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Episode #14: Sarah Rae Boehm - Murdered (1994)

On July 15, 1994, 14 year old Sarah Rae Boehm walked out of her Rochester Township home and never returned. Her remains were found near Deerfield Township, Ohio on November 4, 1994, but they were not officially identified until nearly 9 years later. This area, 2 hours away from Sarah’s home, was the resting place of another set of remains… 17 year old Kathryn Menendez was found only ½ mile from where Sarah was found on Aug 25, 1994, days after she’d gone missing from her Ohio home.

Sarah Rae Boehm

Birth: 1980 - Death: 7/15/1994-8/25/1994

Ethnicity: Caucasian - Sex: Female

Height: 5'5"-5'6" - Weight: 110-120lbs

Hair Color: Blonde - Eye Color: Blue

Hometown: Rochester Township (Beaver County)

Crime Scene: Her decomposed body was found in a wooded area near the Berlin Reservoir in a State Park in Portage County, Ohio. Just 2 hours away from Sarah’s home in PA (About 60 miles south of Cleveland).

Last Known Location Alive: 7/15/1994

Injury Description: No actual injuries were released to the public. Her death is listed as “violent homicide by unknown means”

Suspect Description: Unknown

Additional Information: Sarah was originally believed to have been a runaway due to letters found in her home. A body was discovered on 8/25/1994 in Alliance, OH at the Berlin Reservoir but was not positively identified as Sarah until 9 years later in 2003.

DNA: Unknown

Fingerprints: Unknown

Anyone with information about the murders of Boehm and/or Menendez can contact the FBI in Pittsburgh at (412) 432-4000 or in Cleveland at (216) 522-1400. Tips can remain anonymous, and a monetary reward is being offered for information leading to the successful identification and prosecution of anyone responsible for the murders.

CASH REWARD: Available

Linguistic breakdown of the letter

Note that this is not the full text of the letter, but that I (cohost Sarah) have done my best to explain the linguistic features within to the best of my ability.

Sarah Boehme, if she is the true author of this letter, begins the letter by writing, “I have always said ‘The day I walk out the door is the day I’ll never return.’” which is where I made my first notation. This sentence is figurative. Every single day that Sarah has walked out the door, before this time, she has returned. Assuming she was not in a kidnapping situation, which would be odd in her own home, this does not make sense for her. It’s possible that she meant the next time she walks out of the house she will not return, but the wording that is provided is figurative. In my experience of working with 14 year olds, this is not typical. Students at this age tend to struggle with the grasps of various figurative uses of language, and are more likely to be straight up with what they mean. For example, in this situation, I would expect to see “I’m going to leave this house and never come back.” Along this same line, the phrasing used in the original letter above is written as a possibility of what may one day come versus what is imminent. If Sarah were planning to leave that day and hence left the letter, this would be inconsistent phrasing.

Continuing on in the first paragraph of the letter, Sarah refers to the reader of the letter as “you” three times. In the sentence directly following the third “you”, she states that “ brother and my mother went crazy…” This tells us that the intended recipient of this letter was not her brother or her mother. Furthermore, if we look at the letter itself, the envelope was addressed “to whoever cares” which lends to the idea that whoever would go looking for Sarah should find it. Because she was home alone with her brother, logic may point to the belief that she would have written it for his intended viewing. However, that can’t be solidified. The language itself shows a change between the reader “you” and two people mentioned in the letter.

She then begins to discuss this apparent abusive relationship, which, as discussed on the show, was never fully confirmed nor ruled out as having happened. She writes, “I met a guy who gave me love and what-ever else I was not getting at home. He was a very, very abusive man. Didn’t anyone wonder why I always have injuries and said ‘I fell’???” There’s a lot we can pick at here. For starters, within 20 words she changes him from “guy” to “man”. While we often will use these interchangeably, we also have to consider that if a young teenager (14) is running off with an older man, they will typically either drastically downplay or drastically up-play the difference. If he's a 20 year old who is barely too old to be with, she might use “guy” to convey a close but non-descriptive relationship of the ages. If he is significantly older than that, she may use “man” so as to clarify that this absolutely was an older man or an older person with whom she was close. However, the oddity comes in the use of both words in two successional sentences. Additionally, if you’ve ever seen a teenager’s diary or journal, even just your own, it’s rare to see someone talk about a person solving needs for them without discussing the needs. When she writes, “and what-ever else I was not getting at home” she is being very vague. This is one line that stands out to me as showing signs that it was not written by her in a standard mindset. As she is listing out other issues in her life, why would she not also include the difficulties of her life, which she apparently needed much help with. Finally, that last sentence leaves me with a few feelings. One is that I have to wonder if she ever was abused or asked why she looked the way they did when she would have responded that she fell. Furthermore, the use of three question marks at the end of a question is unusual, especially in a handwritten letter. It’s more typical to see repeated letters or punctuation marks in typing because one can press and hold down on a key. It’s more rare to see it in a handwritten letter. That being said, if she was trying to emphasize something, she may have used multiple pieces of punctuation for that, but she does not do it anywhere else in the letter, which leaves it as an oddity.

