Greenhalgh homicide remains a mystery

Sarah Libbey Greenhalgh

Sarah Libbey Greenhalgh

The death of Sarah Libbey Greenhalgh three years ago remains an unsolved mystery as the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office continues its investigation and her mother waits patiently for a break in the case.

Greenhalgh, 48, a reporter for the Winchester Star, was found dead on July 9, 2012, in the burning cottage she rented at 1208 Dunvegan Drive in Upperville.

Information about the investigation has been hard to come by. The Sheriff’s Office ruled her death a homicide within hours of her death, but little else has been disclosed about the investigation since the release of an autopsy report that concluded Greenhalgh died of a gunshot wound to the neck.

The Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office has a suspect who officials have refused to identify.

Lt. James N. Hartman said his agency is continuing the investigation with the help of the state forensics laboratory.

“There’s no new details I can share or report one way or another,” Hartman said. “We’re working with the Division of Forensic Science, and it’s very active.”

Hartman refused to answer further questions, citing the need to withhold information that, if it became public, could complicate and compromise the investigation.

A Warrenton attorney, Scott Hook, said in July 2012 that a client of his at the time, John Sheldon Kearns, had been questioned for several hours by law enforcement officials a few days after Greenhalgh’s death. Kearns’ questioners accused him of committing a crime linked to Greenhalgh’s death, Hook said.

Hook said he would “categorize” the intensity of the questioning as typically reserved for someone considered a suspect.

Court documents filed in Prince William County also list Kearns as the subject of at least two search warrants connected to the Greenhalgh investigation. Details of the search warrants remain under seal. Another search warrant was executed at Kearns’ Gainesville residence shortly after Greenhalgh’s death.

Greenhalgh’s mother, Sara Lee Greenhalgh of Poolesville, Maryland, said she remained hopeful the case will eventually be solved.

“I have faith and confidence in them and have been in touch with them regularly,” she said of Fauquier County detectives.

She said the passage of time hasn’t dimmed memories of her daughter or the sense of loss that came with her death. Recent news of an increase in coffee prices reminded Sara Lee Greenhalgh of her daughter’s regular visits to Starbucks.

“She loved her coffee and of course it’s going up in price so something as simple as that, all day long, reminds me of her,” she said. “She had to have her Starbucks every day.”

Sarah Libbey Greenhalgh’s late father, William, taught at Georgetown University Law School and was well-known in legal circles in the Washington area. Father and daughter would both understand the need for thoroughness in the investigation into her death, Sara Lee Greenhalgh said.

“As a strong a person,” she said of her daughter, “she would like to have had something done about it sooner, but she would also like it done correctly. My husband taught criminal law at Georgetown, and he would have known it has to be done correctly.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or

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