One of the true guarantees in life is death. We are all going to be there at some point, and while many of us do so peacefully or with clear cut causes, others aren’t so easy to explain, and can leave a whirlwind of strange clues and theories behind. There are all manner of unsolved deaths and murders throughout history, and they are very frustrating in that they often stall or come up right against a wall, refusing to budge or reveal anything more. Often such cases will be infused with conspiracies and the sense that something is not quite right, and such is the case of a young, pretty school teacher who was one day suddenly plunged into a morass of strange clues, conspiracies, and a bizarre death that has never been solved.
Ellen Greenberg was a 27-year-old elementary school teacher in Philadelphia, where she lived with her fiancé, television producer Sam Goldberg. She was well-liked by her students, coworkers, and neighbors, had no money problems, had a happy relationship with Goldberg, and seemed to have a totally normal life. Yet she would head down a path to darkness and unsolved mysteries on January 26, 2011, when she sent her students home early due to an incoming blizzard and headed home herself. At the time Goldberg wasn’t home, as he was out at the gym, and when he got home he could tell that Ellen had come home because the swing lock was locked from the inside. He rang the doorbell, but there was no response. After ringing the bell and pounding on the door he became increasingly worried, shouting out for Ellen and frantically calling her cell phone but receiving nothing but silence. He then contacted the building security guard, and when they managed to break in quite the gruesome scene awaited them.
The apartment at first seemed normal. There was nothing out of place and everything seemed in order, but sitting up against some cabinet doors on the kitchen floor was the body of Ellen Greenberg, very much dead and with a large, serrated knife protruding from her chest. Police were notified and they found that the poor woman had been viciously stabbed a total of 20 times, ten times in the back of the neck and ten in the stomach, abdomen, and chest, as well as multiple bruises all over her body and of course the very large knife still lodged directly into her heart. It was so horrific that it was immediately presumed to be a homicide, but there was absolutely no sign of forced entry, no evidence of a struggle, nothing was missing, and the door had been locked from the inside, with no other way in or out of the apartment. Indeed, the state of the kitchen itself was almost eerily normal besides the dead body, including a strainer filled with blueberries and a freshly sliced orange sitting on the counter and two clean knives in the sink. No other fingerprints or DNA were found in the apartment, neighbors also had not heard any commotion, and there were also no injuries on her arms that could be called defensive wounds incurred trying to fend off an attack, and so despite the gruesome, brutal repeated stabbing and the fact that many of the wounds were to the back of the neck and very deep, the police were forced to deem it a suicide. However, it would prove not to be so simple as this.
The very next day an autopsy was carried out on the body and the coroner ruled that it was most certainly a homicide. Not only were the wounds too deep and too numerous for her to have possibly been able to consciously do to herself, but there was no suicide note and absolutely nothing in her personal life that would indicate that she was in the slightest bit suicidal. Goldberg and the Greenberg family were more satisfied with this prognosis, but just when they expected a full murder investigation to start things would spiral into the strange when just a few days later the coroner did a full reverse and proclaimed that it was a suicide after all. It was a very unusual move for a coroner report to do such a 180, and Ellen’s family began to smell something fishy, launching their own investigation that would turn up all sorts of odd clues.
The Greenbergs would enlist the help of private investigators, as well as Pittsburgh forensic pathologist Cyril H. Wecht and Connecticut forensic scientist Henry Lee, in an effort to find out what had really happened to their daughter. At this time, it would come out that in the weeks leading up to her death, Ellen had shown some rather uncharacteristic behavior, the normally cheerful woman becoming sullen and morose, but every time she was asked about it she had merely dismissed it as nothing and given vague allusions to stress at her job. It was assumed that she had severe anxiety, but she assured those around her that she was happy in her life and marriage. Still, experts did not deem it to be enough to have sparked such violent suicidal thoughts, and there was still the condition of the body to think about. How could she have possibly stabbed herself so deeply, from so many angles and so many times? It didn’t make any sense.
