By Marlena Hartz
Three seasons passed — leaves fell, winter chilled the air and flowers bloomed — before Kimberly Novak’s family knew the cause of her death.
Novak, 20, the oldest daughter of Patricia and Donald Bollman, was killed in her Cannon Air Force Base residence around Oct. 28, 2004. But the Air Force did not disclose the violent cause of Novak’s death, even to family members, until last summer, soon after they received her autopsy report. Not knowing how Novak died deepened the pain of losing their loved one, her family said in telephone interviews on Wednesday.
“We’ve all been on pins and needles,” said her father, a resident of Arkansas.
“It was hard,” her mother said, “not knowing exactly the cause of her death. I really think (the Air Force) should have come to us sooner.”
Airman Edward Novak II was charged Tuesday with murder in connection with the death of his wife. She died, more than 16 months ago, as a result of blunt force trauma to the head and neck, according to Air Force officials.
The cause of death was not the only information Air Force officials kept from Kimberly Novak’s family during the investigation, family members said.
For several weeks after, family members said, the Air Force would not tell them if Edward Novak was suspected of causing Kimberly’s death. Patricia Bollman said she didn’t learn her daughter’s husband was a primary suspect until a month after her death.
Publicly, Air Force officials would not say if Novak’s death was believed to be a homicide until Tuesday, when they announced the murder charge in a press release.
Family members said Edward Novak told them Kimberly died when a television fell on her. Donald Bollman said his daughter was found in the bathroom, struck with an object that’s still unknown to him.
Members of Edward Novak’s family did not return telephone calls seeking comment. They have previously declined requests for interviews. Edward Novak is being held in military custody, Cannon officials said, but they declined to say where.
Because the death occurred on base, local authorities did not have jurisdiction to investigate Kimberly Novak’s death, according to 1st Lt. James Nichols, chief deputy of the Cannon public affairs office.
Responding to a reporter’s inquiries, Nichols said via e-mail the autopsy report with the cause of death was issued by the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator on June 17. He would not say when the Air Force learned that Novak died a violent death. He said the Air Force will not release the autopsy report, citing efforts to ensure “a fair military justice process.”
In a series of e-mails responding to questions from Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico, Air Force officials provided little insight into the investigation.
Asked why family members were not informed sooner that Kimberly Novak died a violent death, Nichols’ e-mailed:
“Investigators provided regular updates to the family during the course of the investigation.”
Nichols would not discuss the timeline of the investigation, or when the Air Force knew the cause of death was violent. “In the interest of ensuring a fair military justice process, it is improper for the Air Force to comment on the stages of the investigation,” he wrote.
He would not address why Novak was charged more than 16 months after Kimberly Novak died, except to say Air Force officials wanted to be thorough in their investigation.
Despite mountains of difficulty obtaining information about Kimberly’s death, family members said they try not to harbor ill feelings toward the Air Force.
Nonetheless, Kimberly’s aunt, Lynda Crozier-Sweet, said she is frustrated with the Air Force handling of the case.
“Up where I live in the north, you hear about something like this (murder) happening on the news and within one or two days someone is being arraigned,” said Crozier-Sweet, a former police dispatcher.
Why Novak was charged now is not clear. Family members said Air Force officials have told them they had mounds of forensic evidence to sift through, and the labs in the state that could process it were bottlenecked.
Air Force officials at Cannon declined to comment on when they received forensic evidence.
Her dealings with the military have left Crozier-Sweet angry.
“Sixty percent of the time,” Crozier-Sweet said, “(Air Force officials) were fair and decent and civil. Forty percent of the time, I got treated rather badly by certain individuals who said they didn’t have to talk to me, nor did they have the time.”
But for a family so long denied peace, some has finally arrived with Tuesday’s murder charge, Kimberly’s mother said.
If convicted, Edward Novak could face the death penalty, Cannon officials said. Other possible punishments include confinement for life, a dishonorable discharge, total forfeiture of pay and allowances, or a reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, according to Nichols.
The Bollmans said they are still tumbling through stages of grief.
“I lost my best friend,” said Kimberly’s sister, Julie Bollman of Illinois. “Sometimes, I feel like I have no one to talk to.”
“One of our gems was taken away,” said Crozier-Sweet of her niece, who loved the outdoors, would rise early to see the sunrise and was immersed in the joys of being a new mother, “and she didn’t have the chance to reach her 21st birthday.”
The fate of the Novaks’ 3-year-old daughter, Rebecca, is still uncertain, family members said.
She is in foster care in New Mexico, they said. They are pursuing custody of Rebecca, along with Edward Novak’s family.