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Murder is always an unfathomable act — but when it's committed against a family member, it seems even more incomprehensible. But that's exactly what Sarah Mitchell did to a sister who had looked out for her time and time again.
On July 1, 1997 in Oakland, California, a woman named Monica Joy Boyette heard a knock on her door. It was a woman asking her for help, a woman she knew was one of the Allman sisters who lived nearby.
"I could not tell which one of the sisters it was, she was burnt really bad. She said someone threw something in her window," Boyette told "Snapped," airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
When firefighters arrived at the woman's home, they discovered it was fully ablaze. The woman told them she was Stevie Allman, 52, the owner of the house. She claimed drug dealers had surrounded her house and threw Molotov cocktails through the window, intending to kill her, as she had recently embarked on a crusade against drugs and crime in the area, intending to turn people in to the police.
"[She was] filming dope deals and prostitution and she wanted to put an end to it," Greg Hughes, a former Oakland police sergeant, told producers.
The men she had filmed, she said, had started threatening her. Her sister, Sarah Mitchell, 47, also lived in the home but she had recently moved out and fled to Nevada with her boyfriend because she was afraid of the drug dealers, Allman claimed.
Allman and Mitchell were California natives, who grew up in the same house that had now burned down with seven other siblings. Their father left the family when they were young, and Allman helped take care of the younger kids, including Mitchell.
"There was a special bond between Stevie and her sister who was five years younger, Sarah. It wasn't uncommon for people to mistake them for twins," Pat Lalama, a crime journalist, told producers.
When the other siblings left the home, Allman stayed there with her mother, working for a local family business.
"Stevie was a very sweet person, one of the rocks of the family," Terry Wiley, a prosecutor, told producers.
Mitchell, meanwhile, was struggling by her 30s. She was divorced with three young kids.
"Sarah would meet a man, move in with him, then it would fall apart and she'd end up back living with Stevie and her mother," Wiley said.
Mitchell cooked, cleaned, and took care of the home while Allman worked. Eventually, Mitchell's kids grew up and moved out, and in 1994, the matriarch of the family died, leaving the house to her children. Allman, who had lived there for decades, bought out the other children and became sole owner, although she allowed Mitchell to keep living there.
After hearing this story about the drug dealers, authorities asked for Mitchell's contact information to verify it. Allman, who was recuperating in the hospital from her injuries, claimed her address book had burned in the fire.
The shocking story of drug dealers attacking a woman spread across Oakland, causing anger and concern. The hospital soon released a statement on Allman's behalf, which essentially said she had tried to protect her community and urged people not to let crime destroy their city. The statement turned the incident into national news, and Allman even got a call from the White House.
"She started getting donations and people asked if they could donate money so we processed any monetary gifts that came through for her," Carolyn Kemp, former Alta Bates Medical Center PIO, told producers.
There was a lot of pressure for authorities to solve the case, so they started questioning drug dealers in the area. They all denied having information about the fire.
"I think the majority of the drug dealers had no idea what the Oakland Police Department was talking about when they asked about videos," Wiley said.
Stumped, detectives turned back toward the arson report — and noted inconsistencies with the house being firebombed. For example, the broken glass was found outside the window, not inside, inconsistent with idea of something being thrown into the home.
Then, a crucial break came. Leotta Bellville, a sister to Allman and Mitchell, had filed a missing person's report for Allman. When police questioned her why she would do that when Allman was in the hospital, she insisted that woman was Mitchell, not Allman. Allman, she said, would never have been an active crusader against drugs.
"Stevie would never have filmed drug dealers. She wouldn't have even acknowledged them. She would have looked the other way. She wouldn't do anything," Bellville said in audio obtained by "Snapped."
That was when Bellville knew something was off. She soon talked to Mitchell while she was in the hospital, who claimed she had a good reason for pretending to be Allman.
"Sarah didn't have any insurance and Stevie did and so she was going to use Stevie's name and let the insurance pay for it," Bellville said.
When asked where Allman really was, Mitchell insisted Allman was in Lake Tahoe, then later said she was in Reno. This inconsistency alarmed Bellville, who added that tensions had been running high between the two sisters. Allman was frustrated Mitchell didn't work, "was lazy," and expected to be taken care of. Plus, Allman was considering moving and leaving Oakland, which caused Mitchell to be alarmed about what would happen to her.
Authorities brought Mitchell in for questioning, where she maintained she was Allman.
"No, Leotta knows better. She was just hysterical that night," Mitchell said in audio obtained by "Snapped."
When asked for ID verification, she pulled open her wallet — and investigators saw she had multiple IDs for Mitchell and Allman. Fingerprints were then taken, which confirmed the woman in front of them was actually Mitchell. She was arrested for forgery and providing a false name to police.
Investigators now tried to track down the real Stevie Allman. They looked into her bank accounts, and discovered they had been emptied. Video footage of those bank transactions revealed Mitchell was the one clearing out the accounts.
Authorities sifted through the burnt home to try to determine clues about Allman's whereabouts. Inside a freezer in the kitchen, they found Allman's body. She had been killed and dismembered.
Other evidence in the home, including blood samples, indicated Allman had been killed in her bedroom and her body cut up in the bathroom.
On July 23, 1997, Mitchell was charged with the murder of her sister. She went to trial in November 2000, where prosecutors argued Mitchell had killed Allman to steal her funds, SFGate reported at the time. They believed that June 30, 1997, while Allman was sleeping, Mitchell walked into her room, bludgeoned her over the head repeatedly, then brought her body to the bathroom, where she cut her into pieces.
On November 21, 2000, she was found guilty of first-degree murder. When it came to the sentencing phase, her family asked she be spared the death penalty.
"They had been hurt enough. To take the life of the second sister would be another stab in the heart," Wiley told producers.
Ultimately, Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison.
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