Sarah Stern’s Murder: Who Killed Her? How Did She Die?

We can all agree that Dateline is the pinnacle of true-crime productions. The show has been around since 1992, and in that time, it has amassed an extensive list of shocking cases. Together with experts and witnesses, the newsmagazine investigates the crime’s preface and aftermath. A brutal murder is discussed in an episode titled “The Betrayal of Sarah Stern,” and the events of that day are explored in greater detail here.

How Did Sarah Stern Die?

Sarah Stern, 19, went missing from Neptune City, New Jersey, on December 2. Even though her body was never located, suicide was suspected by investigators. A shocking confession, however, recorded by filmmaker Anthony Curry, soon revealed the truth. The suspect claimed that he strangled Sarah at her home and then, with the help of an accomplice, threw her body off the Route 35 Bridge in Belmar. Here is how he described the night – “I pretty much hung her – like, I picked her up and had her dangling off the ground. She pissed herself and said my name, and that was it.”

sarah stern death
sarah stern death

The aspiring artist pleaded for mercy with her dying breath, but it was too late. Another chilling snippet from the recording is when he says it took him 30 minutes to kill her. He said, “Her dog laid there and watched as I killed her. It didn’t do anything… What kinda dog is that? It looked like a beagle but sounded like a Great Dane.”

Who Killed Sarah Stern?

The perpetrator of the crime is identified as Liam McAtasney. He had been friends with Sarah since they were kids, and in a strange turn of events, he had asked her prom date and his former roommate, Preston Taylor, to help him get rid of the body. The prosecution argued that he had planned the crime for six months to steal money from her lockbox.

Sarah’s mom lost her fight with cancer and passed away in 2013. So, the teenager got a couple of thousand dollars as an inheritance. In the video recording, he stated, “I thought I was walking out with 50 G’s, 100 G’s. She only had 10G, and this money – I dunno if it was burnt or something … all the money was terrible. I don’t even know if I can put any of it in the bank.”

McAtasney told investigators that Sarah had suicidal thoughts when they first questioned her loved ones. If the police ever came knocking on his door, he told Taylor to tell them that his daughter had fought with her father and attempted suicide. First-degree murder, conspiracy, desecrating human remains, and tampering with evidence were among the charges he was eventually found guilty of by a jury in February 2019.

Michael Stern made a powerful statement about losing his daughter at the trial. He said, “I was devastated and numb from shock the day I learned from detectives Sarah was murdered. I’ve had horrific dreams and nightmares. The horrid act of what happened to her body haunts me every day. I will never be able to hug Sarah again.”

Judge Richard W. English of the Superior Court gave McAtasney a life sentence without the possibility of parole plus ten more years in prison. He claimed the perpetrator was laughing at Sarah’s death. The judge continued, “If he had had the opportunity to bury his daughter properly, and to do that in a private place where he could mourn privately, that would have been a lot different than being on the Route 35 bridge in Belmar, where there’s a shadow box and flowers.”

During closing arguments, prosecutor Chris Decker said, “When you’re asking a group of 14 people — ultimately 12 people — to convict someone especially so young of a crime like murder, it’s not an easy thing to do. You could see that from the jury’s reaction on the way out… But I think ultimately, justice was served at the end of the day.”  Sarah’s date to the prom was also convicted of his role in the crime. Taylor was given an 18-year sentence, with an early release possibility of 15% based on good behavior. As part of his plea deal, he testified against McAtasney.

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