Who killed Sarah L. Greenhalgh? A Virginia murder mystery

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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.

When it comes to the court of public opinion, choose your battles wisely

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There’s a lot to be said for individualism. There’s a lot to be said for standing up for yourself. There’s also a lot to be said for fighting the court of public opinion. Or trying to, at any rate.

But the sad reality is that if you try to do that — you’re probably going to lose.  Because, like it or not (and personally I don’t like it a bit) the court of public opinion is pretty damned powerful.

It seems like the couple from Virginia that I told you about last week may have learned that the hard way.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

To refresh your memory, the couple — who already owns a dog kennel — wanted to expand it. But in order to do that, the couple needed a special land use permit from the county.

From what I understand, the application for that permit has been withdrawn — for the time being, anyhow.

If you’d like to know why, you can read more about the decision — and what’s next for the couple — here.

In all honesty, I’m not surprised. As I told you last week, the couple’s plan came under considerable scrutiny — not from the county — but from the public. Dozens of people made their displeasure clear at the most recent municipal meeting on the subject. And even more did so by signing a petition.

Specifically, opponents have objected to the number of dogs the couple wants to keep on the property for breeding purposes and the number of puppies those dogs will have.

Needless to say, the couple’s attempts to allay the public’s fears and concerns regarding a potential “puppy mill” have fallen on deaf ears.

But just what is a puppy mill, anyhow?

According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), puppy mills are “inhumane commercial dog breeding facilities that may sell puppies in pet stores, online or directly to the public (in flea markets or via classified ads).”

The HSUS also says puppy mills disregard the dogs’ health—both physical and emotional—in order to maximize profits.

The organization estimates that there are at least 10,000 puppy mills in the U.S., and that fewer than 3,000 of these are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Collectively, the licensed and unlicensed breeding operations produce more than a million puppies that end up being sold in the United States each year.

Meanwhile, millions of unwanted dogs and cats are euthanized each year.

So an important question remains. Even if the breeding operation this couple is proposing is legitimate, do we really need more purebred or “designer dogs” when there are so many animals in need of forever homes?