Many questions, but no arrests in year-old killing

Posted: July 9, 2013

The Winchester Star

The body of Sarah Greenhalgh, a Winchester Star reporter, was discovered in her burning house on Dunvegan Drive in Upperville a year ago today. The building has since been demolished. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Sarah Greenhalgh
Sarah Greenhalgh’s home was found burning the morning she was discovered murdered in a back bedroom. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)

UPPERVILLE — Who killed Sarah Greenhalgh? How exactly did she die? And how did the fire in her cottage start?

These are questions that still plague many of her friends and family one year after the Winchester Star reporter was found shot to death in her burning home in Upperville.

Lt. James N. Hartman of the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office said recently that investigators have a suspect, but will not name the individual.

Besides that new detail, little information has been released and Hartman said law enforcement is “working toward proving [the case] beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Greenhalgh, 48, was found dead July 9, 2012, in her burning cottage on Dunvegan Lane — a private drive near Buchanan Hall off John Mosby Highway (U.S. 50).

The fire was quickly determined to be arson and her death a homicide.

An arrest has yet to be made in the case, and the only detail released regarding Greenhalgh’s death is that she was shot in the neck.

Hartman will not say what time Greenhalgh died, if she was shot more than once or what time or how the fire was started.

He will not say what type of weapon she was shot with, if the weapon belonged to her or if law enforcement officials retrieved the firearm.

“The only other person who would know these things is the person who did it,” Hartman said.

He added that the case is not cold, remains active and is a “top priority.”

“Since that time detectives have worked tirelessly to seek justice for Sarah Greenhalgh,” a media release from the Sheriff’s Office states, adding that “efforts are continuing.”

Although police have declined to name their current suspect, on July 24, 2012, they named John Kearns as a “person of interest.”

Kearns was allegedly dating Greenhalgh at the time of her death, and she referred to him as “bat---- crazy boy” to friends, family and coworkers.

Greenhalgh, who covered Frederick County government for The Winchester Star, was seen arguing with Kearns the night of July 8 outside his apartment in Gainesville — about 30 miles from Upperville.

The last post on her Facebook account came at about 11 p.m. that day and references Kearns.

“Going to be sleeping with the windows wide open.... :-)

“Now if bat---- crazy boy would just leave me alone...will get some much needed rest because tomorrow is Monday and I got a ton of work to do!” the post read.

Police executed a search warrant at Kearns’s apartment July 11, and confiscated a white T-shirt, BlackBerry cellphone and shredder waste.

A Prince William Circuit Court clerk said June 27 that the warrant remains sealed and is “not to be unsealed until further ordered by the court.”

Hartman said early on in the investigation that about a dozen sealed search warrants had been filed in the case and executed in Fauquier and Prince William counties.

When asked on June 18 about the sealed warrants in Fauquier County, a clerk there said she was unaware of that office keeping such items.

She referred questions to the Fauquier County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, and someone from that office declined to comment at all about the case after initially offering to locate the warrants.

When asked for the date and court of each search warrant filed in the Greenhalgh investigation, Hartman said he could not provide that information and that “there was a reason the search warrants were sealed.”

Confidence that a resolution will be met in the case varies among Greenhalgh’s friends and family. All agree, however, that her absence has left a hole in their lives.

Kate Langton, Greenhalgh’s sister, said Monday that she released some of her sister’s ashes in a patch of wild blueberry bushes in Vermont — where she lives.

“It was important to release the physical ashes today because until today it was unfinished,” she said, adding that her sister loved blueberries. “Sarah’s now in a beautiful place in nature. She’s no longer in a tiny box. She’s released.”

Although time has not been healing for her, she said it was more important to remember the love that survives a death than to obsess over wondering what happened.

“The whole idea of closure is just not going to happen,” she added, disappointed in how long the case has dragged on. “There’s no sweetness and light at the end of this tunnel — even if you know who [the killer was].

“A year later, I just miss her, I wish she was here. I don’t want her life and all the fine things she stood for to be eclipsed by this unresolved situation.”

Greenhalgh’s mother, Sara Lee Greenhalgh, said she is still very confident in the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office and their investigation.

“I do believe that they’re 100 percent on it,” she said. “I think they want to have the tightest case they can.”

She said that she only knows a “teeny little bit” about her daughter’s case, but trusts the police completely.

She declined to comment about how Greenhalgh died and said she wouldn’t want to compromise the investigation.

Sara Lee Greenhalgh said that one year later, things are a little worse than they were when she first learned of her daughter’s murder.

“I do feel very much the one year coming up, I’m much more aware,” she said recently of the anniversary of her daughter’s death. “It’s just hard to imagine that a person at her stage of life, with her love of life and passion for it, could be gone.

“I can’t understand how anyone could have done this — he’s just wiped off a vital, vibrant human being and he’s left us all with such a huge void and such terrible, terrible grief.”

She said that she has found peace in getting to know her daughter better through her friends, and that even though they didn’t always talk, she misses her greatly.

“I think of all that has never been said and all the words that will never be said and it’s just so, so sad,” she said, getting emotional. “It’s just loss, so much is lost for her and me.”

Echoing Sara Lee Greenhalgh’s sentiments, Sidney Banaszak said she believes the police are doing everything in their power to make an airtight case.

“I feel sad, enraged, hurt, but I feel confident this case will be solved,” Greenhalgh’s friend said.

Another friend, Ronald Agnir of Martinsburg, W.Va., said he and many others are disappointed that the case has not yet been solved and that they’re losing confidence.

“We wonder why it’s taking so long,” he said. “We’re all still stunned.”

Allegra Knight, of Atlanta, said she too is frustrated.

“Sarah would not stand for this,” she said. “I know that if this had happened to me, that Sarah would not stop until my murder was solved and I feel like I’m letting her down.”

She added that she doesn’t believe the case will ever be solved.

“Miracles have happened ... but I’m certainly not holding my breath,” she said.

Anyone with information about Greenhalgh’s death is asked to call the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office at 540-422-8650 or Fauquier County Crime Solvers at 540-349-1000. Callers can remain anonymous and there is a reward being offered.

— Contact Melissa Boughton at mboughton@winchesterstar.com