Who killed Sarah L. Greenhalgh? A Virginia murder mystery

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

A lot has happened since I left Warrenton, Va., four years ago. After I came home I worked as a reporter in Westchester County for a year. When I officially got completely fed up with journalism I  went to Europe to hang out with family and do some research for my next book.  After that I got a gig as a freelance editor while I earned my paralegal certificate from Pace University. With the certificate in hand, I started In Brief Legal Writing Services.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

But one thing hasn’t changed. The 2012 murder of Sarah L. Greenhalgh remains unsolved. Or more accurately, no one has been charged and no arrests have been made in the death of the newspaper reporter who shared my passion for the cops and courts beat, photography and my love of animals — especially horses.

Sarah, 48, was working as a reporter in Winchester, Va., when someone shot her and then torched the house she was renting in Upperville, Va., in July 2012.

The initial investigation revealed that Greenhalgh and John Sheldon Kearns — a Gainesville man identified in news reports both as her boyfriend and ex-boyfriend — had supposedly argued “hours before her death.” Soon after the discovery of Greenhalgh’s body, news about a post on her Facebook page also surfaced.

In that cryptic post, reported to be her last, Greenhalgh said she planned to “sleep with the windows wide open” that night. She also lamented about an unknown man who had apparently been bothering her.

While authorities first identified Kearns as a “person of interest” they did not identify him as a suspect in the case until December 2014.

As of last July, the investigation was still ongoing.

“We’re still pursuing leads and working with the division of forensic science,” Lt. James Hartman of the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office told the Loudon Times-Mirror last year. “People have referred to it in the past as a cold case just because it’s the third anniversary, but it’s never been closed.”

Now, more than one year later, I can’t help but wonder how much progress — if any — the authorities have really made. It’s not that I don’t believe Lt. (now Sgt.) Hartman. In more than eight years of covering cops and courts in Fauquier County, I got to know him pretty well and have always known him to be as forthright as possible under the circumstances. I just have a nagging feeling about this case.

I have from the beginning.

Perhaps it’s because I saw Sarah just a few weeks before she died. Perhaps it’s because of the unique bond we shared as police reporters. Perhaps it’s because I followed in her footsteps.

You see, I got the job as the cops and courts reporter at the newspaper that was then known as the Fauquier Times-Democrat  after Sarah left to take another newspaper job in Florida in the fall of 2003. I inherited her beat notes (a list of sources, contact information and detailed instructions on how to access the court websites) and comprehensive newsroom survival tips.

I also inherited a desk drawer full of pens — and a sticky note detailing what would happen if any went missing.

“I will kill you if you steal my pens,” my predecessor had written, adding a smiley face to take the edge off the threat.

And that, as a mutual friend quickly pointed out — was typical.

Yes, Sarah was a tough woman. She was also talented, driven, dedicated and outspoken.

I am sorry we never got a chance to work together. Judging by what our mutual friends have said, we probably would have gotten along famously — or we might not have gotten along at all.

“You and Sarah are a lot a like,” one friend once said.

I thanked her for the compliment.

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