The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.
It had been over 24 and a half years since sophomore art major Shirley Ann Rardin’s body was found in a wooded area northeast of Paris, Illinois. For more than two decades, students at Eastern Illinois University enjoyed a sense of safety and security. That all changed on the morning of Tuesday, February 3, 1998.
At around 10:00 p.m. the previous evening, 20-year-old Justin J. “Jay” Boulay descended the long wooden staircase to his downstairs neighbor’s apartment door and asked to borrow his car to pick up his girlfriend, 18-year-old Andrea Will, from Lawson Hall. Brian Graham, his neighbor, happily obliged. “I’ve been up to his place a couple of times by myself and I didn’t notice anything weird about him,” he later told the Decatur Herald and Review.
In a letter Justin later wrote and left in his apartment, he described getting into an argument with Andrea that evening when she told him she was dating other men. According to Andrea’s mother, Patricia, Justin called Andrea several times over winter break, but Andrea, a freshman marketing major with long blonde hair and cherubic smile, wanted to end their relationship and see other people.
“I lost it,” Justin, a sophomore history major, wrote. “I couldn’t let go of her neck.” Coles County Coroner Mike Nichols later determined Justin strangled Andrea with a telephone cord. At around 3:30 a.m., Justin’s downstairs neighbor and his neighbor’s girlfriend, Michelle McVey, heard loud but “soothing music” coming from Justin’s apartment. They knocked on the ceiling and it stopped.
At some point after midnight, Justin called his parents, Raymond and Marcie Boulay, told them “something terrible has happened,” and asked them to drive down to Charleston. It’s roughly 213 miles, or a three hour and 13-minute drive, from St. Charles to his apartment at 114 1/2 Jackson Avenue.
Justin met his parents outside his apartment and they drove to the town square, where he broke down into tears and said Andrea was “injured or worse.” Shortly after 5:00 a.m., they went to the Charleston Police Department. When police officers entered his apartment a few minutes later, they found Andrea’s lifeless body lying in the bedroom.
The case was particularly disturbing because the couple involved seemed so normal. Friends described Andrea, a 1997 graduate of Batavia High School, as polite, shy, and well-liked. She was a member of Sigma Kappa sorority at EIU. Justin, a 1995 graduate of St. Charles High School, had been a student athlete who played on his high school basketball and football teams. He had no reported discipline problems and his neighbors in Charleston described him as a “nice guy” and “shy.” They were all-American kids, yet, in the early morning hours of February 3, a dark, violent impulse bubbled to the surface.
Although Justin Boulay admitted to killing Andrea Will, he pleaded not guilty to first degree murder on grounds of temporary insanity. The defense argued that Justin had no memory of the murder, and was an otherwise nonviolent, mild-mannered young man with no criminal history who had simply “snapped.”
Circuit Judge Ashton Waller rejected the defense’s argument and found him guilty, but took into consideration his clean record and remorsefulness. On Tuesday, May 18, 1999, Judge Waller sentenced Justin to 24 years in prison, four years more than the minimum sentence for first degree murder.
It was a sentence with which Andrea’s family strongly disagreed. “Mr. Boulay got away with murder today,” Patricia Will (today, Patricia Rosenberg), Andrea’s mother, told reporters after the sentencing hearing. In the years that followed, Patricia advocated for what became known as “Andrea’s Law.” The law, which created the Illinois Murderer and Violent Offender Against Youth Registry, went into effect in January 2012. It required anyone convicted of first-degree murder to add their names, addresses, and other information to a public database for ten years after their release.
Justin Boulay was paroled in 2011 after serving only 12 years of his sentence, married a professor who was one of his character witnesses at his trial, and moved to Hawaii. The apartment house at 114 Jackson Avenue where Andrea died was recently torn down.
The tragic case of Andrea Will was only the second time in EIU’s history that a student had been murdered, but it wouldn’t be the last.
- “Campus Feels Closure: Boulay found guilty of murder, sentenced 24 years.” Eastern Illinois University. The Warbler. Charleston: 1999.
- “EIU student held in murder.” Herald and Review (Decatur) 4 February 1998.
- “Freshman found murdered.” Daily Eastern News (Charleston) 4 February 1998.
- “Bond set for suspect in strangling.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 5 February 1998.
- “Campus mourns loss of student.” Daily Eastern News (Charleston) 6 February 1998.
- “Note reveals he ‘lost it’.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 3 March 1999. “Boulay sentenced: One-time EIU student gets 24 years for murder.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 19 May 1999.
- “Convicted murderer of EIU student scheduled to get out on parole.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 12 November 2010.
- “EIU vigil remembers Andrea Will on day her murderer is released from prison.” Herald and Review (Decatur) 17 November 2010.
- “Bill to keep tabs on freed killers goes to Quinn.” Chicago Tribune (Chicago) 30 June 2011.