DNA IDENTIFIES 1994 HOMICIDE VICTIM -
REMAINS OF PENNSYLVANIA GIRL, 14, FOUND IN PORTAGE
Akron Beacon Journal (OH) - June 4, 2003
Author: Ed Meyer, Beacon Journal staff writer
**Beacon Journal staff writer Carol Biliczky and The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Skeletal remains found in Portage County in 1994 were identified by police and the FBI Tuesday as a 14-year-old Pennsylvania girl.
The girl was identified as Sarah Rae Boehm of Rochester, Pa., who was reported missing July 14, 1994, by her mother. Authorities from the district attorney's office in Beaver County, Pa., said the identification was made through DNA testing and the case will be investigated as a homicide.
The remains were found by a hunter Nov. 4, 1994, in a heavily wooded area near Fewtown Road in Portage County and were taken to the Cuyahoga County Coroner's Office for examination.
Portage County Prosecutor Victor V. Vigluicci said Tuesday that investigators from the Portage County Sheriff's Office, the Beaver County District Attorney's Office and the FBI will be working together on the circumstances of Sarah's disappearance.
Vigluicci said the remains were severely decomposed, which may have hindered the identification process.
The first link in the case, Vigluicci said, was made in 1998 when Portage County Sheriff's Detective Cindy Balog saw a missing person's flier from Beaver County and contacted authorities there.
"After that, though, some more leads came in to Beaver County . . . of other sightings of Sarah. They followed up on those but they weren't verified," Vigluicci said.
In April 2001, Detective Kim Clements of the Beaver County District Attorney's Office found a sketch of the Portage County victim on the Web site of the Doe Network . The Destin, Fla., organization tracks missing-persons cases.
One case showed a sketch that Portage County authorities released in 1994, with the notation that the remains were of a woman between ages 17 and 22. Another case detailed the disappearance of Sarah Boehm from her Pennsylvania home, and included two photos -- one circa 1994 and a projection of what she may have looked like at age 20.
"It was just something in my gut that told me that we were right about this one," Clements said, "not like the thousands of other leads we were running down."
By April 2001, Vigluicci said, the FBI was brought into the case and the first DNA samples were obtained for testing.
"As it turned out, there was insufficient DNA in the remains to make any comparisons," Vigluicci said.
Tests on a second DNA sample led to the identification, and the FBI on Saturday contacted authorities from Beaver County and Portage County about the results, Vigluicci said.
Detectives are investigating whether Sarah's disappearance was connected to the discoveries of three other bodies in the Berlin Reservoir area of Portage County between November 1993 and August 1994, Vigluicci said.
"We don't know at this point," he said.
On Nov. 6, 1993, hunters found the bodies of Lisa Watters, 32, of Kent and Andy Hussey, 31, of Akron at the edge of the reservoir.
At that time, police said they believed a sniper standing on a cliff overlooking the reservoir shot and killed them. Hussey was the son of a Portage County sheriff's lieutenant.
Then, on Aug. 25, 1994, the body of 17-year-old Kathryn Menendez of Alliance was found about a mile from where Watters and Hussey were found. The area -- less than a mile from the Stark County line and 4 1/2 miles from the Alliance city limits -- is isolated but well-known to hunters and fishermen.
But police said then that evidence indicated Menendez was killed somewhere else and her body was dumped near Fewtown Road.
Three months after the discovery of Menendez's body, Sarah's then-unidentified remains were found -- on the first day of hunting season -- about 300 feet from the site where Watters and Hussey were found, police said at the time.
An artist developed a facial composite of what the victim may have looked like. Forensics experts from the Portage County area compared the victim's dental records with that of other missing persons to try to come up with a match, but Portage County Sheriff Duane W. Kaley noted at the time that the victim had "very little dental work."
Kaley was unavailable to comment on the case Tuesday.
Sarah disappeared from her mother's home in Rochester Township, a distant suburb of Pittsburgh, on July 14, 1994.
She left a note that she was going to spend the night with a friend, but did not return, according to published reports. Her mother, Phyllis Boehm, reported her missing the next day.
Initially, police viewed her as a runaway, and reports filtered in over the years that she had been sighted. On Tuesday, Sarah Boehm's stepmother said she was told of the identification that morning. She said she was heartsick at the news.
"She was a doll," Maryann Boehm said. "She was sweet and a good student and beautiful, a cheerleader" who would have been in the ninth grade that fall.
Maryann Boehm said she was estranged from Sarah's father, Jack. He couldn't be reached for comment.