When we get to the end of that first paragraph, we can sense a switch in the tone. She changes from writing “I’m a burden. I create problems.” to “Don’t worry, I’ll survive.” While the overall message of leaving remains intact, the underlying message seems to change from one of self-despair or -hatred to self-confidence. She ends this paragraph with the sentence, “Maybe I’ll even be a cardiologist or a musician! Who knows.” which stands out to me because of the specificity of the field of cardiology (as opposed to simply saying a doctor) juxtaposed with the general description of the word musician. Now, as discussed in the episode, we do know that Sarah was a singer. I would have to think that she would mention at least a type of musician and her passion of instrument (or voice). We also find the first of only three exclamation marks in this passage. Again, this feels odd to me for a 14 year old. I often see an overuse or complete lack of use of exclamation marks, as opposed to the sporadic interjection of them. This is a case where it would be helpful to see any other writings by her to compare this trend.

The tone continues to shift even more as we get into the second paragraph. It seems as if these two pieces were written at different times. While there is a similar sentence structure and a continuation of the letter-style of writing (the implied “you” subject appearing often), the specific word choice and voice in the letter seems to change. This follows suit with the change mentioned in the first paragraph that starts as self-doubt and ends with confidence. In the second paragraph, she almost begins to brag, saying “Hell, I’ve been [taking care of myself] for years now. I’m pretty good at it, too!” In addition to the boastful tone, the use of the word “Hell”. This appears odd, to me, especially for a 14 year old in the 90s, given that she did not use any other profanity in this letter. While it’s not an “intense” example of profanity, it still jumps out as something unique in this specific part of the letter.

A few sentences later, then, she also writes “I have a better chance of surviving on my own out in the world than I do here in Rochester, Pennsylvania.” The first thing that jumps out at me in this is that she writes out the name of the state rather than just providing a “PA” or ending the sentence with Rochester. After all, if it’s being left on her bed, she doesn’t need to distinguish the state. Along that same line, I wonder about the need for the “in Rochester, Pennsylvania” at all; however, that may just be a result of a journalism class I took with a professor whose pet peeve was double announcement (if you say “here” you shouldn’t need to say where “here” is). I also think back to my students and so often in reviewing their writings, they will write “here” or “home” or “at my house” etc. instead of clarifying a city or state or country, etc. She did appear to be a great student, but this is a very specific sentence that feels out of place to me.

Then we hit the next line and oh man, in my mind this is throwing red flags. She writes, “Remember, it is nobody’s fault! I was not forced to leave.” There’s another one of those exclamation marks that are popping out to me, too. On top of that, why is the reader being told to “remember” that it is not anybody’s “fault”. Never before in this letter does she write that she specifically wants to leave for her own good. She writes that she takes care of herself, that she has a plan (in a sense) for the future, that she is and was never good enough, but she never once appears to say that she is at “fault” for this or that somebody else is not. Yet now she says the word “remember” as if she’s written this sentiment before. Then she writes, “If I realize I can’t do it on my own, I’ll come back home (If they’ll have me).” The use of “they” in this sentence resonates with me, and brings me back to the question earlier of who the intended recipient of this letter is. I go back to noting that she specifically mentioned her mother and brother in the first paragraph, and wonder if she is here, again/still, excluding them from being the one(s) who discover this letter. One possible implication of that is that someone who was involved and who knew the mother and brother would not find the letter first may have written or staged the letter. Of course, this is just one possibility, and is entirely my opinion of the interpretation.

We’re almost done; bear with me. As we approach the end of the second paragraph, there is an interesting sentence: I don’t mind you don’t love me. There’s a few different ways this can go in interpretation. It’s possible that she is saying that she does not mind that the reader/discoverer of the letter does not love her (and therefore may be missing a relative “that” between mind and you, though as it stands it can be a grammatically correct sentence), or she may have left out punctuation and may have intended to write “I don’t mind. You don’t love me.” or “I don’t mind; you don’t love me”. While it’s not impossible or grammatically incorrect, it is inconsistent for the rest of the writing that we have in this letter, and it jars the reader a bit.

The letter then wraps up with something that I discussed in the episode: the difference in direction with an unknown destination of either NYC or DC. As discussed in the podcast, she may have chosen local(ish) cities that are very large to remain hidden in the crowds. After all, she does write “(They’re both big cities so you won’t be able to find me)” after restating, “Maybe I’ll be a musician or a cardiologist.” There may be a personal reason for her uncertainty, but being that they are in two different directions, it appears as if, with everything else well-thought out and her room cleaned with this note left, that she would have figured that part out. Furthermore, she may have been trying to distract the family from her true location. I do also want to point out that her note that NYC and DC are both big cities comes two sentences after naming the two cities. It appears, to me, to be an afterthought.

Ultimately, what I’ve written up and what was discussed on the podcast is pure speculation. She may not be the author, or she may be. Anything which I have interpreted may be accurate or inaccurate based on intention. In all, it’s speculation.

If you have any further thoughts on this letter. Leave them in the comments below or connect with us on social media!


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