People die in accidents every day. Children lose their parents, partners lose their spouses and significant others. But when a person loses two or more spouses to tragic accidents, law enforcement starts to get suspicious. This was the case with a man named Tim Boczkowski, who lost two different wives to drowning accidents at their family homes, all within four years of each other. The first death occurred in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1990. I first learned about this case after seeing it on an episode of “Forensic Files.” The story was also featured recently on the show “Living with a Serial Killer” on the Oxygen network.
A Death in North Carolina
Tim and Mary Elaine Boczkowski, who went by Elaine, lived with their three young children in Greensboro, North Carolina. Tim had started a company to make crowns and bridges for local dentists. The couple ran a miniature golf course and ice cream shop together.
On November 4, 1990, Tim called 911. He told the operator that he had found his wife Elaine unresponsive in the bathtub of their apartment. She was pronounced dead upon arrival. Police were suspicious immediately. Tim told the responding officer that his wife was “basically a lush” and that she had returned home that evening intoxicated after attending a church event. But the bathtub where Elaine supposedly drowned was dry, and the only thing inside it was a washcloth and vomit. Tim claimed Elaine had vomited after he tried to give her CPR, and that he had laid her forward over the edge of the tub, where there was a metal track, as an attempt to get the water out of her lungs. But there was also no sign of water anywhere on the bathroom floor, which one would expect if a person had been taken out of a full bathtub and given life-saving measures. The shower track was also completely dry.
The investigating officer interviewed for the “Forensic Files” episode said she did an experiment in her own bathtub, which was built the same way the Boczkowkis was, and found that her head would not submerge in the water once it was full.
The autopsy showed no water in Elaine’s airways, or any alcohol in her system. She had three parallel lines marking the lower abdomen, which corroborated Tim’s story about placing her over the edge of the tub. She had no alcohol in her system. The medical examiner ruled Elaine’s cause of death as “undetermined,” which prevented the police from being able to charge Tim in her death. Tim, who was 36 years old at the time, took the proceeds from Elaine’s $25,000 life insurance policy and moved to Pennsylvania.
Seven months after Elaine died, he met a woman named Maryann Fullerton at a Catholic Singles Club. They were married in June of 1993 and by all accounts, Maryann quickly assumed the role of doting mother to her step-children, two boys and one daughter.
Then, tragedy struck again, almost four years to the day of the death of Tim’s first wife.
A Death in Pennsylvania
Eighteen months after the wedding, on November 7, 1994, Tim found Maryann unconscious in the family hot tub. He told police they had been in the hot tub around 11 p.m. Both were drinking beer. According to him, they were in there over an hour, which is a pretty long time to be in water of that temperature, especially if alcohol is being consumed. He left to take a shower, and returned 20 minutes later to find Maryann immersed in the water. He called 911 and told them he had pulled his wife from the hot tub and was attempting CPR. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Police immediately noticed some unusual details at the scene of the drowning. Maryann’s eyeglasses were found on the bottom of the hot tub. Tim had a scratch on his neck, and multiple scratches on his torso, shoulder, and one hand. Tim actually said, “I hope they don’t try to pin this on me,” to one of the responding officers on the scene, which drew suspicion.
As police waited for results of Maryann’s autopsy, they learned Tim had taken a $100,000 life insurance policy on his wife using cash gifts from their wedding. He took a polygraph test, and failed it. They began looking into the death of Tim’s first wife, Elaine. They couldn’t help but notice some similarities. The two women strongly resembled each other. They both wore thick glasses. They were both devoted to their religion. Both women had been unhappy with their marriage at the time of their deaths. And Tim had told multiple acquaintances and neighbors that both women were alcoholics close to the time of their deaths.
Maryann’s autopsy did confirm that she was intoxicated Her blood alcohol .22, over twice the legal limit. She also had multiple bruises on her arms, upper back, legs, and neck. But the Allegheny County Cororner ruled that she was strangled and died of asphysixiation due to compression of the neck. Her intoxication would have prevented her from being able to fight back.
The Allegheny Police Department reached out to officials in Greensboro, who took another look at Elaine’s case from 1990. Police learned that Tim and Elaine’s daughter, Sandy, had told a neighbor that she had heard her parents arguing the night her mom died. She had not told anyone that at the time of her mother’s death, possibly due to her dad’s influence. The medical examiner in North Carolina took another look at Elaine’s autopsy, considering the evidence given that Tim was likely in the bathroom when Elaine died. He determined those track marks on her abdomen could have been from Tim pushing Elaine down on the tub, forcing the air out of her lungs. She vomited into the tub as a result. This also explained why there was no water found in her lungs during the autopsy.
Tim Boczkowksi was arrested and charged with the murder of Elaine Boczkowski. He was convicted of the crime in October of 1996 and sentenced to life in prison.
