Sharon Bova was in the kitchen of her home on Massachusetts Street in Merrillville the morning of Sept. 13, 1989, when her husband, Joe, keyed his truck's ignition and a blast rattled the house.
She found her husband moaning, marginally alive, his body torn and distended, in a crater in the yard, her sister Carol Vonasch, of Crown Point, said.
After the incident, Sharon Bova lived 20 years. She never went back to work, and she stopped answering calls from local family members, Vonasch said. Joe Bova's murder consumed the remainder his wife's life, Vonasch said.
She died July 4 at age 65.
"They might as well have put a gun on her head and killed her, too," Vonasch said. "She couldn't get past it. She tried. I guess she tried the best she knew how."
Kim Riddell, a special agent and spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said the case is unsolved but not under active investigation. The ATF would welcome new tips, Riddell said.
"As we say, the leads have run cold," Riddell said.
Joe Bova's job, business agent for the Laborers' International Union of North America Local 81 in Valparaiso, signaled one obvious investigative tact for police. Joe Bova controlled coveted union jobs. But police said early in the investigation, after interviews with union brothers and sisters, that the bombing didn't appear related to his job. Investigators said he was modest with his power, and little money was flowing through the local hall.
Twenty years later, Joe Bova's mother, 85-year-old Rose Bova, said last week her family doesn't hear from police anymore.
"No, honey. Haven't heard nothing," she said.
Rose Bova turned the conversation toward her daughter-in-law.
"Oh, she never got rid of that. I felt sorry for the poor girl," she said.
While investigators struggled for credible leads, Sharon Bova talked about the murder all the time, Vonasch said. She quit her job at a grocery store in Gary's Miller neighborhood. She could never "face the reality" of her husband's loss, Vonasch said. He was an honest and funny guy, a good man to have as family, Vonasch said.
The memory of Joe Bova's murder lingered at his wife's funeral a few days ago.
"It's been a presence for 20 years. I wish we knew who did it," Vonasch said.
Seeking leads: Anyone with information on the killing of Joseph Bova can call the local ATF office at (219) 755-6310.