How did it take 35 years for anyone to find out William Boken was dead?
It’s a question we’ve been asked often since news broke last week of the discovery of human remains believed to be Louise Pietrewicz buried beneath Mr. Boken’s former basement.
At the center of the discovery, is the death certificate of Mr. Boken, Louise’s boyfriend at the time of her disappearance. Ms. Pietrewicz had not been seen alive since October 1966.
A married man and a former Southold Town police officer, Mr. Boken’s death certificate was used by investigators to get more information out of his former wife, Judy Terry.
Specifically, upon learning of Mr. Boken’s death and seeing his death certificate for the first time, Ms. Terry revealed to police that she saw Mr. Boken bury a body in the basement of the home they once shared on Lower Road in Southold. The information she gave led police to the remains March 19.
Since the discovery, many people have asked how it’s possible that no one knew Mr. Boken had died in 1982, including his former wife, who is the mother of his two children.
So we put together the above video to better explain how Mr. Boken’s death was discovered.
When we began reporting on the case last June, it was assumed Boken might still be alive. That assumption was based on a 2013 summary report from the Southold Police Department that listed a last known address for Mr. Boken in New York City.
As we began to learn more about Mr. Boken’s likely involvement in the case, we started to dig more into his background.
Who is he?
Where is he?
Lacking any contact information for Mr. Boken short of the last known address, we searched for ways to reach family members. While doing so, we learned of the death of one his siblings on the website findagrave.com.
On a whim, we searched the name William Boken on the same site and found two entries, both born in 1930. One of the deceased died in August 1982 in New York City. He was buried at Hart Island. That entry did not feature a date of birth at the time.
New York City’s only Potter’s Field, public records for Hart Island are scarce. Records are most accessible through an online database maintained by The Hart Island Project, a nonprofit, which according to its website, assists families and individuals with limited resources in accessing public burial records and information concerning burial procedures on Hart Island, and increases public awareness of the history of the island.
The Hart Island Project listing for William Boken revealed that he died on August 20, 1982 at the age of 52.
Our records indicated that Mr. Boken was born on August 28, 1930 and therefore wouldn’t have turned 52 for another week.
This was likely the William Boken we were looking for but without a date of birth, how could we be sure since all the information available currently suggested he could be, but his age was off by a year.
The Hart Island Project website also stated that Mr. Boken’s place of death had been redacted, a further hindrance in us obtaining more information about how he died.
In an effort to learn more about this Mr. Boken, we next tried the New York City Department of Corrections, which maintains records for the island. Its website also features an online database.
While that database still did not give us a date of birth, it listed Mr. Boken’s place of death as 97-35 75TH ST.
So we decided to check out that address.
We were told by the current homeowners that they had never heard of a William Boken. So we headed to Manhattan and the other address local police had on file. A longtime resident said he had never heard of a William Boken. The super, who’s worked there 40 years, said the same.
Assuming now that our William Boken was likely the one on Hart Island, we called Melinda Hunt, who runs the Hart Island Project. We were looking for guidance on how we might find a date of birth for someone buried on the island.
Ms. Hunt advised us to use the address and date of death to obtain a police incident report. There would have to be one on file, she said, since Mr. Boken did not die in a hospital or nursing home.
She was right. There was a police report. But on our first attempt to obtain it under the Freedom of Information Act, we were denied by the NYPD, which said our request “would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy.”
So on the advice of the New York State Committee on Open Government, we wrote an appeal, arguing that Mr. Boken is deceased and was estranged from his family. So whose privacy was being violated? We also stated that he was once a suspect in a missing persons case and locating his whereabouts was in the public interest.
Three weeks later, police released to us the incident report from his death, which confirmed his date of birth and also gave us additional details about the last two years of his life.
He drove a cab and lived in isolation, never bringing guests to the apartment he was renting. When he died, police were led to believe he had roots in Albany, so no one ever reached out to his family on Long Island to notify them of his death.
We used town and county records to further piece together how little contact he had with family members in the final 14 years of Mr. Boken’s life.
Zoning board records for the Southold home he had shared with Ms. Terry — the same property where remains were found last week — led us to the County Center in Riverside, where after hours of poring over bound volumes we found a handwritten record of a real estate dispute between Ms. Terry and Mr. Boken. The file for that case showed that attorneys at that time had difficulty locating Mr. Boken to pay him when the house was sold. The file also contained the couple’s divorce papers, which stated they hadn’t seen each other since 1967.
Moving to Surrogate’s Court, we found the will for Mr. Boken’s father, which suggested the most recent contact any of his siblings had with him was from a sister who spoke with him in 1981.
In all of these court matters, Mr. Boken, his siblings and attorneys stated that he would not disclose his address to receive payments of a combined $24,000.
One attorney said in 1981 that all efforts to serve William Boken in order to settle his father’s estate had been futile.
Eighteen months later, Mr. Boken was found dead. His family wouldn’t find out for another 35 years.
Police also used The Suffolk Times’ reporting to obtain Mr. Boken’s death certificate from officials in New York City.
That death certificate, it now appears, will end up providing the answer to a question that has been asked for 51 years: What happened to Louise Pietrewicz?
Grant Parpan is the content director for Times Review Partners, a division of Times Review Media Group. Last fall he worked with executive editor Steve Wick and content producer Krysten Massa to produce Gone, a multimedia special report which sparked renewed police interest in the Louise Pietrewicz case.