By Melissa Quinn
News outlets across the region have referred to Alexandria’s first homicide victim in more than a year as Elmer Roehrs, but his family and friends knew him as “Joe.”
The nickname was a product of his first marriage. Roehrs’ first wife didn’t like the name Elmer, so she opted for an alternative. And it stuck — through his younger years as an optician, a profession he pursued after leaving the military, to his later years when he met his second wife, Marian Bouk. They eloped to Las Vegas in 2000.
So while a few family members might remember him as Elmer, for most, he’ll always be Joe.
Alexandria police descended on his 2700 block Holly St. home about 6:50 p.m. February 13, just a few weeks after marking the city’s first year without a homicide since 1970.
It was Roehrs’ stepson, David Bouk, who found him. He arrived home to find his 94-year-old stepfather suffering from upper-body trauma and called the authorities. But by the time they arrived, Roehrs’ body was lifeless. Medical personnel pronounced him dead on the scene.
“He’s going to be greatly missed by me,” David Bouk said. “He was a kind, gentle old man. It’s a terrible way for him to go at the end.”
Police initially called it a suspicious death, but on February 14, they declared it a homicide.
Marian Bouk moved into the Holly Street brick house in 1989, according to city records, and lived there until she married Roehrs. They met at a ballroom dancing class in the late 1990s, David Bouk said. But Roehrs wasn’t too light on his feet, so Marian Bouk took him to another room where they could practice in private.
As soon as they were alone, Roehrs — an expert with bifocals — noticed her glasses were crooked and helped straighten them out. They married not long after.
The newlyweds decided to start their married life at Roehrs’ home, but time took its toll on the elderly couple. Once they realized they couldn’t live independently anymore, they moved in with David Bouk along Holly Street.
Targeted by burglars
Neighbors say the Holly Street community is safe. None of their homes had ever been burglarized, said Jennifer Curry, who lived across the street from Marian Bouk’s home for more than 15 years.
But there was something about their house that just attracted mischief. Curry said Marian Bouk owned several properties in the area and noted that the neighborhood was quiet and crime was rare — except for the house across the street.
In 2011, David Bouk went before city council detailing multiple accounts of burglaries. There had been two such instances in 2011, and he hoped the city could help with the persistent issue.
Not long after he discovered his stepfather’s body, police arrested a woman wanted for burglarizing the home in November. Officers with the department’s tactical unit took Marie Maybell Johnson, 45, into custody following a traffic stop on the 1400 block of Duke St. at 3:15 a.m. February 14 — less than 12 hours after Roehrs’ death. She faces grand larceny and burglary charges.
Though police have not commented on her involvement, Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Sengel told the court at Johnson’s bond hearing Friday that she is likely to be charged in connection with the homicide.
‘Rest in peace’
Several years after the couple moved in with David Bouk, Roehrs’ health began to deteriorate. The 94-year-old who received a Purple Heart for his service in World War II was restricted to the home, his walking inhibited.
Still, he continued to be a doting husband, fixing his wife meals and taking care of flowering plants, David Bouk said. He was especially proud of an orchid that had recently bloomed, four or five blossoms growing in the last few weeks of his life. Every other day, Roehrs made sure to place an ice cube on the plant — a home remedy he discovered.
“Who would’ve thought an ice cube every other day would’ve worked?” David Bouk said.
Every morning, Roehrs retrieved the Washington Post from the base of the home’s circular driveway, as far as he would venture out of the house. He watched and rooted for local teams — cheering on the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and Washington Wizards from his chair — and he always said thank you, even if you weren’t doing something for him.
“He could see the appreciation that you should be recognized for doing something for someone else,” David Bouk said.
David Bouk made a point to help out, advising his stepfather on how to get as much nutrition, vitamins and protein as possible from the food that he prepared as his age caught up to him.
But this wasn’t the way Roehrs was supposed to go, David Bouk said. He wasn’t supposed to be alone.
Roehrs is survived by Marian and David Bouk. His children from his first marriage have passed on, but his grandson lives in Texas and his great-grandson lives in the commonwealth.
It hasn’t really hit home for his mother, David Bouk said. But he knows once they get back into their home, it’ll sink in. The quiet will creep through the halls and rooms like a ghost, and they’ll know he’s really gone.
“He’s going to be extremely and greatly missed,” David Bouk said. “Rest in peace, Joe.”