The case of Ellen Rae Greenberg is one that has been in the media again recently with a big update, so we decided to cover it. The story originally took place in 2011.
We will start with some background into Ellen. She was born Ellen Rae Greenberg on June 23, 1983. She was an only child and her parents were Joshua and Sandra Greenberg. The family lived in New York City.
Ellen graduated from Penn State as a communications major, and considered becoming a speech pathologist. She ended up going to Temple University to become a teacher. She had recently obtained her Master’s Degree and was certified in Reading speciality.
At the time of her death, Ellen was 27-years-old and she was a first grade teacher at Juniata Park Academy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She lived with her partner Samuel ‘Sam’ Goldberg in an apartment in Manayunk, Philadelphia. Sam was a television producer for NBC and later Golf.com. I believe the couple had been together for 3 years and had become engaged in Summer 2010.
On January 26, 2011, the weather was bad and the school where Ellen taught closed early, so everyone could get home before the blizzard.
There is a really comprehensive website called gavinfish.com – a lot of official documents from the case are housed there. Some of this information about the events of that evening comes from there.
Sam left the apartment at around 4.45pm to go to the gym. From how the ME report reads, Ellen was home – it says he ‘left the decedent to go to the gym’. Interestingly, Sam was wearing Timberland boots to goto the gym – unusual?
The complex where they lived looks really nice and the website states there is a fitness center, so I assume this is the gym he went to?
Sam came back up to their apartment between 5.15 and 5.30pm. He had his keys but was unable to unlock the door as it had been bolted from the inside.
He started to frantically try to get in touch with Ellen. He called her, sent her text messages and emails for around an hour, with no response.
Sam ended up forcing his way inside. He immediately discovered Ellen on the floor of their kitchen. Her upper body was propped against the cabinets and her legs were splayed out in front of her. A call for help was made at 6.33pm. He was briefly told to start CPR but he stopped once he noticed a knife sticking out of Ellen’s chest. Medics responded and pronounced Ellen dead at 6.40pm.
You can hear the 911 call made by Sam here
There are some reports that Samuel called family members before police arrived. One member is reported to be Judge James C. Schwartzman, who is chair of the Ethics and Professional Responsibility Group. Judge Schwartzman was also appointed by Governor Tom Wolf to the Court of Judicial Discipline in May 2018.
According to the podcast on this case by the Prosecutors, Sam called his cousin and then his uncle – the judge we mentioned above. The Uncle arrived at the apartment complex one minute after Sam ended the 911 call.
Just to address some info that is online, some reports say that Sam asked a security guard in the complex to come to the apartment to help him break in. Some articles insinuate a guard was there at the door when Sam broke it down but I believe this to be false. The guard has spoken to reporters and I believe how it went down is that Sam asked for his help and he refused to leave his post as per the protocol of his job. You can’t just be helping anyone break in to an apartment, I guess.
Following an autopsy, Ellen was found to have suffered 20 stab wounds, with 10 found on her back and neck. A knife with a 12.5cm blade was found in her chest at a depth of 10cms. The knife was a Cutco brand steak knife.
You can view more about Ellen’s wounds on the GavinFish.com website
According to the Generation Why podcast, the only DNA on the knife was Ellen’s.
Police interviewed Ellen’s family about her state of mind before she died. Her mother said they had last spoken at 7am on the day of death, while they were both going to work. Sandra said their conversation was pleasant.
Sandra did say that Ellen had been ‘struggling with something’ since the end of 2010 and that she had urged her to get some help. It is also believed that Ellen told her parents she wanted to move back home, a month before she died.
Ellen had begun seeing a psychiatrist, Ellen Berman. To avoid confusion, we will just refer to Ellen Berman as the psychiatrist. Ellen Greenberg attended only three appointments with the new psychiatrist – January 12, 17 and 19 so just days before she died essentially. Another appointment had been scheduled for January 27. The psychiatrist said that Ellen presented with severe anxiety that she had been experiencing for two months.
The psychiatrist said that Ellen was having trouble at work and that she felt pressured and overwhelmed. Ellen had also been struggling with some difficult students and she wasnt sure whether she should quit her job or attempt to work it out.
The psychiatrist was in the process of developing a treatment plan for Ellen. Ellen’s mother had also been in touch with the psych, as she had expressed her concerns about her daughter.
