Bucks DA: Rape, murder of Grace Packer 'heinous,' 'depraved'

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Sara Packer, adoptive mother of rape-murder victim Grace Packer, after arraignment in Newtown, Sunday.

They raped her. Killed her. Stored her corpse in kitty litter in the attic of their Quakertown-area farmhouse so that it wouldn't smell.

And four months later, when Sara Packer and Jacob Sullivan felt police growing suspicious about the disappearance of Packer's 14-year-old adoptive daughter, Grace, they cut up her remains in their bathtub, then dumped them 75 miles away in the Luzerne County woods.

That was the case presented by prosecutors Sunday against Packer and her boyfriend, Sullivan, who were arrested and charged with murder and related offenses for allegedly killing Grace in July.

Bucks County District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub called the crimes "heinous," "depraved," and "unspeakable," describing the motive as a twisted sexual fantasy, a fixation that Packer and Sullivan had plotted for months.

"They wanted to see a certain result come about to satisfy some sick, perverted fantasy of theirs," Weintraub said. "And they made it a reality. . . . To them, [Grace] was unfortunately a disposable child."

Police had been searching for answers about Grace since July 11, when Packer reported her missing from another home they rented, in the 800 block of Tennis Avenue in Abington. The girl's remains were discovered on Halloween by hunters near a dam in Bear Creek, Luzerne County. In December, prosecutors asked for the public's help in solving the case.

Over the weekend, they got their unexpected break.

According to an affidavit of probable cause, Packer, 41, and Sullivan, 44, made a suicide pact following the public request for assistance by police. The couple attempted to overdose on pills at another home, in the 400 block of Summit Avenue in Horsham, but they survived after being found unresponsive by a roommate on Dec. 30, the affidavit said.

While recovering Saturday at Abington Memorial Hospital, the affidavit said, Sullivan confessed his crimes to hospital staff members - and asked them to call the police.

Hours later, Sullivan was arraigned by District Court Judge Michael W. Petrucci in Newtown on charges of homicide, rape, kidnapping, and related offenses. Packer, who had been identified as a person of interest in the case, was arraigned Sunday afternoon on similar charges, although not for rape, because she was accused of only watching the sexual crime. Both were ordered held without bail and were expected to be taken to the Bucks County Correctional Facility.

Weintraub said after Packer's arraignment that the crime "shakes one's belief in the goodness of humanity."

"The question is: How could any mother do this to a child?" he said. "I'm bereft. I don't have an answer."

Packer did not say anything as she was led into the courtroom Sunday in handcuffs, with what appeared to be a white blanket over her shoulders.

After Grace's death, Packer continued to collect $712 a month in Social Security disability for her daughter, authorities previously alleged. "After they murdered her, they maintained the pretense of Grace being alive so that they could continue to profit off of her existence," Weintraub said.

Grace, her mother, Sullivan, and Grace's 12-year-old biological brother had lived together. The brother is "safe and sound" with other family members, Weintraub said.

According to the criminal complaint, Sullivan told investigators he and Packer had planned to kill Grace since fall 2015, when she returned from living with a relative in North Carolina.

On July 8, they allegedly put their plan into action. The criminal complaint alleges the following:

The morning of July 8, Sullivan and Packer drove from their rented Abington home to another home they rented, in the 900 block of East Cherry Road in Richland Township, outside Quakertown. There, Sullivan punched Grace in the face, then raped her in the attic as Packer watched. He told detectives he took Viagra before the rape, and that Packer became "sexually aroused" by watching his actions.

The pair then gave Grace pills, bound and gagged her, and left her to die in a cedar closet in the "extremely hot" attic of their Quakertown home. The pair went back to their Abington residence, but upon returning to Quakertown the next morning, found Grace still alive and conscious.

Using his arm around her neck, Sullivan suffocated Grace, he told police, noting that "it was more physical and took much longer than he expected." He and Packer left her body hidden in the attic, packed in cat litter, until mid-October, when police came to the Quakertown home to follow up on the investigation.

Then, Sullivan said, they used a saw Packer had purchased to cut up Grace in a bathtub. They put her remains in plastic totes and drove north on back roads, pulling over to dispose of her body parts when they saw a clearing in Luzerne County.

Packer's story about Grace's disappearance and her cooperation with police in the investigation had been inconsistent. She was charged in November for impeding the investigation and was jailed, but she was released on bail on Dec. 23.

When Grace's body was found, it was free of insect infestation, leading investigators to believe she had been killed elsewhere. Detectives found a receipt for a bow saw and two extra blades in the Quakertown home, according to the criminal complaint, which also said a surveillance video from a local hardware store showed Packer buying them.

Sullivan and Packer overdosed on Dec. 30 in the Horsham Township apartment of Katherine Albright, according to the criminal complaint. At the time of Grace Packer's disappearance, Albright had been living with the couple, who prosecutors said went back and forth between the Abington and Quakertown homes.

When Albright called 911, the criminal complaint says, she told the dispatcher: "Um . . . there's . . . there's are a lot of reasons he would do this . . . we're . . . uh God . . . we're . . . I don't know if you have watched the news lately . . . our . . . someone we were involved with was recently . . . . It's a big mess, it's a big mess, and I don't really know how to explain it. . . but. . . oh my God."

A suicide note from Sullivan to his children was found by detectives. It said other people's lies had "made it impossible for us to live."

"I know you will always know that we had nothing to do with this no matter what lies they tell," he wrote. "I'm sorry to leave you. Remember all I've taught you. Be brave, stand tall and do your best to be stronger than I was."

The investigation is continuing, and Weintraub did not rule out the possibility of additional alleged accomplices - including potential charges for Albright, whom he said was also dating Sullivan.

About Grace, he said: "She never had a chance with these people. The question is, 'Who will speak for Grace Packer, this forgotten child?' and the answer is, 'We will.' "

jmcdaniel@phillynews.com

610-313-8205

@McDanielJustine