Published January 15, 2017
A woman charged along with her boyfriend in the rape, murder and dismemberment of her adopted 14-year-old daughter took in 30 foster kids before her then-husband was deemed a sexual predator.
Former adoption worker Sara Packer and her ex-husband fostered the children from 2000 to 2010, when they led a transient life in northeast Pennsylvania, state officials confirmed on Friday. The state's Department of Human Services said it was reviewing the family's history leading up to the torture death of adopted daughter Grace Packer.
Sara Packer and her boyfriend, Jacob Sullivan, are charged with killing Grace in their Bucks County home before Packer reported her missing in July. Grace's body was found in a wooded area upstate in October, and the couple were charged with murder on Sunday after a joint suicide attempt.
Packer and Sullivan are being held without bail until a preliminary hearing set for next week. Neither has a lawyer listed in court records. But Sullivan apologized as he was led into court, the Intelligencer newspaper reported.
"I'm sorry for what I did," Sullivan said. "It was wrong."
Packer's ex-husband, David Packer, was convicted in 2011 of raping a foster teen and molesting Grace between 2006 and 2010, when the family lived in Allentown.
The foster teen, who was learning disabled, initially told police David Packer had had sex with her when she was 18 and Sara Parker knew about it, authorities said.
"As reprehensible as that may be, it isn't a crime," said Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin, whose office prosecuted the case.
However, the teen ultimately disclosed the sex had begun when she was 15. David Packer went to prison for about five years on statutory rape and indecent assault charges.
Sara Packer was barred from taking in more foster children and lost her $44,000-a-year job as a Northampton County adoption supervisor over unspecified misconduct. But she kept her two adopted children: Grace and her biological younger brother. And there would have been no child welfare checks unless a new complaint was filed, since adoptive parents have the same rights as other parents, Martin said.
"Grace, who was subsequently raped and murdered, was an adopted child. That adoption was already a fait accompli," he said. "It's a horrific story, but I don't know what else my office or the Allentown Police Department could have done at the time."
Within a few years, Sara Packer and the two children were living with Sullivan, a draftsman, in Glenside, in Montgomery County. In the fall of 2015, they sent Grace to live with a relative in North Carolina, where she spent several happy months, prosecutors said. When she returned home, the couple started plotting her death, a police affidavit says.
Sara Packer watched as Sullivan raped Grace on July 8 and then went out to buy Tylenol PM used to sedate Grace before they left her to die, bound and gagged, in a sweltering attic, the affidavit said. When they found her still alive the next day, Sullivan strangled her, police said.
They packed her body in cat litter and hid it in the house for several months before they cut it up with a saw and dumped it in the woods, police said.
The Packers had adopted Grace and her brother when she was 3, after a Berks County judge removed them from a home where they had been sexually abused by adults living with their parents. The Department of Human Services has opened a six-month review of the Packer family that will include checks on the welfare of the 30 former foster children, authorities said.
"If there is a systemic review that comes out of this horrible tragedy, at least we can take some solace in that ... so children like Grace are not forgotten, so they don't fall through the cracks," said Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub, whose office is leading the murder investigation.
Court records show the Packers divorced last June. David Packer's lawyer from a 2010 case said this week he couldn't comment. A man who answered the phone at Sara Packer's father's home declined to comment and hung up.