There are some crime scenes that old investigators never forget. For retired police chief Sam Heath, it’s the Indian Rocks Beach Bridge one spring morning in 1985.
That’s where he helped pull the mutilated body of a teenage girl from the water.
"That is one thing I would never want to go through again,” said the former Indian Rocks Beach police chief.
Shelly Elizabeth Boggio was 14. She was beaten and choked, and stabbed 31 times. Her cause of death was actually drowning. She was held underwater until she died. Her clothes were found along the shore.
A prosecutor once called her murder “one of the most heinous crimes in Pinellas County history.” Now, 34 years later, her killer is set to face Florida’s harshest punishment: death by lethal injection.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a death warrant for James Dailey on Wednesday. The Death Row inmate, now 73, is set to be executed on Nov. 7 at 6 p.m. at Florida State Prison in Starke.
Heath, now 77 and living in Tennessee, welcomed the news.
“It tickled the hell out of me,” he said of his reaction. "It was that bad a case. It was probably one of the worst murders of a young girl that I’d ever seen.”
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Shelly would be 48 or 49 now. Articles in the then-St. Petersburg Times described a girl who knew only hardship.
Her father, Frank Boggio, and his three daughters moved to Kenneth City in 1984 from Battle Creek, Mich. They came to Florida with no money or possessions, just the clothes they wore. Shelly was older than the other seventh-graders at Sixteenth Street Middle School in St. Petersburg, now known as John Hopkins Middle School.
She missed 67 days of school, then dropped out. A truant officer told the Times the girls were already smoking and refused to return to school. Once he checked on the family on a cold day, and found them trying to use the kitchen stove to stay warm.
When Shelly was “partying with friends,” a 1985 article said, she just didn’t come home. That is how she encountered Dailey.
Shelly, her twin sister Stacy and friend Stephanie Forsythe were hitchhiking near St. Petersburg the night of May 5, 1985, according to news reports. Shelly was seen dancing at a bar with Dailey and Jack Pearcy.
Dailey was from Kansas, an Air Force veteran who served three tours in Vietnam. He and Pearcy were roommates, and news reports said they all went back to the men’s house. Stacy and the friend left. Shelly stayed behind.
At trial, the prosecution told jurors the two men drove Shelly to a secluded area under the bridge, intent on raping her. The 14-year-old fiercely resisted them. The medical examiner said she had 18 defensive wounds on her hands.
“This woman fought like an animal for her life,” prosecutor Robert Heyman told a judge at Dailey’s 1993 re-sentencing hearing. Dailey was re-sentenced that year because his first death sentence was struck down by the Florida Supreme Court because of judicial errors.
Dailey was soaking wet and missing his shirt when he and Pearcy returned home the morning after the murder, Pearcy’s pregnant girlfriend told investigators. Dailey said they had to leave the state right then. He was captured in California and extradited back to Florida, news reports said.
The case relied on jailhouse informants testifying about what Dailey told them about the murder, said retired prosecutor Beverly Andringa, 66. There was no forensic evidence, even by 1980s standards.
“It was a circumstantial case, it’s not like there was an upstanding citizen eyewitness to the case," she said. "So speculation is all we have as to what happened.”
The knife was found in the water, but the girl’s body was too decomposed to determine if she had been sexually assaulted. Heath said they knew one of the assailants had vomited on the shore after the attack, and Pearcy later admitted to vomiting that night.
Pearcy told detectives Dailey killed the girl. Pearcy was convicted first and sentenced to life in prison, but then refused to testify against Dailey. Now 64, Pearcy is serving his sentence at Sumter Correctional Institution.
At his 1987 trial, jail inmates testified that Dailey shared graphic details of the murder.
“I just lost it,” Dailey told them, according to the prosecution. “No matter how many times I stabbed her, she would not shut up.”
It took the jury 68 minutes to recommend the death penalty.
• • •
After Dailey was first sentenced to death in 1987, the victim’s father Frank Boggio told the Times how eager he was to see her killer’s execution.
“I’ll be pleased when they strap him in the chair,” he said.
But the Boggio family said the father never knew peace after Shelly’s murder. The father died of cancer before Dailey received the death penalty for a second time in 1993.
This is the third death warrant the governor has signed since taking office and the second involving a Tampa Bay inmate. Tampa serial killer Bobby Joe Long was executed on May 24.
The governor’s office released a statement from an unidentified cousin of Shelly’s, who said her death devastated the family.
“Shelly isn’t the only one who died that day," the cousin said. "The ENTIRE Boggio family would forever be broken ...
"Give us justice … Give us peace … I beg of you. We have suffered enough years.”
Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.