The psychiatrist has said that there were never any suicidal thoughts expressed by Ellen and that she had only good things to say about Sam. The psychiatrist asked if Samuel had ever been abusive and Ellen denied that there had been any verbal or physical abuse.
Ellen was uneasy about taking medication and was first prescribed zoloft. She then switched to Xanax.
I assume these must have been prescribed to Ellen prior to her engaging with this psychiatrist as the timeframe for trying and switching medications seems short? Ellen apparently had no success with either medication and was prescribed ambien and Klonopin by the psychiatrist to help her to sleep.
The death investigation report into Ellen’s case notes that she was ‘anxious, insecure, not sure of herself and was not liking how she felt.’
Interestingly, the day of Ellen’s death was the same that the school grades were due to be handed in.
Police searched Ellen’s computer for any clues as to what happened to her.
In December 2020 she (or someone using her computer) searched for or read about the following:
Sex Fantasy Death
Sertraline Weight Gain
Electrocuted to death trying to twitter in the bath
Following the autopsy, the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office initially ruled the case as a homicide.
However, the next day, the Philadelphia Police Department backtracked and stated that, “the death of Ellen Greenberg has not been ruled a homicide…Homicide investigators are considering the manner of death as suspicious at this time.”
The case was reversed and officially ruled a suicide in February 2011.
One year after Ellen died, in January 2012, Cyril Wecht gave his opinion on the case.
If you’re not familiar with Cyril, he always seems to pop up on true crime TV and media. He is probably best known his criticism of the Warren Commission’s findings concerning the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
There is a five page document of his review and findings on the Gavin Fish site- we will just review the conclusion for brevity.
Forensic Scientist Henry Lee (known for testifying for the defense in the OJ Simpson also had the same opinion as Dr Wecht:
“[t]he number and types of wounds and bloodstain patterns observed are consistent with a homicide scene.
In October 2019, Ellen’s parents filed a civil suit against the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office and Dr. Marlon Osbourne, the pathologist who conducted the autopsy, in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. They requested that Ellen’s manner of death be changed from suicide to homicide or undetermined.
“We want to see justice prevail. She would never hurt herself and she would never hurt anyone else. She was a kind, loving, ray of sunshine,” Sandra said.
One of the key arguments in the suit came from new pieces of evidence: a 3D anatomical recreation illustrating the size, depth, and length of each wound, including her spinal cord.
“The key wound in this whole thing is the spinal wound. And from what I know, the spinal wound on the back of neck, was in an upward direction severing the spine, possibly damaging the brain,” Josh said.
“If you tried to do that yourself and put it behind your back, very hard to do,” he added.
In January 2020, a Philadelphia judge ruled that Ellen’s parents could move forward with a lawsuit against the city’s medical examiner to get her official cause of death removed from the record.
“There’s a murderer out there. A killer. Somebody who brutally attacked somebody, with multiple stab wounds and let her bleed to death and left her for dead,” Josh said.
The Greenberg’s retained an attorney named Joe Podraza and he said.
“Some of the wounds are virtually impossible to be self-inflicted and certainly at least two of the wounds from behind are so devastating as to render Ellen incapable of defending herself and could have been by themselves sufficient to kill her.”
He also said those two wounds are to the back of the neck and would have rendered Ellen paralyzed.
He plans to prove that through technology called photogrammetry when the case heads to trial.
“What we have done is we have literally transposed all of Ellen’s dimension; from height, weight, everything and each of the wounds that she has sustained. From their exact length, their exact depth and exact angle of entry with the weapon,” Joe said.
The attorney also spoke about the legal process. “According to the trial court, a trial is needed because there are factual disputes which the court believes if are resolved in the Greenberg’s favor, has to require the death certificate to be changed from suicide to something else,” Joe told NBC10.
The Attorney General released a statement around the 10th anniversary of Ellen’s death “Our hearts go out to the Greenberg family on the anniversary of Ellen‘s traumatic death. At the urging of the family and following a conflict referral from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office in 2018, our office reviewed the case and conducted an extensive investigation that did not uncover evidence to change the medical examiner’s finding of suicide. There is no statute of limitation on homicide, however, and if any new evidence is brought forward we believe it should be reviewed by the proper authorities. At this time, no such information has been shared with our office.”
