PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It’s a story that’s grabbing regional and national headlines. A Pennsylvania family’s fight for answers: was Ellen Greenberg’s death a suicide or a homicide? The experts don’t agree and the family wants their loved one’s case reopened.
Josh and Sandee Greenberg have struggled to find answers.
“Everything we’re doing is for her. Her death has left a hole in our life. The term we use is ‘justice for Ellen,'” Ellen’s father, Josh Greenberg, said.
Eight years ago, their daughter, Ellen Greenberg, was engaged and her “save the date” invitations had just landed in people’s mailboxes.
“We were planning a wedding, we had found her gown,” Sandee Greenberg said. “She loved people. She loved life.”
But on Jan. 26, 2011, the Greenbergs’ joy was cut short. Ellen was found dead in her Manayunk apartment, stabbed 20 times.
“There was shock, there was surprise,” Josh Greenberg said.
But that was only the beginning. More surprises would follow for the Greenbergs.
On scene in 2011, police treated Ellen Greenberg’s death as a suicide. But during the investigation, the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office would rule her death a homicide, only to switch that ruling later.
“We found out that the cause and manner of death was changed to suicide, which I thought — didn’t make sense to us,” Sandee Greenberg said.
After years of trying to get someone to listen to their concerns, Eyewitness News was there as the Greenbergs met with the chief medical examiner in University City, who agreed to review their daughter’s case.
“He listened to what we said, he listened to questions we had,” Josh Greenberg said. “Hopefully, they will agree with what we have found – a preponderance of evidence showing that this was a homicide and not a suicide.”
Ellen Greenberg’s case has a long and controversial history. According to the medical examiner’s investigation report back in 2011, Greenberg came home from work as a first-grade teacher at Juniata Park Academy to her sixth-floor apartment at the Venice Lofts.
Her fiancé left to go to the gym. The report says when he came home, the swing bar lock was engaged.
After attempts to reach Greenberg by phone, he forced the door open and found her body in the kitchen.
She was stabbed 20 times. Half of the wounds were to the back of her neck.
“You talk to any reasonable person, and they all say, ‘What the hell is going on?'” retired Pennsylvania State Trooper Tom Brennan said.
Brennan logged 25 years with the Pennsylvania State Police and worked at the FBI’s behavioral science unit in Quantico, Virginia. Now retired, he has worked nearly seven years pro bono with the Greenbergs investigating their daughter’s death.
“I said, ‘This is a homicide,'” Brennan said.
But the ME’s report says there was no sign of a struggle. Nothing was obviously missing or disturbed and only Ellen’s DNA was found on the knife in her chest. And she had no defense injuries to her hands or forearms.
Still, Brennan says none of that proves this was suicide.
“Didn’t they hear of blitz? Where a victim doesn’t get the opportunity to defend themselves,” Brennan said.
The 2011 report also says investigators found no suicide note. Greenberg was seeing a psychiatrist in the month leading up to her death and was prescribed Ambien and Klonopin.
In an interview, the psychiatrist told investigators she had “severe anxiety” but “there was never any feeling of suicidal thoughts.”
“No pain was Ellen’s middle name,” Josh Greenberg said.
Ellen’s parents are convinced that their daughter was getting the help she needed and would never harm herself.
“We always said ‘I love you’ back and forth. And I know that morning I ended it with, ‘I love you more, more, more, more, more.’ So, that made me feel good,” Sandee said.
Ellen’s former fiancé could not be reached for comment.
Eyewitness News also reached out to the Philadelphia Police Department. They declined to comment and referred CBS3 to the state attorney general’s office.
Ellen’s case landed there just last year.
In a statement, spokesperson Joe Grace says the state AG’s office conducted a thorough investigation to determine a manner of death.
“Following the initial 2011 investigation carried out by the Philadelphia Police Department, our office received this case in 2018 on a conflict referral from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. We conducted our own thorough investigation to determine a manner of death—interviewing the chief medical examiner of Philadelphia, and the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, meeting with the family’s representatives, and reviewing information they provided to our attorneys, among other steps,” Grace said. “Among the additional evidence we reviewed were web searches for “methods of committing suicide,” “quick death” and “depression” which were done on Ms. Greenberg’s personal computer in the weeks before her death, and text messages between Ms. Greenberg and a family member (her mother) shortly before her death showing the decedent in serious mental distress. Our Office has concluded that this evidence supports “Suicide” as the manner of death; accordingly, we have communicated our findings to the family through its representatives and have closed this investigation.”
The AG has closed the investigation. And at this time, the Greenbergs have not heard a response from the Philly ME’s office.