Ellen Greenberg's death at 27 was deemed a suicide by police at the scene. It was a suicide unlike many experts involved had ever seen, however, and the case was far from over.
Ellen's parents, Josh and Sandee Greenberg, have fought for almost a decade in hope that their daughter's death will be re-investigated, they told “Accident, Suicide or Murder,” streaming now on Oxygen.
Ellen was discovered by her fiancé, Samuel Goldberg, on Jan. 26, 2011. She was alone in her Philadelphia apartment, slumped against her kitchen cabinets. Goldberg immediately called 911 and, when he began to perform CPR on Ellen, he discovered a chef's knife lodged in her chest.
There was no need for an ambulance — she was already dead. Ellen had suffered 20 stab wounds, including to the back of her neck, before dying.
Josh and Sandee were snowed in at their home in Harrisburg, about two hours west, when they got the call from Goldberg.
Sandee said she was in shock at the news: “All I know is my world went dark, and I have no daughter,” Sandee told producers.
Police deemed Ellen's death a suicide before an autopsy was performed. She had no apparent defensive wounds, and her apartment was locked from the inside. Even though Ellen's wounds appeared difficult for her to have inflicted on herself, police could find no signs of someone else being in the apartment, according to “Accident, Suicide or Murder.”
After Ellen's autopsy, however, the medical examiner attributed her death to homicide, due to the nature of her wounds. It would have likely been difficult for Ellen to drive the chef's knife into her chest with enough force for it to stay there — especially with the wounds she had already suffered, according to “Accident, Suicide or Murder.”
The police department took the unusual position of contradicting the medical examiner and maintained that Ellen had taken her own life. They also looked into her possible psychological state before her death. Josh told producers that Ellen had been dealing with anxiety for months before her death and had been prescribed anti-anxiety medication, as well as Ambien.
Her psychiatrist's notes from the last session before she died, however, clearly stated that Ellen was “not suicidal,” her parents told producers. And “things seemed to be OK” with Ellen during a visit two weeks before her death, Sandee said.
Ellen’s psychiatrist also told police that there was no evidence of abuse in Ellen and Goldberg’s relationship, Oxygen.com reported. Josh and Sandee insisted that their daughter’s fiancé was a “fine young man.”
“There was never any reason to suspect suicide in any way, shape or form.” Sandee told Oxygen.com in an interview last year. Her dad also maintained that Ellen was “anxious, but she was still happy.”
The medical examiner sent a portion of Ellen's spinal column to an outside lab to be analyzed and perhaps provide the last word on her death — if the most severe wound to the back of Ellen's neck had penetrated deep enough, it likely would have caused paralysis and precluded her stabbing herself further.
About three months after Ellen's death, the medical examiner's office walked back their initial finding, according to “Accident, Suicide or Murder.” Their report indicated that the wound to the back of her neck was not severe enough to cause paralysis, and it was possible for her to have performed the rest of the stabbing.
The Greenbergs told Oxygen.com in 2019 there was no way their daughter, who was known to be squeamish, could stab herself in the back 10 times.
“She chickened out [of getting her ears pierced] — she didn’t like pain, her own pain,” Josh said. “The whole thing, it just didn’t make sense. When we found out certain facts along the way — she had wounds on her back. How do you do that?”
The Greenbergs claim they were never given a full explanation for the medical examiner's reversal, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. And so, they embarked on their own investigation at great personal expense, filing lawsuits and hiring experts to look again at the circumstances of Ellen's death and her autopsy report.
Josh and Sandee commissioned independent reports by famed forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht and forensic scientist Henry Lee, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Both disputed the medical examiner’s re-reversal to suicide.
“It is my professional opinion that the manner of the death of Ellen Greenberg is strongly suspicious of homicide,” Wecht wrote in his report. He noted that Ellen did not appear to be suicidal and did not leave a note, and that the stab wounds on the back of her neck were “unlikely” to be self-inflicted.
“We have to get the cause of death changed,” Tom Brennan, a former detective hired by the Greenbergs, told “Accident, Suicide or Murder.” “Then we can go about the whodunnit.”
Montgomery County coroner and dean of the School of Health Science at the Philadelphia College of Ostepathic Medicine Gregory McDonald conducted an inquiry on behalf of the Inquirer, Oxygen.com reported in 2019.
He said that Ellen’s superficial stab wounds could be consistent with suicide.
“When someone is self-inflicting these wounds, oftentimes they’ll stab themselves superficially first to kind of see what it feels to them, and then they’ll go deeper and deeper as they progress with the self-inflicted wounds,” he told Oxygen.com.
Still, he was bothered by the deeper stab wounds and other marks that could indicate a knife attack. He also noted that Ellen had been stabbed through her clothing — unusual for a suicide.
Ellen’s case was one of the most unusual suicide investigations he’s worked on in a long career, he said.
The Greenbergs' push for answers still goes on to this day, as Ellen's cause of death remains officially suicide. But they believe her death scene was staged and that a murderer still walks free.
“The truth will prevail,” Sandee told producers.
For more shocking details about Ellen's apartment, autopsy, and what experts found when they re-examined the case, watch the season premiere of “Accident, Suicide or Murder” now at Oxygen.com.
New episodes air Saturdays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
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