Robert and Bonnie Boyer had a normal, content life, living in a modest home in Pevely, Missouri, in the United States, along with their children, 16-year-old Tonya and 14-year-old Barry, two dogs, and a cat. The family was well-liked by their neighbors, got along with each other very well, and there would have been no reason to ever suspect that there were dark days ahead for them. That’s why it was a surprise when one day they would become the center of a strange unsolved mystery surrounded by inexplicable sickness and death.
It began in September of 1978, when Bonnie’s parents, Eva and Alvin Sims, called the Boyers in order to arrange to stay at their house while their own home was being fumigated for pests. When they called on September 19, they were puzzled that every time they tried to call they got nothing but a busy signal. Over and over they tried calling the Boyer home and every time all they got was that droning busy signal, to the point that Eva decided to go over and see what was going on. When she reached her daughter’s home, she was surprised when Robert came to the door in a dazed and disoriented state, at first looking at her like he didn’t even recognize her and generally acting like a zombie. When recognition came into his glazed over eyes, Eva asked what was going on and where her daughter was, to which he oddly shook his head and replied that he didn’t know, his speech slightly slurred. At first Eva suspected that he was possibly drunk, even though he wasn’t known to drink, but when she let herself in to take a look around this would soon prove to be much stranger than that.
When Eva entered the residence, she immediately noticed that something was wrong. The room seemed to be in a state of disarray, and the two dogs and cat were stumbling around aimlessly as if in a trance of some kind. This was weird enough, but things would get shocking when she found her daughter sprawled out on the floor of her bedroom dead, a blanket placed over her body. The Boyer children were found in their bedrooms in a semi-conscious state, glazed over eyes staring off into nothing and their bodies having some sort of seizure. When the shocked and baffled Eva went to Robert to demand what had happened he was still in his trance-like state, walking around like an automaton, and when asked about Bonnie and his kids he merely shook his head, started crying, and vomited. The police were soon notified.
Authorities arrived on the scene to find Robert still in his dazed, spaced out condition, babbling nonsensically and mumbling his wife and kids’ names over and over again. The kids were taken away by ambulance and the cat and dogs were taken away, the cat being euthanized to take tissue samples. Some of the officers who were first to arrive would claim to have noticed a strange smell in the air of the house that made them dizzy and nauseous, with one officer even collapsing. This immediately raised the alarm that there was poisonous gas in the home, but an investigation showed that there were no gas appliances in the home, no trace of gas leaking from the sewage line, and indeed no trace of any gas or toxin in the air at all, including carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, methane, cyanide, strychnine, and arsenic. E.P.A. agents found no sign of any toxic gases that might have seeped into the home and no outside source from which a toxic agent could have come from to begin with. So what was making everyone so sick?
Even more baffling was that tests done on Robert and his children turned up no evidence of nerve gas damage, food poisoning, viral or bacterial agents, or drugs or alcohol, nothing at all. Their tests were completely clear, with no indication of what was causing the dazed condition and seizures. Even the tissue samples from the cat turned up nothing unusual. When Bonnie’s corpse was analyzed there could be found no obvious cause of death and no sign of toxic substances in her body either. Despite no obvious physical cause for their ailments, Barry Boyer’s condition would deteriorate rapidly and he would go into a coma and die a few days later. No cause of death could be determined. Authorities scrambled to try to find some answers, but the only possible lead was trace amounts of dimethyl sulfoxide, a solvent commonly found in various household products, on Barry and Bonnie’s clothes. However, this is not particularly toxic and was only found in very tiny amounts.
Still stumped, the house was thoroughly checked to find that there were several dozen Styrofoam insulation panels in storage at the home, which were planned to be installed by Robert Boyer’s nephew, Steve Reisner. It would turn out that these panels had been acquired from the Dow Chemical plant where Reisner worked and that they had not gone through a one-week curing period to make sure they were free of any lingering toxic fumes from the production process. Police began to suspect that such fumes, in particular methyl bromide, could have possibly poisoned the family and their pets, but the thing was that there were no traces of methyl bromide in samples taken from the victims and no significant amounts of the chemical found at the home. Additionally, specialists from Dow would claim that there hadn’t been any fume related deaths reported from their products among their workers in the past decade, and that it was impossible for their Styrofoam panels to produce enough methyl bromide to be lethal. Indeed, the CDC even subjected test animals to being in closed containers with the panels, which caused no noticeable negative physical effects. It would seem that the death by Styrofoam theory was a dead end.
Adding to the mystery of it all was that in the coming days several neighbors of the Boyers also began to fall mysteriously ill, in at least one case seriously enough to be admitted to the hospital. Again, no cause for the condition could be determined and no source of any toxic material could be found. In the end, Robert Boyer would never fully recover, suffering from a mysterious sickness that no one could explain, and his daughter Tonya saw her condition and seizures worsen until she died the following year, the cause of her deteriorating health unknown. Despite the evidence against chemical fumes being the cause, Robert Boyer would try to sue Dow Chemical for $3.6 million, only to have it settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. To this day it remains unknown just what happened to this family or why they inexplicably became so sick. There have been no further answers to any of it, and it is all left open to debate and wonder for the foreseeable future.