Cold Case: Homicide first ruled accidental death

Cold Case: Homicide first ruled accidental death
Marjorie Sands

Cold Case: Homicide first ruled accidental death

Two years and there are still no answers in a  Rock County woman’s death.

Marjorie Sands’ family found her dead on her bedroom floor. The coroner ruled it an accident, but officials say it wasn’t. 

The Sands’ family said the case might never be solved.

Several days after 91-year-old Sands was buried, her family found something suspicious. It was suspicious enough for authorities to exhume her body. The Rock County coroner never performed an autopsy, and Sands’ son said, had she, it would have been clear Marjorie didn’t accidentally fall out of her bed and die.

“There were some things that just didn’t add up at first, but we figured (the coroner’s office) knew what they were doing. They’re the ones that should make the call,” said Marjorie’s son Kenneth Sands.

The coroner, Jenifer Keach, said Marjorie Sands suffered injuries consistent with a fall.

“There was no further investigation of the body, looking for possible injuries or anything like that,” said Kenneth Sands. “I just felt like the coroner’s office mishandled that right from the start.”

“Unfortunately an autopsy wasn’t done in this case and it would have shown that it wasn’t as it was originally thought to be,” said Rock County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Todd Christiansen.

Christiansen said it’s too expensive to autopsy every death in Rock County. Last year, Keach said her office investigated 783 cases and at $1,450 a piece, that would cost taxpayers more than $1 million. Instead, Keach said she autopsies 10 percent of cases based not on a set of rules, but rather her experience.

The former nurse was elected coroner in 2005 and performs autopsies based on “pertinent information particular to each case,” and in Sands’ case, that information came too late.

Christiansen refused to explain the new information that came forward five days after Sands’ funeral. He said releasing it could jeopardize the case. But its significance could be seen in what happened next.

“You have to have some pretty good reasons why you’re going to dig somebody up,” said Christiansen.

In a rare move, the sheriff’s office exhumed Sands’ body.

A Dane County forensic pathologist performed an autopsy that caught inconsistencies in Sands’ original cause of death. Kenneth Sands said his mother had severe internal injuries and her death has since been classified as a homicide.

“We do have some physical evidence, but I think had we been able to do a thorough search of the scene the day she was found, we probably would have had more,” said Christiansen. 

While there have been few leads in two years, Christiansen is still hopeful, since some information came in as early as two weeks ago.

“We want to come to a conclusion,” said Christiansen. “It’s just going to take that right piece of information to come forward.”

As for Marjorie Sands’ son, the situation is still unsettling. He said he wants justice, but until this Wisconsin cold case is closed, he’ll work to keep his mother’s memory alive.

“A lot of people don’t make it close to their 90s and when they do, you feel fortunate you’ve had them that long,” said Kenneth Sands. “But it shouldn’t end like that.” 

Keach refused our on-camera interview request, but said by phone, it’s tragic the family blames anyone but Marjorie’s murderer. And said her office did the best it could with what it had.

Keach, though, is out of a job come 2015 after the County Board and voters weighed in to appoint a medical examiner instead.

The Sheriff’s Office declined to speculate about a motive, but said there weren’t any signs of a break-in at Marjorie’s house only adding to the mystery.

If you can help crack the case, you can anonymously call the Rock County Sheriff’ Office at (608) 757-2244.