COLD CASE FILES: The Murder of Sarah Gibbs
Police are sharing new details with WSBT 22 in the Warsaw murder of a 34-year-old autistic woman last year.
They say this is not a cold case but most leads have been exhausted. In fact, investigators have received fewer than five tips since it happened. They hope by shining a light on the case, they can find answers for her family.
"She liked to toddle over to the record things and pull out her favorite album and give it to one of us to put on the stereo for her," recalls Howard Gibbs of his daughter Sarah. She was 3-years-old at the time.
"Her first words were 'Sign Here Become a Millionaire,' which was the first words of her favorite album at the time," Howard chuckles, then gets choked up.
When he and his wife, Betty, think about the memories of their daughter, it is easy to chuckle -- but it's easy to cry too.
Sarah would have been 35 this year. Howard and Betty are proud of what she had accomplished: flourishing on her own and embracing independence, all while living with autism.
"Sweet and innocent, no enemies," says Betty of her daughter, "wouldn't know how to be unkind. She was everything that was good in the world."
"It was a cowardly act committed to a defenseless woman. It has got to be eating away at somebody's conscience," says Warsaw Police Detective, Ryan Moore.
Just days before Christmas last year, on December 19th, Sarah was found dead. Her body was badly burned inside her Warsaw duplex. An autopsy determined she had been murdered and the apartment was set on fire.
"We know what happened," says Moore, "we don't exactly how it transpired."
Police say, that evening, Sarah was visited by a housing assistance worker.
"She even told us she asked Sarah if she would like her to lock the door behind her and she said yes please and she locked and closed the door behind her," says Moore. Moore says phone records match the housing workers description of her activity. That worker left Sarah's apartment at 7:00 p.m.
Around 11 p.m., the neighbors in the adjoining duplex smelled smoke and went to investigate. They told police, when they opened the door to Sarah's apartment they saw a flash. Police believe the fire had been smoldering for 20 to 40 minutes at that point. A 911 call was made to police at 11:14 p.m.
"The fire had extinguished itself -- or the flame was out. And when they were able to open the door to see if anyone was inside. They say they saw a flash and basically it gave the fire its oxygen and it made it flash again," says Moore.
That fire destroyed the home and much of the evidence.
"Someone's intention of fire, especially after committing an act of murder is to hide the evidence or to destroy it," says Moore.
Police did not find a weapon. Still, investigators say there were clues. Sarah's body was found in the living room, where she spent a lot of time watching her favorite shows. The side door was unlocked with no signs of forced entry and an accelerant had been used. Police have also pulled surveillance video from nearby businesses.
Moore says there is also evidence being processed at the state crime lab -- but he wouldn't speak to specifics.
"There are details in the case that law enforcement know and the person that committed the act know. Due to where we are in the case, unfortunately I am not allowed to share those details," says Moore.
Moore says Sara was dead before the fire started and while he won't share details about how she was murdered, Sarah's family says she was stabbed to death. Her parents believe, whomever did this to Sarah that night, would have had blood on them and smelled of smoke.
Police say Sarah would have been an easy target. She lived alone and walked everywhere she went. Because of her autism, she kept her life routine.
"It would have been very easy for someone to know that she lived alone. It would have been very easy for someone to know her daily routine and probably follow her without her being aware of it," says Moore, "it would have been very easy for someone to have stalked Sarah. She had very set patterns in her life."
Adding to the difficulty of this case, Sarah has no digital trail. She didn't have a cell phone, internet, or any social media accounts. Her land-line phone records indicate she only talked with a small group of friends and family and police say they are not suspects.
Moore says there are no suspects in this case.
Accepting Sarah's Death
Sara's family is coping as well as they can.
"It's just devastating," says Betty, "wake up every morning it is the first thing you think of. Trying to figure out how to live without her."
And while answers would help, her parents know, it won't bring Sara back.
"It's the hardest thing we have ever gone through," says Howard.
Do you know what happened to Sarah Gibbs?
There is a $10,000 reward for anyone with information that will help solve this crime.
If you have any information on this case, you are asked to call Crimestoppers or the Warsaw Police Department.
Crimestoppers: (574) 288-STOP or 800-342-STOP
Warsaw Police: (574) 372-9511