Donna and Jim had the perfect life that anybody would envy. A great marriage, two lovely children, a good home and jobs. But suddenly she began to feel ill. What went wrong?
"As a couple, Jim and I have got it all," Donna Boley would tell envious friends. "We've got a great marriage, two super kids, a lovely house, jobs we enjoy — and Jim cooks for me every night... What more could a girl want?"
Certainly in the summer of 1993 Jim and Donna Boley seemed to have it made. Jim was sports coach at America's St Louis County High School and Donna taught maths at a nearby college. They had a wide circle of friends, a modern three-bedroomed home in Jefferson City. And as a wonderful bonus, Jim, then 45, did all the family cooking. Jim and Donna had met at college when they were both 18 and they married two years later. Four years on their son Steve was born, followed by Chris two years later. Their happiness seemed complete. Then in August 1993, Donna, previously slim and fit, began to feel ill.
"At first I thought I had some sort of stomach bug," Donna remembered. "But as the days passed I felt worse. I was being sick all the time and Jim was so worried. He made me tasty easily-digestible meals but I was sick every time I ate and my weight dropped alarmingly. "Over the next few weeks, I got even worse. I was vomiting every day and was crippled with stomach pains. I went to my doctor and was given all sorts of medication but nothing seemed to work. Finally I collapsed at work and was rushed to hospital. "I was on a life-support machine for several days but slowly I recovered and began to eat again. But when I returned home and began to eat Jim's cooking, all the symptoms returned. I must have been crazy not to understand just what was going on...
"It was only later that I realised Jim was keeping my food and the rest of the family's separate. For instance, one time he made me a jelly and when the boys went to the fridge to help themselves Jim snapped: 'Don't eat that — it's for your mother...'
A few days later things took a sudden and dramatic turn when Donna found that her hands were numb, her legs had swollen like balloons and she couldn't breathe. During the next two days she had five seizures, her heart stopped twice and, unable to breathe she was put on a ventilator. Doctors did not expect her to survive but somehow Donna clung on to life. "Jim came to see me every day," Donna said. "Once he even brought me a milk-shake but the doctors wouldn't let me have it." Two weeks later, as she was slowly and painfully recovering in hospital, Donna had another visitor. "I'm a solicitor," she explained. "I represent the husband of a woman your husband is having an affair with." When Jim Boley came to see his wife that evening she confronted him with what she had heard. "He completely denied it and said I was too ill and confused to think straight," Donna said. "But now I realised what had been going on and knew what I must do."
But at that moment, she couldn't. The strain of hearing the news caused a serious relapse and for weeks Donna was too ill and weak to speak. But determined that the truth would come out she turned to an alphabet board and slowly and painfully spelled out the message: "My husband has been poisoning me."
In fact doctors and police had come to the same conclusion, but had been waiting for Donna to be able to confirm it. Unknown to her, they had analysed the milk shake Jim Boley had brought in for his wife — and found it contained a near-fatal dose of arsenic. . Jim Boley was arrested. He immediately confessed to sprinkling his wife's food and drink with arsenic-based rat-poison. And the reason: "I wanted to make her sick so that she would give up her job, stay at home and we could have quality time together." The hardened detective who was taking down the statement, chuckled and said: "Now I really have heard it all!"
A year later when Jim Boley appeared Judge Charles Shafer in St Louis District Court his wife was in a wheelchair in the public gallery to hear of the 22-year charade that had been her marriage. She heard prosecutor Carrie Constantin claim that Boley had been having extra-marital affairs for years. "To put it bluntly, he wanted his wife out of the way so that he could have a good time," Carrie Constantin told the court. "He masqueraded as a devoted husband while all the time poisoning his wife with arsenic and having a string of mistresses."
It took the jury less than an hour to find Jim Boley guilty of attempted murder. Branding him a "merciless monster", Judge Shafer gave Boley two life sentences and Donna Boley was left to pick up the pieces of her life. Her health was shattered. Frail and in constant pain she still suffered from the side-effects of the arsenic which medically should have killed her several times over.
She had the bones of an 80-year-old, skin cancer and could only walk with the aid of leg-braces. Two years later she met and married artist Harry Kholer. But if Donna thought that the evil Jim Boley was out of her life for good, she was mistaken. Boley had by no means lost his appetite for vengeance and was attempting to hire a hit-man to kill both Donna and Carrie Constantin, the prosecutor at his trial.
In August 2000, Donna was once again in court when her ex-husband was jailed for a further 15 years. Afterwards Donna said: "How could he hate me so much? He's tried to kill me twice. He is a truly poisonous evil man. Hope he rots in hell..."