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Sarah Jane Hart

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

https://youtu.be/7jsAu_jmPFc


Sarah Jane Hart

In 1970, 28 year old Sarah Jane Hart was married to Korean War Veteran, Alonzo Hart Jr. They lived at what’s known today as the still standing Murder Home in the Ithica Michigan area. The two had a blended family of six children. Alonzo left his job as a Saginaw police officer after he was told to quit because of “family troubles”. He was between jobs before taking a position as a truck driver at Wolverine Express in Alma, Michigan. Alonzo was Sarah Jane’s second marriage, and she was looking for a way out. She was cheating on him with 17 year old high school student, Phillip Lippert, who she worked with at Yellowjacket Café. Sarah Jane would give Phillip drugs and allow him to use her car while she was working. They would travel to Saginaw often for drugs and to stay in motels together.


Sarah Jane decided she wanted Alonzo dead. She knew she had to work quickly because he would be getting laid off from his job soon and she needed his $18,000 life insurance. She wanted Phillip to be the one to find the killer. He led her on for at least a week about a made up man named Eric who he claimed to know and was ready to kill. Sarah Jane caught on to the lie, so Phillip got serious about finding a real killer. He talked to someone else about it who also knew of Sarah Jane from the Yellowjacket as well and he was instantly not for it. Although the guy said no, Sarah Jane was happy to see that Phillip was actively searching for a person.


Ithaca High School had a wrestling team and a new assistant coach, William Pribble. Phillip said that William knew nothing about wrestling and was teaching them out of a book. He would tell his students stories, that he admitted to being made up, about killing people in the war. Phillip was desperate to find a killer to help his adult girlfriend, and listened to these stories. At some point, somehow, William agreed to commit the murder of 40 year old Alonzo Hart for $1,500 cash. On November 2, 1970, Sarah Jane borrowed $100 from Commercial National Bank in Ithaca for William’s down payment.


On November 19, 1970, at 7:19 p.m., Alonzo clocked out from a long nine hour shift. Back at the home, 20 minutes away, Sarah Jane was packing up their six children to leave the house for a while so that no one would be home at the time of the murder. Sarah Jane stopped at a house down the road to pick up Marvin Zimmerman. Marvin was a best friend of Alonzo. He needed his car fixed and needed to run a few errands.


While Sarah Jane is coming up with stuff to do to stay out of the house, Phillip and William are at her house. Phillip was hoping his job stopped at picking out the murderer, he didn't think he had to be involved in the actual murder. To his surprise, William picked him up and they headed to the house. William parked down the street and the two walked to the Hart’s home and they each hid on separate slides of the garage waiting for Alonzo to get home. William was armed with a 45-caliber Colt revolver and a steel dumbbell bar about 16-inches long. At some point between 8:30 and 9 p.m. Alonzo pulled into his driveway. When he got out of the car, William hit him in the head with the dumbbell bar two times until he heard no more noise coming from Alonzo. The two quickly fed the scene.


While Sarah Jane is coming up with stuff to do to stay out of the house, Phillip and William are at her house. Phillip was hoping his job stopped at picking out the murderer, he didn't think he had to be involved in the actual murder. To his surprise, William picked him up and they headed to the house. William parked down the street and the two walked to the Hart’s home and they each hid on separate slides of the garage waiting for Alonzo to get home. William was armed with a 45-caliber Colt revolver and a steel dumbbell bar about 16-inches long. At some point between 8:30 and 9 p.m. Alonzo pulled into his driveway. When he got out of the car, William hit him in the head with the dumbbell bar two times until he heard no more noise coming from Alonzo. The two quickly fed the scene.


Soon after, Sarah Jane returned home with their six children. She pulled into the driveway, saw her husband on the ground in front of his car, pulled back out of the driveway to go to a neighbor’s to call the police. She never got out of the car to check on him. Alonzo’s daughter, Michelle Hart, was the first one to see her father laying on the ground. She saw his feet first, then as they got closer she could see his hands above his head and assumed he had a heart attack.

Trooper Ken Anderson was one of the first officers on the scene. He was appointed to stay at the Hart residence until detectives from Lansing had arrived. It was a very windy, rainy night and he was there all night waiting. Anderson said he knew from the time that he arrived to the crime scene that Sarah Jane had something to do with her husband’s murder. He said that she was phony with her reactions and conversations. The next morning, at 8:30, Sarah Jane was at Wolverine Express to make sure that she was the sole beneficiary of Alonzo’s $18,000 insurance policy. She didn't call the funeral home to get arrangements set up until hours later.


