomiting and an inability to keep any food down. She believed both were a reaction to the vaccinations.
By Monday morning, Steven wasn’t feeling any better so Ellen called into work and told one of her co-workers she was taking Steven to the emergency room. During the conversation, Ellen told her colleague “the same thing that happened to David is happening to Steven.” Concerned, the woman asked Ellen to call back when there was any news on Steven’s condition. Ellen promised she would do so.
When the woman told another co-worker of Ellen’s about the phone call, the second woman was puzzled and she experienced a slight bit of intuition things weren't right with the situation, but all she could do was wait for an update.
There was good reason for the disturbed feelings as Ellen never took Steven to the emergency room that morning. Instead she took Steven for a bean burrito at Taco Bell. When they left the fast food joint, according to Ellen’s later claims, they went by the cemetery to visit David’s grave at Steven’s request.
After the visit to David’s grave site, Ellen made a second call to her office and told the co-worker she’d spoken with earlier the doctors could find nothing wrong with Steven and had released him. The time was about 11:30 a.m. on September 25, 1989.
Ellen and David returned home. While Ellen changed sheets on the children’s beds and tended to other household chores, Steven sat giggling in front of the television while watching Sesame Street. Just a little before one o’clock, however, Ellen was fiercely pounding on the door of her paramedic neighbor because Steven, she said, wasn’t breathing. The neighbor called 911 then rushed to Ellen’s apartment to help the little boy.
At 3:45 p.m. on the afternoon of September 25, Steven Boehm, who had celebrated his fourth day only three days before, was pronounced dead.
Strange. Very, very strange.
Unlike David’s death, Steven’s passing created a sense of unease among Ellen’s friends. While they all understood each person grieves in their own way, Ellen’s demeanor, especially for a mother who had just lost a second child, was strange – to put it mildly.
Later Ellen’s friends would say her actions were flippant. They told detectives Ellen did not cry and her words were very matter-of-fact and devoid of emotion. Friends told detectives they felt strangely uncomfortable in Ellen's presence.
It was so strange, in fact, a couple of Ellen’s friends felt concerned enough to contact a homicide detective they knew and express their concerns to him.
Ellen’s friends weren’t the only ones who felt there was something strange about the deaths of Ellen's sons. Dr. Michael Graham, medical examiner for the city of Saint Louis, remembered all too well the strange death of David the year before and now he was looking at his older brother who had also died under odd circumstances.
Unlike with David, Dr. Graham didn’t intend to be rushed into a cause of death which was okay with detectives as it provided more time for them to talk to Ellen about the passing of a second child – a rare event among siblings in this age of advanced medicine.
Just a short conversation with Ellen and the concerns of a medical examiner, who was unofficially saying he believed Steven had died of mechanical asphyxiation, led detectives to believe Ellen had murdered both children. They just had to prove it.
Ten days later in Tucson, Paul learned another son had died when his wife called home to talk with her mother. Claiming he was still grieving of the loss of his youngest son with Ellen (although, he hadn’t reached out to visit with either Stacy or Steven following their brother’s death), Paul demanded, “What the hell is Ellen doing to these kids?” The only thing Paul and his wife did, however, was to call the local police and child protective services to tell them something strange was going on in Missouri. Paul made no effort to return to Saint Louis to confront his ex-wife face to face or check on his only surviving child’s welfare with his own two eyes.
Meanwhile, investigators were talking to anyone who might have information about Ellen and/or the death of her children, especially her old friend Deanne. During their interviews, detectives learned Ellen had collected on the smaller life insurance policy on Steven but the others had yet to be paid. Regardless, Ellen had walked into a dealership less than a month after the death of her second child and purchased a new car. She didn’t even trade in her old one, telling friends she intended to do a private sale.
For a woman who was struggling financially, this was a brow-raising action. It was obvious Ellen expected a financial windfall; money from life insurance, one could only assume.
Ellen had no way of knowing Dr. Graham had taken a bold step in determining Steven’s cause of death. He had sent his autopsy findings and medial records for Steven to seven respected medical experts to test his theory of mechanical asphyxiation. Detectives also interviewed Ellen and others in the meantime, and were learning of the varying stories Ellen was telling about her sons’ deaths.
It stil wasn’t enough to charge her with murder. Investigators had also consulted with the FBI about Steven’s death and they too believed Ellen was responsible. The officers received instructions from the agency's top experts on how to best move forward with their investigation.
The days on the calendar passed quickly and before long the first anniversary of Steven’s death came and went and the cause of death seemed no closer to being officially determined. Ellen, who had grown distraught after she realized police suspected her of killing the boys, began to grow comfortable police had no proof and so life began to return to normal for her. As usual, she was throwing herself into pro-wrestling.
In early 1991, however, things were about to change for Ellen and she never saw it coming.
Reports from all the experts whom Dr. Graham had consulted were in. Every one of them had ruled out all causes with the exception of mechanical asphyxiation. With Dr. Graham officially going on the record, detectives now had enough cause to make an arrest.
Planning every detail as the FBI had instructed, detectives pulled Ellen over shortly after she left work one evening and took her in for questioning. Seated in a room with charts detailing her financials for the past few years as well as the life insurance policies and medical records, it didn’t take long for Ellen to break down and confess.
Showing little emotion, Ellen told officers she knew what she did was wrong but she was so desperate for money she had done it anyway. She told them being a single mother with a deadbeat ex who paid no support had left her overwhelmed and she’d given in to her murderous urges.
Wanting a future jury to get the full impact of this Mommy Dearest, officers asked Ellen to make a video confession and she agreed to do so. Her description of two year old David’s death would long ring in the ears of homicide detectives working the case.
…and I put the couch pillow over him. And 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, back on the couch and at this point he was lying on his back. And, I called my girlfriend…and we talked, you know, about what each of us did for our Thanksgiving.— Ellen Boehm
Escaping the Death Penalty
Two of the insurance policies had chosen to wait for the outcome of the investigation and Ellen was destitute by the time she was arrested.
Appointed a public defender, it would seem Ellen was going to take the matter before a jury. However, when the prosecutor made a offer in exchange for a guilty plea to escape a death penalty sentence, Ellen agreed. Thirty-two year old Ellen Boehm pleaded guilty to one count of first degree murder and one count of second degree murder and was sentenced to two life terms in prison to run concurrent without the possibility of parole.
As of this writing, Ellen is incarcerated at the Women’s Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri.
Soon after her mother’s arrest, Stacy Boehm was taken into the custody of Missouri’s Department of Social Services. Her current whereabouts are unknown.
* Stacy’s given birth name is unknown. The psuedonym used here is the one created by John Coston in his book Sleep, My Child, Forever and is frequently used for on and offline discussions of the case.
© 2016 Kim Bryan