The trial for this was scheduled to begin in 2021 but I don’t think it ever happened. Joe Podraza said in December 2021 that his team provided “numerous additional materials to the AG’s Office in response to the AG’s statement to the press that the AG would review new material if the material was supplied.”
This info from Dec 2021 is from Dateline:
Podraza told Dateline that the materials included the apartment building surveillance video, the declarations of two building employees, and the videotaped depositions of Drs. Gulino, Osbourne and Emery of the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office. It was Dr. Emery, a pathologist in the Medical Examiner’s Office in 2019 trained in neuropathology, who previously testified that a specimen of Ellen’s cervical spine retained from the original autopsy contained one of Ellen’s stab wounds.
“According to Dr. Emery, the preserved wound Emery examined in 2019 was administered when Ellen had no pulse – she was already dead,” Podraza said.
He went on to explain that “this wound was not the last stab wound Ellen sustained because a knife was found embedded in Ellen’s chest when emergency personnel arrived on the scene.”
“We remain dumbfounded about how a person could self-inflict at least two separate stab wounds when dead,” he added.
Josh Greenberg told Dateline that the evidence clearly points to the fact that his daughter was stabbed after she had died, and that she had not died by suicide.
“If they’re postmortem that means they were done after death and Ellen could not have done them,” he said.
Joe Podraza also spoke to Fox and gave some similar commentary:
“The neuropathologist…testified that the wound in the sample that remains from Ellen’s spine is a post-mortem wound, or one that was administered after she was
dead and had no pulse,” he said. “If you consider that was not the last wound, because the knife was found in her chest, you’d have to then agree that Ellen, while she was dead, somehow proceeded to stab herself in the back of the head, pull the knife out and then stab herself in the chest — all without a pulse.”
In August 2022, Ellen’s parents spoke to Fox news and gave some more info about why they believed their daughter’s death was homicide.
She had defensive wounds on her wrist that went unacknowledged in the original autopsy, her body had been moved, and her left hand was gripping the knife in her chest – although she was right-handed. Evidence also suggested she suffered stab wounds from two distinct knives, they said, but only the one stuck in her chest was recovered.
There was evidence that the scene had been staged and her body had been moved – including that the dried blood would have dripped sideways across her face if she’d died in the position she was found.
And according to a statement from the former building manager provided by Brennan, the family’s private investigator, a crime scene cleanup crew came in and washed the apartment – before forensic investigators had a chance to look through it.
There is also some interesting info in the Fox article about Dr Marlon Osbourne, the pathologist who originally handled Ellen’s case.
During a 2021 deposition as part of a civil lawsuit Greenberg’s filed over the suicide designation, former Medical Examiner Dr. Sam Gulino testified that he’d received no complaints about Dr. Marlon Osbourne, pathologist in his office who handled Greenberg’s case.
But department records showed Osbourne was named in at least three reprimands, according to Brennan. In one, his supervisor, Dr. Gary Collins, pointed out “serious and dangerous flaws” in Osbourne’s autopsy work, including missing the signs of manual strangulation on a victim who, in photographs, clearly had been strangled, among other mistakes.
“Dr. Osbourne, these major discrepancies show an obvious lack of care for your work,” Collins wrote.
In September 2022, the Chester County District Attorney announced that it would be reviewing Ellen’s case.
In July, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office released a statement saying it could no longer review a case because of an unspecified “appearance of a conflict” of interest. The Chester County District Attorney’s Office subsequently announced the case is being reviewed by an investigator and a prosecutor.
“It is no surprise that the Greenbergs were greatly dissatisfied with the AG’s handling of their daughter’s matter,” Attorney Joseph Podraza, Jr., who represents the Greenberg family, said in a statement to PEOPLE. “They are hopeful the investigation by the Chester County DA will be thorough and objective. They will cooperate and provide whatever assurance that can to the Chester County DA if and when requested. They are hopeful for justice for Ellen.”
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office statement from July ends with a message to Greenberg’s family:
“We wish Ellen’s family nothing but the best and our office regrets that, despite our extensive work, our additional efforts have not brought more closure to the questions around her death.”
Clips used in the podcast episode
One thought on “Ellen Rae Greenberg – murder or suicide?”
I feel sad about this story. Whatever the investigation result, I hope she is in a good place right now. Rest and peace.