Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the year Nancy Dunning was found shot to death in her Alexandria home. She was killed in 2003, not 1993. This version has been updated.
Elmer “Joe” Roehrs got married when he was 82 years old, about the time he retired from his job as an optician in Falls Church.
He stopped driving when he was 90. And at 94, he still exercised on the treadmill in his home each day and took care to eat a balanced diet.
So when his family found him dead in his stately Del Ray home around 7 p.m. Wednesday, they knew something horrible had happened. Alexandria police say he was slain, a victim of “upper body trauma.”
“This is not the way to have it end,” said his stepson, David Bouk.
Roehrs’s well-manicured, two-story brick home had been repeatedly burglarized in recent years, prompting Bouk to testify before the City Council in 2011 that “crime has come to the neighborhood.”
Police have not made an arrest in Roehrs’s killing, but hours after his body was discovered they arrested a woman they believe broke into his home three months ago, charging Marie Maybell Johnson, 45, with burglary and larceny. She is being held without bond in the Alexandria jail.
It was unclear if the burglary and killing were related, but police said they were investigating a possible link. Johnson knew Roehrs and his wife because she had rented an apartment from them, police said.
Police arrested her at 3:15 a.m. after stopping her in a car in the 1400 block of Duke Street.
The same neighborhood endured another high-profile tragedy several doors down at the home of then-Alexandria Sheriff James Dunning. In 2003, Dunning’s wife, Nancy Dunning, was found shot dead in her front foyer in a homicide that gripped the city but was never solved. Nancy Dunning was a prominent real estate agent known as the “Queen of Del Ray.”
“I don’t think any neighborhood is immune to crime,” said Del Ray resident Terrie Clifford, as she walked her two dogs near the more recent crime scene. “But it’s surprising in a quiet, well-off neighborhood like this.”
Bouk, who lived in the house in the 2700 block of Holly Street with his mother and Roehrs, declined to comment on any details of his stepfather’s killing, citing the ongoing police investigation. Yellow crime-scene tape still surrounded the home Thursday, and a minivan sat in the circular drive.
Roehrs is survived by his wife, Marian Bouk, 87, whom he met while taking a ballroom dancing class in Fairfax County in the late 1990s. The two married in 2000, and he moved into her Del Ray home, David Bouk said.
“They met later in life, and I was very happy to have him be associated with my mother,” Bouk said. “He was extremely meticulous and neat. He was a perfect gentleman.”
Roehrs spent his days reading the newspaper, watching sports on television and fixing meals for his wife. He also tended to a few flowering plants.
He got his nickname from his first wife who didn’t like the name Elmer, Bouk said.
“She decided to call him Joe,” Bouk said. “And it stuck.”
Roehrs served in the Army and was awarded a Purple Heart in World War II after injuring his foot. He grew up in Missouri and Colorado and moved to Virginia with his first wife, who worked for the Navy. She later died.
Bouk said that his mother and Roehrs used to go dancing and were quite an active pair, but in recent years, his stepfather had become frail. He was known for the warm, cheerful greetings he would offer friends and family.
“He was very gentle,” Bouk said. “What really touched me about him is he would say ‘thank you’, even if you did something for someone else.”
Roehrs's neighbor, Carol Sikkelee, has lived next door to Bouk for 27 years. In recent years, she got to know Roehrs and became very fond of him.
“Joe was an incredibly wonderful man, very generous and thoughtful,” Sikkelee said. “I can’t imagine being as feeble and fragile as he was that someone would take his life. He wouldn’t hurt a flea.”
She said since the break-ins picked up in recent years, all of her neighbors began locking their doors. She said she feels a measure of security in her tight-knit community.
“Neighbors watch out for each other around here,” Sikkelee said.
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.