She died from 20 stab wounds, but it was ruled a suicide. Ellen Greenberg’s parents are fighting for justice

In January 2011, Ellen Greenberg was found with a 10-inch knife lodged in her chest. It was ruled a suicide but the 27-year-old’s parents say that’s impossible and are now taking their fight to the Pennsylvania supreme court. Andrea Cavallier reports

Monday 09 October 2023 22:21 BST

Joshua and Sandra Greenberg do not believe their daughter died by suicide, and they’ve spent nearly 13 years trying to prove she didn’t stab herself over 20 times.

“Our daughter did not commit suicide — we know that. She was murdered,” Mr Greenberg told The Independent. “They [the courts] have blatantly said the investigation was faulty on the part of the police, on the part of the medical examiner, on the part of the district attorney.”

After losing a recent court ruling in their attempt to have her cause of death changed, the Greenbergs are now preparing to take their fight to the Pennsylvania supreme court.

“We may have lost this battle, but we’re going to win the war,” Mr Greenberg said.

On 26 January 2011, Ellen Greenberg was found dead by her fiancé, Samuel Goldberg, in the kitchen of the apartment they shared in Manayunk, Philadelphia. She was slumped against the cabinets, her legs splayed out in front of her.

The 27-year-old elementary school teacher had at least 20 stab wounds, many to the back of her head and neck. A 10-inch knife was lodged in her chest.

Her death was initially ruled a homicide by the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office but after police publicly disputed the findings, it was switched to suicide.

According the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office investigation report obtained by Philly.com, Greenberg’s death was treated as a suicide because the apartment door was locked from the inside and there were no signs of an intruder.

Her fiancé, Mr Goldberg, had come home from the gym during a blizzard to discover that he was locked out of the apartment, and was unable to use his keys because the door’s swing bar lock was engaged from the inside, the report claimed. When he finally forced open the door, he found Greenberg’s body on the kitchen floor and placed a panicked 911 call around 6:30pm.

Responding Philadelphia officers treated Greenberg’s death as a suicide, and the apartment was not sealed off as a crime scene.

The very next day, following an autopsy, Philadelphia pathologist Dr. Marlon Osbourne of the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s office ruled her death a homicide, citing “multiple stab wounds by an unknown person.”

But by that time, her apartment had been cleaned and sanitized. It was 28 January before detectives and a forensics team returned with a search warrant as part of their investigation.

With little evidence to go on, the case stalled. Months later, on 11 April, the pathologist who performed the initial autopsy amended Greenberg’s death certificate, changing the manner of death to suicide.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the medical examiner was told that police were “leaning” toward suicide and looking at “mental issues” Greenberg might have had.

Records show Greenberg was being treated for anxiety at the time, but the family’s experts hired over the years have found it’s unlikely her medications contributed to suicidal thoughts.

Sandra “Sandee” Greenberg said she spoke to her daughter on the phone the morning of her death and said everything seemed fine.

“She was brutally murdered, stabbed once, twice, 20 times,” Ms Greenberg said of their only child. “That’s rage. She did not do that to herself.”

Through the years, the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania couple have fought to change the ruling, by enlisting in their team of experts and conducting an investigation that disputed the suicide finding, and say it was changed at the insistence of the police.

“The way the authorities and the politicians are handling her case is a disgrace,” Ms Greenberg told The Independent. “I want her name cleared. What I really want people to know is Ellen was our daughter, but she could be your daughter. She could be your mother, sister, friend. Think about what you would do.”

For more than a decade now, the Greenbergs have been fighting to have her manner of death changed from suicide back to either homicide or undetermined manner of death, alleging in civil lawsuits that it was reversed after a closed-door meeting with city police.

In 2019, they filed a civil lawsuit against the Medical Examiner’s Office and pathologist Marlon Osbourne, seeking to have the manner of their daughter’s death changed.

But in a 2-1 decision last month, a Pennsylvania appellate court ruled that the Greensbergs do not have standing to sue the city of Philadelphia over the investigation into her death. The Commonwealth court did not rule on whether the manner of death could or should be changed, and criticised the investigation into Ellen’s death.

The panel said that while they were “acutely aware of the deeply flawed investigation of the victim’s death by the City of Philadelphia Police Department detectives, the City of Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, and the Medical Examiner’s Office, we have no choice under the law,” and instead sent it back to the lower courts for further action.

A computerized rendering shows several of Ellen Greenberg’s stab wounds

“Even so, in the interests of justice, we believe that providing a detailed review of the Victim’s death and the ensuing investigation is clearly warranted with hopes that equity may one day prevail for the Victim and her loved ones,” wrote Judge Elaine Ceisler in the 13 September ruling.

The “deeply flawed” investigation included a crime scene cleanup that happened before the forensics team arrived and sealed it off, according to appellate court documents.

But the Greenbergs say they’re not giving up. Now, they are taking their fight to the state supreme court.

Their attorney Joseph Podraza told The Independent he’s optimistic that they will get “justice for Ellen.”

“We believe the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will accept the case and ultimately will reverse the decision based on the reason in the Dissenting Opinion,” he added.

“As I read all of the opinions, the majority and the dissenting, everyone seems to agree that there’s a homicide here. It is very distressing when you hear a court say there is nothing that can be done about it.”

The case was previously with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office but due to conflicts of interest was switched to the Chester County District Attorney.

In a statement to CBS News, The City of Philadelphia said they are pleased the court agreed with them.

“If Mr. and Mrs. Greenberg have new evidence about their daughter’s death, we urge them to present it to the investigators in Chester County, as they have the authority to reopen the investigation in this case.”

The Greenbergs have also filed suit against the city to force the release of surveillance video from the public hallways in the apartment that was collected by the police.

“We used to lie awake wondering why this happened to us, to our only child,” Ms Greenberg said. “Now we ask how did we end up here, in this situation, 13 years later, still asking for justice, still asking someone to care.”

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