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Teacher's Stabbing Death Was Ruled Suicide — But Parents Are Suing, Claiming Murder

Ellen Greenberg, a Pennsylvania teacher, died almost a decade ago. She was found stabbed 20 times.

By Dorian Geiger
Ellen Rae Greenberg

When police found Pennsylvania teacher Ellen Greenberg’s lifeless body on her apartment kitchen floor with a serrated knife lodged several inches deep in her chest on a winter evening nearly a decade ago, authorities ultimately ruled her death a suicide.

Ellen, a popular elementary school teacher with an infectious smile, had returned home early to her apartment just outside Philadelphia on Jan. 26, 2011, due to it being a snow day, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. 

When detectives found her, there were no defensive wounds on her body, nor any DNA found at the crime scene other than her own. The only entrance to the apartment was a balcony, but the woman’s residence was several stories up, and there were no footprints in the fresh snow outside. Her fiancé had reportedly been at the gym at the time of Greenberg’s death and the woman’s apartment had supposedly been locked from the inside. 

But it wasn’t exactly case closed.

And a new civil case filed by the woman’s parents, who are pleading with state authorities to reverse the ruling on their daughter’s death, alleges the 27-year-old didn’t kill herself — and that she was murdered — according to court documents obtained by Oxygen.com.

“There are too many questions unanswered,” Joseph Podraza, Jr., the family’s lawyer, told Oxygen.com. 

Since the woman’s passing nearly a decade ago, Sandee and Josh Greenberg, the late teacher’s parents, have tirelessly petitioned local and state authorities to reverse the cause of their daughter’s death. 

“There was never any reason to suspect suicide in any way, shape, or form,” Ellen’s mother, Sandee Greenberg, 63, told Oxygen.com in April.

The Greenbergs insist their daughter was brutally murdered at the hands of another, and they’ve spent the past eight years hiring a handful of forensic investigators, pathologists, and legal experts to overturn the ruling. 

Ellen Rae Greenberg

“The family is motivated to understand what actually happened to Ellen,” Podraza added. “They have good reason not to be satisfied. The rationale for suicide hasn’t really held up really well when mildly examined against the facts as we know them.” 

The civil case was filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on Oct. 15.

The defendant in the civil case is Dr. Marlon Osbourne, the medical examiner who originally ruled Ellen’s death a homicide, but then flip flopped, determining it was a suicide following police statements repudiating his findings regarding the investigation. 

“We want him to examine the old evidence with the new evidence and change the selection of manner of death from suicide to either could not be determined, or homicide, his original selection,” Podraza explained.

“I’m happy we’re progressing,” Ellen's father, Joshua Greenberg told Oxygen.com. “I’m nervous about outcomes. I think we’ve got a great case but you just never know."

A 2018 review of the case by the state attorney general’s office is still fresh in Joshua’s mind. Officials, then, too, determined that Greenberg had committed suicide, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

“I’m a little skeptical,” Joshua added. “I think we’re moving along finally. The attorney general, the district attorney, the police in Philadelphia, and the medical examiner should all be holding our hands working to get the truth out, and they’re not.”

The civil filing alleges that a second knife was used in Ellen’s death. The case is also asking the court to re-examine the original medical report by Dr. Osbourne, which despite his suicide ruling, had also detailed “a number of unexplained bruises covering Ellen’s body ‘in various stages of resolution.’”

Osbourne, who now operates a private practice in Fort Lauderdale, didn’t respond to Oxygen.com’s request for comment.

In the immediate aftermath of the young woman’s death, investigators didn’t find a suicide note or “anything indicative of suicide on the computers or in the rest of the apartment,” according to a medical examiner’s 2011 investigation, the Philadelphia Inquirer also reported.

Although she had been struggling with personal issues around the time of her death  — supposedly related to the stresses of work and her upcoming marriage — her family said, the 27-year-old educator was known to be an upbeat and happy person. Greenberg also reportedly filled her vehicle’s gas tank up hours before she was killed. 

But perhaps most puzzling were the volume of knife wounds Greenberg suffered. She had been stabbed a total of 20 times. Ten of those wounds, investigators said, were found on her neck and back, which most forensic experts generally agree is not typically indicative of suicide.

“Stab wounds to the back are unlikely to be suicide,” wrote Cyril Wecht, a forensic expert who studied the case in 2012.

Further, independent investigators learned that one of Ellen’s stab wounds had punctured her cranial cavity, which they suspect would have either killed her or rendered her unconscious, thereby preventing her from continuing the alleged assault on her body — and ultimately plunging a knife into her chest.

“She chickened out [of getting her ears pierced]—she didn't’ like pain, her own pain,” Joshua told Oxygen.com earlier this spring. “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?”

For the Harrisburg couple, this personal, traumatic, and deeply emotional crusade, has become a daily battle, but the late teacher’s father is confident the civil case may finally lead to some answers.

“I equate this to cancer, you go through different stages,” Joshua told Oxygen.com, referring to the years of legal tug-of-war the family has gone through while searching to know for sure how how their daughter died.

He signaled the civil case as a potential turning point in his family’s journey. 

“I’m now in the remission stage — justice for my daughter,” he added. 

No court date has been set for the civil case, as of yet.

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