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Florida Man Strangled Wife, Then Put Her On Train Tracks To Cover Up His Crime
Did a young mother really lie down on train tracks to die by suicide? A shocking answer came when her body was exhumed.
Sheri Morrow, a fun-loving and outgoing Army veteran, came to Crestview, Florida with plans to build a life with her husband, John, and their young daughter.
But in the early morning hours of December 5, 1993, her plans came to a tragic end.
Around 4 a.m. police responded to calls that a freight train had struck a woman who had been lying on the tracks. The victim was eventually identified as 24-year-old Sheri Morrow.
Officials didn’t immediately know if she had positioned herself on there or if foul play had been involved, they told “Accident, Suicide or Murder,” streaming now on Oxygen.com.
The medical examiner’s autopsy found that Sheri had skull and rib fractures. The M.E. sent blood samples to the lab for a toxicology report.
Detectives interviewed Sheri’s husband to find out what happened before her unusual death. Officials learned that the couple hosted a party at their home that went late into the night.
John told detectives that he and his wife were going through a rocky patch in their marriage and that they’d taken a walk during the evening to discuss it. After their talk, he went home and she went to stay with a friend, John told authorities.
By all accounts, Sheri didn’t drink alcohol. But two days after her death, the toxicology report showed her blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit. The report led officials to consider that Sheri’s death was an alcohol-fueled accident -- or a suicide.
Police dug deeper into the couple’s relationship and learned that John “had at least two girlfriends,” investigators told producers. One of those women was at the party the night Sheri died. By then, authorities discovered, Sheri had already started divorce proceedings.
The picture that emerged of John Moore was that of a “young, irresponsible father who basically wanted to live his life the way he wanted to live it,” said investigators.
Then, on December 10, investigators learned that the medical examiner had made an error. Sheri’s blood-alcohol level was actually .00. Investigators wondered if other mistakes could have been made.
The theory that Sheri had died by suicide by the locomotive didn’t quite add up for detectives. But with no new leads to follow, they closed the case and it was ruled a suicide.
However, Lt. Wayne Grandstaff Sr., former patrol supervisor for the Crestview Police Department, believed it was too soon to discard the evidence.
“The evidence custodian brought me back the evidence bag I had turned in,” he said, adding that it contained clothing. “I stuck it in the trunk of my patrol car.”
In 1995, a surprise witness came forward with new information, according to “Accident, Suicide or Murder.” The witness, who was at the Morrow house party, told authorities that he spoke with John after he’d come back from walking with Sheri.
The witness stated that John’s hand was injured and his knuckles were very red and when he asked his friend about it, he said: “‘Well, when we were arguing I got mad and hit a stop sign,’” Bobby Elmore, State Attorney Okaloosa County, told producers.
In light of the new statement, the case was reopened. Officials asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Crime Lab in Pensacola to take a look at the first medical examiner's report.
Based on blood evidence and the presence of rigor mortis shown in the paramedic report, Jan Johnson, retired Florida Law Enforcement Crime Lab Analyst, concluded that Sheri “was already dead” when the train struck.
Forensic findings and blood stain patterns from clothing evidence preserved in the trunk of Grandstaff’s car, along with new witness statements, proved key in the renewed investigation.
The engineer and conductor of another train passing through Crestview around midnight on December 5, 1993 had seen two people, a tall man in a dark trench coat and a woman, walking along the tracks at midnight the night Sheri died, officials learned. When she was found John’s trench coat covered Sheri’s body.
A few months after reopening the case, a man who attended the party, Steven Meek, told police that John told him he planned to take her to the railroad tracks and kill her, investigators told producers.
In April 1997, Sherie’s body was exhumed so that a second autopsy could be done. It revealed that Sheri’s hyoid bone had been fractured, indicating that she’d been strangled.
An injury to the back of her head that had not been documented in the original report was also found. “I believe the injury to the back of the scalp allowed her to go down but not die, which then required the strangulation,” said Dr. Michael Berkland, Okaloosa County Medical Examiner.
In a follow-up police interview Meek said that John confided to him that he’d punched his wife, beat her head against the train tracks, and strangled her before covering her with his trench coat.
In hopes of capturing a confession from John, Meek agreed to wear a wire and record a conversation with his friend over lunch. But Meek immediately told John that it was a trap.
Investigators raced to bring John in for questioning. He denied murdering his wife and said he learned of her death from law enforcement. Despite his repeated denials, John was charged with Sheri’s murder four years after her death.
As prosecutors prepared to present the case to a grand jury, Meek once again flipped the script on them. He claimed that what he had told officials earlier about John confiding in him about killing his wife was a lie.
At this point, police decided to arrest Meek as an accessory to murder after the fact, said Elmore. Ultimately, in a grand jury proceeding, Meek stated that John confessed that he’d killed his wife.
At trial, defense attorneys’ main argument was that Meek, the prime witness, was a known liar. That was a hurdle for prosecutors who also had to address errors in the first autopsy.
During deliberation, the jury couldn’t come to a unanimous verdict for first-degree murder. The panel returned with a verdict of second-degree murder.
In September 1999, the judge used his discretion, based on the circumstances of a case, to sentence outside the guidelines of seven to 22 years. John Morrow was sentenced to life in prison.
To learn more about the case, watch “Accident, Suicide or Murder,” streaming now on Oxygen.com.