After being convicted in the death of his first wife, Elaine, Tim Boczkowski went on trial for the murder of his second wife, Maryann, in the spring of 1999. More incriminating details came out at the trial, and details from Elaine’s death were allowed to be shared with the jury. Then neighbor who told Greensboro Police that daughter Sandy had seen Tim in the bathroom with Elaine, also shared that son Todd, who was five at the time of his mom’s death, had actually seen his dad holding his mother down in the bathroom. Todd told the Oxygen network he was shocked when that detail was shared, because he’d had no prior memory of it.
Prior to Maryann’s death, Tim had been telling neighbors that his wife was a drunk and not to be surprised if she hurt herself falling down the stairs. He gave conflicting stories to police about the night Maryann died. In some, he said they were having a romantic night in the hot tub. In others, he said they’d been arguing. Police had also found a small plastic apparatus near the hot tub normally used as a barrier when giving CPR. Why would Tim have used that and how did he have time to go find a device like that if his was having a medical emergency?
Maryann’s autopsy had shown fingerprint marks around her neck, internal bleeding at the neck, and more than 50 bruises on her body. Three jailhouse inmates from Allegheny County testified Tim had told them he’d been stupid to kill two wives in the same way.
Tim Boczkowski’s defense attorney, James Herb, claimed ongoing medical issues were the real cause of Maryann’s death. He said that her enlarged heart, high blood pressure, and fatty liver brought on by years of heavy drinking contributed to her accidentally drowning in the hot tub at their home. He pointed to the fact that she had two drunk driving arrests on her record from the 1980s, and that she had fallen over a table at a 1992 Christmas party of a friend. But, Herb also said Maryann was “a good woman who kept a clean house and mothered Boczkowski’s children by a previous marriage.” The two had met at a Roman Catholic church group. The prosecutor suggested that Maryann had hoped to get pregnant and that police theorized Tim did not want any additional children. Another neighbor testified on the stand that the marriage was strained, and that Maryann was considering leaving Tim if circumstances didn’t improve.
Tim was convicted of Maryann’s murder and sentenced to death. The decision was thrown out and commuted to life in prison after the state Supreme Court determined prosecutors had violated an order that Tim not be extradited. In 2018, he was granted parole in the North Carolina case but was sent to Pennsylvania to begin the life sentence in Maryann’s case.
When Maryann’s aunt, Ruth Schumann, learned of her niece’s death, she said she knew immediately that Tim Boczkowski had been involved. She had always felt uneasy about the marriage, especially after hearing about how Elaine Boczkowski had supposedly died in a bathtub accident back in North Carolina. As a way to help her process her grief, Schumann began taking copious notes of phone conversations and court proceedings as the Allegheny Police began their investigation of Tim. Her research turned into a true crime book titled “Please Don’t Kill Mommy,” which was co-authored with Fannie Weinstein and published in paperback format in 2001 by St. Martin’s Press. She told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that in the days following Maryann’s death and funeral, more and more members of their immediate family began to suspect Tim. They realized they had all been told different stories about how Tim’s first wife Elaine had died. Schumann began contacting anyone she could from Elaine and Tim’s past to see if she could get more information.
“I was just so involved in trying to find out the past of this man,” she told the newspaper. “You just tend to believe what people tell you. That’s the problem. They appear to be nice and honest and decent.
As a footnote to this case, Tim and Elaine’s son Todd has been interviewed in the past few years by Forensic Files and the Oxygen network. He said that once he was older and received military training, he began to realize the ways in which his mother and stepmother died could not have happened the way his father said they had. He said he believed Maryann had begun to uncover things about his father because she had been trying to set up a meeting with his mother’s sister and a close friend. She said there were things she wanted to discuss with the two women. Maryann died before she had the chance to follow through on those meetings. Todd also said in 2007, his father told him, “I am responsible for your mother’s death.” He’s never admitted the same in Maryann’s death, possibly because he’s still hopeful he’ll get released from prison on appeal.
Reading about the details of this case reminded me of the murder of Toni Henthorn, a physician and mother who supposedly fell to her death while hiking on an anniversary trip with her husband in the Rocky Mountain National Park in 2012. When investigators started looking into the death of Toni, they realized Harold also lost his first wife Lynn in a tragic accident in 1995. He claimed she had been underneath their car trying to help him fix a flat tire when the car fell on her, crushing her to death. Lynn’s death had been ruled accidental, but once investigators took a second look in comparison to what had happened to Toni, they realized Harold Henthorn had a history of isolating his wives from their friends and family, lying about being a wealthy fundraiser, and taking large insurance policies out on his wives with accidental death clauses. If you’re interested in learning more about his case, Hulu recently featured it in a true crime documentary titled “Wild Crime.”
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