Grace Packer had suffered unimaginable abuse throughout her short life. She was born on the 14th of August, 2001, and shortly thereafter, her parents lost custody of her as well as her siblings when it was uncovered that they were being sexually abused by other adults in their lives.
Their parents had attempted to fight for custody of them but failed and they were sent to an orphanage. When Grace was 3-years-old she was adopted by Sara Packer and her husband, David Packer. The couple lived in Pennsylvania and adopted Grace’s 1-year-old brother. The couple were said to have fostered 30 children throughout the years. Grace was said to be a warm and caring young girl who was known to befriend children in school who had no friends.
On the 11th of July, 2016, Sara contacted police to report 14-year-old Grace missing. She said to investigators that Grace had taken $300 and ran away from home, alleging that she had ran away beforehand in the past.1
In October of 2016, hunters came across a dismembered body in a wooded area in Luzerne County. The body would be identified as Grace. Investigators on the case would immediately announce that Grace’s adoptive mother, Sara, was a person of interest in the grisly murder. She would be charged with child endangerment and obstruction of the administration of law.2
According to investigators, Sara had been reluctant to provide information to investigators which would assist in the investigation and while she had reported Grace missing, she had allegedly hidden the disappearance from others members in the family. They appealed to the public to come forward with any information they may have regarding the murder. “Even now, months later, someone might remember something that seems insignificant, but it could be a key piece of evidence in solving Grace’s murder,” said Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele.
As investigators had been searching for Grace, Sara had refused to answer their phone calls and when they showed up to the family’s home located on Tennis Avenue, they found that it was vacant. Sara’s behaviour certainly wasn’t indicative of a mother who wanted to find her missing daughter. In fact, an investigation would uncover that Grace and her brother had been withdrawn from school and only her brother was re-enrolled in Quakertown Community School District. In fact, while Grace was missing, Sara had moved her family to Richland Township without informing investigators and had refused to share a photograph of Grace with the investigators until two months after she vanished.
The month after Grace was found murdered, it would be uncovered that Sara had been cashing $3,616.03 worth of Social Security disability checks that were intended for Grace and that same month, they came across a letter which was in Grace’s school records. It was typed and addressed to her family and included an apology for “being a burden.” In the letter, she stated that she was leaving the family. According to investigators, however, it was evident that the letter was not written by Grace but instead, written by an adult.
By this point, Sara and David had split up. Back in 2010, he had been charged with molesting several children when graphic photographs of these sexual assaults were uncovered on his mobile phone.
In early January, it would be revealed that the new boyfriend of Sara, 44-year-old Jacob Sullivan, had been arrested and charged with 19 crimes, including homicide, kidnapping, rape and conspiracy. Sara was also charged with 17 crimes, including homicide, kidnapping, conspiracy and abuse of a corpse. Prosecutors would reveal that Grace had been horrifically abused before being murdered by the couple.
On the 8th of July, Sara and Jacob had driven Grace to their new home in Abington. Upon arrival, Jacob had struck her several times in the face, splitting her lip. They then took Grace into the attic where Jacob sexually assaulted her as her adoptive mother watched. They then drugged her with over-the-counter sleep medication and bound and gagged her before stuffing her into a cedar closet in the extremely hot attic.
Jacob and Sara then left the home and returned at around 3AM, expecting that Grace would be dead from the assault, drugging and the heat. However, they found that Grace was still conscious in the attic. Jacob then wrapped his arm around her neck and suffocated her. The couple would then move Grace’s body to the bathroom where they dismembered her in a bathtub. They attempted to conceal the stench of decomposition with cat litter but eventually stuffed the dismembered body into two plastic totes and dumped them in the forested area where she would later be found.
According to investigators, Jacob and Sara had ben in a polyamorous relationship with another woman. As it would be publicly revealed, she had found Jacob and Sara before their arrest in the bedroom of their home. They had both overdosed in an attempted suicide pact. When Jacob awoke at the hospital, he informed staff that he was responsible for the murder of Grace and implicated Sara. He would reveal that the sexual assault and murder had been planned by both him and Sara, adding that Sara had been planning it for around a year. He also admitted to sexually assaulting Grace twice in the two weeks before her murder.3
In announcing the grisly details of the murder, Bucks County District Attorney Matthew stated: “The hours and the days leading up to her murder were probably the most horrible and traumatic thing that any person should ever have to experience.”
It would later be revealed that sexual abuse had been rife within the household, even before Grace was murdered. David, Sara’s former husband, had sexually abused both Grace and her foster sister. The prosecution believed that Sara had tolerated the sexual abuse and had even enjoyed watching it.4 When David was arrested, this should have been the turning point in Grace’s life. However, Sara just welcomed another sexual predator into her home to prey on her children – Jacob.
Prosecutors would state that Sara was more than an onlooker in the sexual abuse. In fact, they would allege that she was the driving force and had “groomed” Jacob into sexually assaulting Grace. They also contended that she had sexually abused other children who had previously been in her car, including sexually assaulting an underage foster child with her ex-husband, David. They also revealed that they found Facebook messages between herself and another man in which she offered to find him a virgin to sexually assault. As a matter of fact, Sara had fostered at least 30 children over the years.5
Sara would ultimately plead guilty to the murder and was sentenced to life in prison after she accepted a plea deal in which the death penalty was taken off the table. While she was on the witness stand, she had expressed a disdain she felt for Grace, stating: “Grace had become, for lack of a better word, a nonentity. I wanted her to go away.” According to an inmate in the same prison as Sara, she had once commented about Grace: “Ding dong the witch is dead.” It would be uncovered during the court hearing that Grace had been abused by Sara and other men for years before the murder. She had been sexually abused and since she was a toddler, she was mostly confined to her bedroom or a basement and she was regularly beaten.6
Jacob would also plead guilty to the murder. He would state that “Gracie was a nightmare” and the couple just didn’t want to deal with her anymore but wanted to continue receiving the money for her.7 During the sentencing phase, part of Jacob’s confession would be played out in which he could be heard laughing as he recollected how Grace looked to Sara for help when she was being assaulted. He would be sentenced to death. In handing down the sentence, the judge stated: “You have no soul. I have never said that to another human being in my life, and I hope to not say it again.”
In April of 2020, Jacob Sullivan passed away from a cardiac aneurysm in prison. He was 47-years-old.8
- Bucks County Courier Times, 11 July, 2016 – “Sara Packer Files Missing Person Report for Grace”
- The Morning Call, 22 December, 2016 – “Missing Montco Teen Found Dead”
- Bucks County Courier Times, 9 January, 2017 – “Bucks DA on Grace Packer Homicide”
- The Philadelphia Inquirer, 13 January, 2017 – “Sara Packer Knew Husband Had Sexual Contact with Grace’s Foster Sister”
- The Morning Call, 9 March, 2019 – “Killer was Groomed”
- The Morning Call, 28 March, 2019 – “Judge in Sentencing Jacob Sullivan to Death”
- The Morning Call, 22 January, 2018 – “Jacob Sullivan’s Alleged Confession”
- The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1 May, 2020 – “Death Row Killer of 14-Year-Old Grace Packer Dies of Natural Causes”