The Greenberg family went about getting their hands on the autopsy reports, photos of Ellen’s body, and reports from the scene of the crime, which they had analyzed by Wecht. The forensic pathologist would take one look at the carnage, blood splatter, and the angles and depth of the cuts and was immediately sure that this was the work of a homicide, later stating “I don’t understand how they wrote this off as a suicide.” Wecht also brought up the fact that suicide victims rarely stab themselves multiple times, and that the wounds were just not consistent with a suicide, stating, “Suicidal stab wounds can rarely be multiple. Stab wounds to the back are unlikely to be suicide.” In addition, Ellen’s wounds were inflicted through the clothing, which were also very rare for suicides, there were no “hesitation cuts,” and the damage from it all was grievous enough that it was seen as unlikely that she could have continued to inflict these stabs on herself.
Adding to all of this is the curious fact that forensic pathologist Wayne Ross examined a fragment of Ellen’s spinal cord and found that the spinal cord had actually been partially severed, which contradicted the original report that it had been merely grazed and that she could have still been able to inflict the wounds on herself after this. According to this new information, after that blow she would have been incapacitated and rendered physically unable to keep stabbing herself. In fact, an official neuropathology report couldn’t even be found, suggesting that the spinal cord had never been examined officially at all, or that the report had been lost or erased. Why should this be and why would the coroner be so evasive on that point? The bruises were also odd, because they indicated someone attacking her, while the police claimed that they had come from contact sports, which Ellen did not play, and there was also found to have been a gash on the back of her head consistent with being struck from behind.
There were a lot of inconsistencies between what police had said and what the Greenbergs’ investigation was turning up, suggesting that authorities had either willingly been elusive or had botched their investigation. A crime scene analyst hired by the Greenbergs, Tom Brennan, a retired 25-year state police veteran and former chief of the Dauphin County Detectives, also found evidence that the body had been moved after death, in the form of a streak of coagulated blood that ran in a horizontal line from her nose to her ear, despite the fact that she had been found propped up in a sitting position against some cabinets, further evidence that she had been murdered, and there was also a suspicious lack of blood at the scene, as if someone had cleaned up. The blood splotch patterns that were there were also consistent with a homicide, according to Brennan. It turned out that the police had actually done very little real analysis of the crime scene at all, and Brennan would express shock at how badly the scene had been analyzed by police, lamenting:
In a case like this, in an apartment complex, it’s basic police work. When you get there, you take a look at the scene and you say, ”Hey you two guys go down and check the trash.” But they never did that. They never did anything. They came in, looked around, said, ”Suicide,” and left.
Through all of this the authorities continued to insist that it was a suicide, but this was seeming to be more and more unlikely. Philadelphia homicide prosecutor Guy D’Andrea, also brought in by the Greenbergs, would say of this, “for every piece of evidence someone could point to and say ‘This was a suicide!’ I think someone could reasonably, on the other end, point to evidence, even that same evidence, that would suggest it was a homicide.” In the meantime, the Greenbergs hired civil rights lawyer Larry Krasner to help them get the case officially reopened in light of their new evidence, but authorities were having none of it. To them this was a suicide, case closed. Another lawyer they hired, Joe Podraza, had a tough time of things as well, dealing with highly uncooperative authorities causing various stalls and roadblocks to seeking justice. He would state his frustration on the state of affairs:
This family has struggled over many years to try and seek the truth..and the fact that they have been met with roadblocks and refusals to even look at what we have is unconscionable. In fact, it’s disgraceful.
Currently, a trial has been scheduled for sometime in 2021, although considering the world situation this is likely to be postponed, so it is still up in the air as to what will become of all of this, and with all of the contradictory information it is unclear whether this was a homicide, suicide, or what. In such a void of answers, conspiracies have swirled. One prominent idea is that Goldberg himself killed her. As evidence it is pointed out that the bruises on Ellen’s body were found to be indicative of repeated beating, and the apartment attendant who helped him to break into the apartment on that fateful day would express suspicion that it seemed odd that Goldberg had been wearing regular boots despite the fact that he had supposedly just been to the gym. There is also the fact that a full hour passed from finding the body to contacting police, and that his 911 call was later described as seeming to be remarkably calm. Why should this be? The fact is, Goldberg has never been considered a person of interest in the case, and probably never will be, so where does that leave us? The police continue to label it as a suicide, but what really happened to Ellen Greenberg and why have authorities been so elusive on it all? Was she killed, and if so by who and why? Although the Greenberg family has continued to push for answers we will probably never know, and it is likely to be doomed to the limbo of speculation for quite some time, a truly mysterious death for the ages.