On the day of the funeral for Alonzo Hart Jr., his best friend Marvin Zimmerman began to receive suspicious calls saying things like, “You’re going to get the same thing Al got” and another saying, “Your time is getting closer.”


During the investigation, one of the first suspects police looked into and ruled out was Sarah Jane’s first husband, Frederick Rundell. They had been divorced for 10 years before the murder when he was sentenced to three years in prison. The police described his three year prison sentence as “a lengthy arrest record,” Rundell had been paroled from Jackson prison in June, just 5 months before the murder in November. The next suspect was an Ithaca man who had been exchanging letters with Sarah Jane through a secret P.O. box she had. The man turned in numerous letters to police, one said that she and Alonzo were going to get divorced. The man passed a polygraph exam and was ruled out as well. A third possible suspect was a man who worked in Lansing and had been involved with Sarah Jane while separated from his wife. Phillip Lippert and William Pribble were the next suspects on investigators’ list. Neither man fought it and both pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison only 22 days after their arrest.


Sarah Jane and Alonzo Hart Jr. had been to Florida in about 1969 for Alonzo’s father’s funeral. The two started talking and became friends with a funeral director. After the killing, Michigan investigators wrote to Florida police saying that Sarah Jane may have tried to entice a Florida mortician and a mayor to visit her after her husband was killed.

Sarah Jane Hart, in court the same day Lippert and Pribble pleaded guilty, claimed to have lost her memory and was sent for a psychological exam. Three months later, Sarah Jane was out of the mental hospital in Ionia and was back in court, still claiming that she was unable to remember anything to assist her attorney, and was found incompetent to stand trial. In October 1972, almost two years after her husband was killed, former Gratiot County Probate Judge John McLoughlin found Sarah Jane mentally ill and was committed to Ionia State Hospital again.


In July of the same year, 1972, a preliminary examination in Ithaca was put off because both men, Phillip and William, refused to testify against Sarah Jane, leading the judge to dismiss the charges against her. She was sent to return to the Ionia State Hospital under the 1972 mental illness order. Under a new arrest warrant for murder, Circuit Judge Lew Corkin released Sarah Jane in November, ruling that the sworn testimony didn’t justify the charge. One week later, an Ithaca district court judge issued a new murder warrant against Sarah Jane, who now used the last name Garner, the last name of her new common law husband, Donald Hugh Garner. The two met at Ionia State Hospital, where they were both being treated for mental health. By this point police couldn’t find Sarah Jane so they flagged the visitor card of Donald, who was serving time for robbing a bank in Clinton County.


Attempts to find Sarah Jane heightened in 1975. In January a federal fugitive warrant was issued and her photograph was distributed to police agencies. Sightings of her in Isabella County, Detroit and Alma were reported. Sarah Jane was listed as a suspect in a threatening letter sent from Texas to Phillip, while he was in prison because he was expected to testify against her at trial. He got another letter in March, that according to police reports, said that there was a contract out for Phillip and that he would go to an early grave if he testified. The letter was checked for fingerprints of Sarah Jane, Donald, and William.


In March, investigators were back to checking Florida. It was reported that Sarah Jane was in Ft. Pierce where “she is a girlfriend of the mayor”. It was said that before Alonzo was killed, the mayor “reportedly told her that if she ever got rid of her husband to come down and he would take care of her.” In April, investigators had a lead that Sarah Jane’s daughter was getting married in Forest Hill, MI, and had been seen at an Alma wedding dress shop, a local bar and at a motel.


Sarah Jane was still being searched for by the end 1975, but all plans to prosecute her were about to end. Phillip was arguing that he didn’t kill anyone and confessed to a crime he didn’t commit, and had been granted a new trial by Judge Corkin in early 1975. Before his new court date, Sarah Jane returned to town and demanded a trial, which was granted and scheduled by Judge Corkin, which pushed back Phillip’s new court date. Phillip and William both refused to testify, fearful of self-incrimination unless they were granted immunity, which Prosecutor Richard Gay refused. Because they refused to testify against Sarah Jane, her case was thrown out and she never served any prison time.




Sources

https://www.theoaklandpress.com/2016/02/19/mix-for-murder-in-ithaca-a-wife-a-teen-lover-and-a-wrestling-coach/

https://www.themorningsun.com/2016/02/22/murder-near-ithaca-lippert-in-prison-since-17-pribble-paroled/

https://www.themorningsun.com/2016/02/22/murder-near-ithaca-saga-of-sarah-jane/

https://lostinmichigan.net/tragic-tale-old-abandoned-house/



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