STERLING – Eloy Reyes, who lived with girlfriend Tiffany Boyer, arrived home from work shortly before 4 a.m. Aug. 22, 1987.
Hungry, he rummaged through the fridge. He then heard the 23-year-old Boyer breathing loudly, as if she had a cold.
As he remembers it, he went into the living room. Boyer was lying on the couch. Their 2-year-old son, Jonathan, was at her feet, and her 3-year-old daughter, Vanessa, was next to her. Their 1-year-old son, Justin, was in another room – in his crib.
Boyer was bleeding.
“I thought she was bleeding from her ear,” Reyes, now 47, said. “I tried to wake her up, but couldn’t. I ran to the neighbors to call the police. We didn’t have a phone.”
An ambulance rushed Boyer to the hospital.
“The doctor said she had a bullet wound to the head,” Reyes said recently in an interview at his Rock Falls home. “The paramedics didn’t know she was shot in the head. No one knew until we got to the hospital.”
Boyer died 2 days later, on Aug. 24, 1987 – exactly 26 years ago today.
No one was ever charged in the case.
Earlier this month, the Sterling Police Department denied Sauk Valley Media’s request to see records in the case. In a letter, the department said the release would obstruct an “ongoing” criminal investigation.
“Every year, we get one or two leads,” said Police Chief Ron Potthoff, who was a sergeant at the time. “We’re looking at something right now. The case is not forgotten. It’s one of the few in town that’s not solved.”
Boyer’s family is frustrated. Her daughter, Vanessa Jones, now 29, has seen the same therapist since childhood. She has suffered depression.
Jones said she doesn’t remember much from that night in 1987. They lived in a small house at 1515 W. Fourth St., next to Woodlawn mobile home park.
“I remember coming out of my room and a man standing over her,” she said in a recent interview at her grandparents’ house on the edge of Rock Falls. “He told me to go back to bed. I remember going back to bed and laying there.”
Sometime later, she went back into the living room, covered her mother with a blanket, and stayed with her.
She wishes she remembered what that man looked like. If she had, she said, the case would be solved.
More than 10 years ago, she spoke to a psychic on the “The Montel Williams Show,” and a police detective took her to Indiana to see a forensic hypnotist in an attempt to draw out her memories.
It didn’t work.
“My mind is too strong-willed,” Jones said.
‘She was a busybody’
The police have their theories.
For years, they looked at a former boyfriend who had abused her, Potthoff said. She was an informant against that boyfriend, leading police to a TV that he had stolen, which led to his arrest, the chief said.
She also helped police in a marijuana case against her boyfriend, but that didn’t lead to charges.
“It was a love-hate relationship,” Potthoff said.
The man was sent to prison in 2009 for dealing cocaine; he could be released as early as 2018.
Boyer, the chief said, knew people in the drug world. But Potthoff and Boyer’s family doubted she was involved in drugs.
“Tiffany was streetwise,” Potthoff said. “I don’t know that she ever used drugs, but she ran in that circle. Everyone we interviewed seemed to be from that ilk.”
In the years she was with Reyes, the chief said, Boyer had “pretty well” settled down, but she may have had enemies.
“There were people interviewed who said she was a busybody and always looking to get people in trouble,” he said.
Reyes agreed. He said he saw no signs of a struggle in the living room. Whoever committed the crime, he said, knew what he was doing.
‘She liked guys, not drugs’
Boyer’s father, Ray Boyer, 79, and her stepmother, Pat Boyer, 76, took custody of Jones after the murder, while Reyes kept Justin and Jonathan.
Reyes, who signed Jones’ birth certificate, was there when she was born, but he acknowledges that he is not her biological father.
He’s not sure who is, although he and Boyer were living together when she became pregnant.
Jones said she has heard her mother was very secretive in the time before her death.
“That’s why we don’t know who my dad is,” she said.
The Boyers don’t believe their daughter was involved in drugs.
“We heard that she liked guys, not drugs,” Ray said.
Potthoff was one of the original investigators on the case. He knew Boyer.
He said that when Boyer was 17, she would often visit the police station when he was a patrol sergeant.
“She wasn’t a runaway,” he said. “She was a kid on the street and needed to talk with someone. I said if you don’t want to go home, go to your sister’s.”
The chief said he found out Boyer was telling people not to “mess” with her because she was dating a police officer, referring to Potthoff. He said he told her to stop because it was not true.
At one point, he said, he was removed from the investigation into Boyer’s murder because of the rumor he had dated her.
Reyes said he remembers Potthoff dropping by their house to visit Boyer, when she was in her 20s. They would go outside to talk, but Reyes didn’t know about what, he said.
Jones also said she remembers going with her mother to a police car outside their house.
Potthoff said he never visited the house before the shooting.
Reyes said that, because he was Boyer’s boyfriend, he was investigated and cleared, but he wondered why Potthoff never had to undergo similar questioning.
“I have no beef with him,” Reyes said. “But why wasn’t he investigated like I was and other people?”
An independent agency, he said, should have been involved.
Where are the clothes?
The family is troubled by the investigation. They question why Boyer’s clothing on the day of the murder wasn’t kept in evidence.
“Her clothes disappeared at the hospital,” Pat Boyer said. “Nobody knows where they went.”
Potthoff said hospital personnel had to quickly cut off Boyer’s clothes in trying to save her.
“The clothes were cut off and disposed of before the police got there,” the chief said. “They [paramedics] were more concerned with the patient than preserving the evidence.”
He said he was sure the police still have the blanket and couch cushions in evidence.
Reyes questioned why the clothing was missing.
“Someone is covering something up,” he said.
Terry Mors, a law enforcement professor at Western Illinois University, said DNA evidence was just taking hold in 1987, so clothing was not routinely collected as evidence, as it is today.
“Paramedics work with police, but their main focus is saving lives,” the former suburban detective said.
‘It never leaves my mind’
In a 1988 interview, Ray Boyer said he was determined to find out who killed his daughter – and why.
“My little girl’s life is not going to go just like a piece of trash,” he said.
Since then, he has suffered strokes and heart attacks, but he still wants answers.
“It never leaves my mind,” he said. “I see her laying there on the couch. I’m not going to leave until we find out.”