Sunday, November 29, 1992 – 39-year-old Sara Tokars, a gorgeous blonde mother of two, loaded the family car with her little boys, Ricky and Mike. They were headed home after a lovely Thanksgiving dinner with her father, Dr. John Ambrusko. Sara’s husband, Fred, a handsome defence attorney, was conspicuously absent; he claimed he had to meet a client in Montgomery, Alabama. She drove herself and the children nine hours back to their house in Marietta Georgia, just north of Atlanta. The phone rang just after Sara had left the house. Tokars asked her father if Sara was still there. Upon learning she had left, Tokars hung up.
Sara drove into the garage and entered the house with her children where she was startled by a male intruder. The man ordered Sara, Mike and Rick to return to the vehicle. He pointed a sawed-off shotgun at Sara and ordered her to start driving with both her children in the car. Sara pulled the car over after the man ordered her to drive down a dead end street. He promptly shot her in front of the boys, jumped out of the moving car and ran away. The Toyota coasted to an open field and rolled to a stop.
Little Ricky reached across his dead mother to turn off the ignition. In the distance Ricky saw the lights of a house. He and Mike took a long walk to get there and informed the residents that their mother had been hurt. They contacted police. The first officer on the scene stated “one thing I’ll always remember is she had long hair and the blood would run down and the droplets would just drop off.” The two little boys were treated for shock in an ambulance. Michael had vomited on himself. They were both spattered with their dead mother’s blood. Police alerted Fred who was still conveniently in Alabama.
The following day police searched the Tokars home. The house had been burglarized but police concluded it was ‘suspicious.” Nothing valuable had been removed. Sara’s father knew right away that her death was “an execution. Somebody had that girl killed.” He told his surviving daughters, “I’m an old man so you girls have to see this solved.”
Fred Tokars was less than enthusiastic about participating in the search for Sara’s killer. He refused to speak to police. Tokars attended Sara’s funeral, walking with his mother. Tokars never talked about Sara to her family. He kept saying “I’ve gotta get out of Dodge.” He explained to Sara’s sister, Gretchen Schaeffer that he couldn’t go to police because “I’ve taken a lot of money from shady clients who do not pay taxes on it. And I’m afraid if they’ll look into my business dealings they’ll accuse of tax evasion.” Really? That’s his big concern after his wife has been murdered?
Initially police thought Fred Tokars had been the intended target and not his wife. Lawyers in the vicinity were supposedly arming themselves with shotguns in case a disgruntled client planned on killing them. In December Tokars finally attended the police department for an interview. He stated, “I just can’t even imagine” who would want to kill Sara. He was nervous and talked incessantly yet he didn’t give much information. He revealed he and his wife owned several life insurance policies. One policy he had on his wife would pay him $1.7 million upon her death. Oops. That’s a little too much honesty.
Tokars insisted he and Sara had a good relationship and he affirmed they slept together and had sex with each other. However the two boys assured police their parents didn’t share a bed. The marriage was on the rocks. The more police learned about Tokars, the more he became their prime suspect.
The Tokars lived an affluent life together. Sara was a fulltime housekeeper and a wonderful mother. However Tokars kept Sara on a strict allowance. She also suspected Tokars had affairs and had confided to her sisters that her marriage was failing. She stated her husband had a “dark side.”
Sara hired a private detector to find out if Tokars was having an affair. He had, and Sara confronted him. He dismissed the fling as a meaningless dalliance. Although she insisted on a divorce, Tokars assured her she would never gain access to their children. This was the one threat that kept an unhappy Sara trapped in her marriage for some time. One day, Sara began copying documents from the family safe. The documents revealed accounts with hundreds of thousands of dollars in them. She Tokars had become involved in money laundering with some of his shady clients, known drug dealers. Finally Sara contacted Gretchen and told her she had found a way out of the marriage and that she would be able to take her children with her. Two weeks later, Sara was murdered.
Authorities now had two reasons to consider Tokars as the lead suspect in her murder. The first was his illegal activity. The second was the life insurance policy against Sara. They also knew Tokars had hired someone else to kill his wife. At the behest of the police, Sara’s family appeared on television asking the public for tips in solving the murder. Finally, an anonymous tipster informed police about a man named Curtis Rower. Rower was a drug addict and small time dealer. Rower had bragged about the killing to his supposed friends who called police.
Rower confessed immediately after police arrested him. He told police he’d been hired by a 28-year-old businessman with a criminal record named Eddie Lawrence to kill Sara for $5,000.00. Lawrence was a low-life conman in a suit who had a history with Tokars. Ten months before the murder Lawrence hired Tokars to defend him on a counterfeiting charge. Tokars began investing in Eddie Lawrence Industries, which included a construction site. Tokars had never mentioned Lawrence to police. Eventually police confronted Tokars about Lawrence who stupidly said, “you never asked me about him.” Tokars was publicly announced as a suspect in Sara’s murder. That same day, Lawrence and Rower were charged with her murder. It was also revealed that Tokars was under investigation for drug trafficking and money laundering.
On the day of the announcement Tokars and his sons were in Florida preparing for Christmas with Sara’s family. Tokars implored her family to stop talking to police and to “let it die down.” The following day he took a drug overdose and left a suicide note, proclaiming his innocence. When he didn’t answer the phone later that day a friend sent an ambulance to his hotel. Tokars released a questionable statement to the public: “I emphatically deny any involvement in my wife’s murder….unfortunately I became very depressed. I started to think of the lifestyle I was losing….my whole lifestyle.”
When Lawrence turned state’s evidence, police had all they needed to arrest Fred Tokars. Lawrence entered his plea in the murder of Sara Tokars, guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison and was spared the death sentence, as was Rower. He agreed to testify against Tokars in court. Nine months after the murder, Tokars was arrested. Tokars mother Nora was visibly shaken. She shouted at the press “No! No! No!” when asked if Tokars was guilty of murdering his wife. Tokars was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for his money laundering. He was arraigned on the charge of conspiracy to murder his wife.
Two primary investigators in the case had sold their story to a Hollywood producer. When confronted by the press they declared they had made a mistake but insisted it hadn’t affected their investigation. Seriously. What were they thinking? In 1994 both detectives were fired. Four years after Sara’s murder, Tokars’ murder trial began. It was discovered that he had become “enthralled with the easy money of the criminal world” and didn’t want to lose it. He had Sara killed to protect his criminal enterprise and to collect life insurance money on her. Lawrence claimed Tokars paid him $25,000.00 to kill Sara, who in turn, hired Rower for $5,000.00 to kill her. On the day of the hit, the day after Thanksgiving, Tokars and Lawrence met to discuss details. Lawrence and Rower drove to the Tokars house where Rower killed her.
Upon delivering the verdict the jury stated that although they had found enough evidence to impose the death sentence upon Tokars, they recommended life in prison. He cried with relief and turned around to look for his mother. His mother told press “I’m so happy, I’m so thankful, I’m so glad. Life is sweet.”
For the Ambrusko family the victory was bitter-sweet. They felt Torkas deserved the death sentence, especially since he knew the two boys would be present for the murder. Strangely, one juror said he couldn’t be sentenced to death because he didn’t pull the trigger. The jury considered the impact of the death sentence on Tokars’ sons. “I was thinking that the boys had lost their mother and if they lost their father too it would hurt them. They would be more devastated than ever.”
That’s one thing I can agree upon.