On May 24, 2004, a rented school bus made its way from the Pennsauken, New Jersey, a suburb of Philadelphia, to Inwood, a neighborhood at the very northern tip of the island of Manhattan. The bus was filled with family, friends, and strangers who just wanted to help, to do something for Sarah. Five days earlier, Sarah put on her sneakers, loaded a CD into her Discman and told her roommate she was going for a run—something she did often. This time she never returned.
At the time of her disappearance, Sarah Fox was a 21-year old student at The Juilliard School, an elite institution that trains students in the performing arts—drama, music, dance. Sarah was a junior studying drama who’d nurtured dreams of becoming an actor for as long as people who knew her could remember. She had both the talent and the work ethic, according to friends. But she also had something else—a sense of wonder.
Her high school friend Gina Leigh was quoted as remembering something Sarah said to her once before a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” back in Pennsauken: “Did you ever feel like you could do anything in the world? That you could take on the world?”
The same afternoon that the rented yellow bus made it to Inwood, a searcher found Sarah’s badly decomposed body. She had been murdered and then staged, yellow tulip petals strewn around her, in a remote area of a park. Those five days, she’d been less than a mile from her apartment.
Police investigated but quickly hit roadblocks. Persons of interest were interviewed and cleared one after another, but people in the neighborhood who frequented the park suggested police take a closer look at the strange guy who regularly walked his imposing Rhodesian Ridgeback off leash there, oftentimes stirring up conflict with other parkgoers.
It didn’t take long for police to find Dimitry Sheinman, an artist who also claimed to be a clairvoyant. He’d seen the crime, he told police and described elements of it that weren’t public knowledge—a stick placed between Sarah’s legs, a broken rib. But there was no physical evidence to link Sheinman, an immigrant from Russia with no previously known links to Sarah. Tellingly, Sheinman also provided police with details of the crime that were wrong. Leads petered out, crime moved on. The case remained open, Sheinman remained on police radar, and eight years passed.
In July of 2012 it seemed, at least for a few days, that the case had suddenly turned a corner. At the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement, police found a length of chain a group of protesters had left a behind at the Carroll Street stop of the F, in Brooklyn. While it’s unclear why exactly the police decided to test for DNA on the chain, a positive match was established between DNA left at the crime scene and the chain. Sarah’s family might finally get some answers.
But by July 13, The New York Daily News was reporting that the match was false, the result of sloppy work by an NYPD lab technician who tainted both samples. Back to square one.
Someone else connected to the case was also making headlines that summer in 2012. Dimitry Sheinman, who’d since moved to South Africa, married and fathered two children, returned to New York City, ostensibly to promote an upcoming book he was writing about the case—despite the book being unfinished and without a publisher or release date. But he said he was also returning with a message for police. Thanks to his powers of clairvoyance, he’d been mentally transported to the crime scene that day in 2004.
When a reporter with the Observer met with Sheinman and his wife at a café to discuss this vision, Sheinman described his process like this:
“This might be a little strange for you, but look at this, I’m not going to touch you,” he said, passing his fingers over our skin and ever-so-slightly grazing the arm hairs that rose up as he moved. “Here you’re starting to feel what I’m doing, and at first you didn’t, but then you did. And so, I was pulling a little bit on your flesh. I can go more deeper, then I know things about you. It’s like a computer, 0-1-1-1-0-0. That just shows me your amount of sensitivity; people sometimes block it. Like, I also—I know what you feel, it sounds creepy to regular people.”
So what did he see, high above where Sarah lay in a ravine in the park in Innwood? “I had a vision of the killer grabbing her and punching her and, as a result, smashing her ribs. So I said maybe she has a broken rib” He goes on to say he also saw her clothes stacked neatly, her tampon resting atop her stack of folded clothes. Furthermore, he suggests that stick that may have been placed between her legs. Some of those details were correct, some not.
In 2004, the D.A. had described Sheinman as the number one suspect in Sarah’s murder. But whether the police have evidence beyond Sheinman’s psychic statements, has been difficult to discern.
July of 2012, which for a few hours, seemed so fruitful, turned out to lead only to more dead ends.
The next time the case makes headlines is May of 2014, and it does so in a big way. Once again the instigator is Sheinman. Once again he approaches the press. Near the ten-year anniversary of the case, Sheinman gave an exclusive interview to the New York Post that even the newspaper describes as “bizarre.” Its headline? “Suspect in Juilliard murder says victim still talks.”
And Sheinman meant that quite literally; he claims, in rambling interview conducted partially while speaking to a photo of Sarah Fox, that she is “angry” and “fucking wants [her killer’s] blood.” Not only do the words Sheinman attributes to Sarah not sound like the spirited, sunny young woman her friends described, they sound like the words of someone whose mind is consumed by thoughts of violence and fed by narcissism:
“Sometimes I walk by and she winks at me, you know. And she knows: ‘I know exactly what you’re doing, and I love you.’
“Right now she just looked at me and made a bunch of faces. She knows what’s going on. I can’t speak for her, but she knows exactly what’s going on.”
Sheinman goes on to slip into a reverie about how much he intimidates the man he calls Sarah’s real killer.
“He’s very scared. He’s scared of me. I’ve never communicated with him directly but . . . he’s a disgusting, revolting man […]”
Back in 2012 when Sheinman had briefly returned to New York City, he proudly presented the police with a sealed envelope. Inside, he said, was the name of Sarah’s murderer. The police were not convinced. The man whose name had been written on the paper inside had been questioned at the time of the murder and dismissed almost immediately.
The last news coverage Sarah’s murder receives is an inclusion—alongside Run DMC’sJam Master Jay—in a December, 2016 Daily News story about some of the NYPD Cold Case squad’s most daunting unsolved cases. This time the cops say they do have a person of interest, a man who moved out of the country. He goes unnamed, though the police do say that he is not Dimitry Sheinman.
In that article, the department’s Cold Case lead, Lt. David Nilsen, seems to almost contradict the specific person of interest disclosure, speculating about the motive for the killing, “It may not be a total stranger attack,” he said. “For all we know it’s someone she had a past relationship with many, many years before. Some people never forget.”
It’s been more than six months since any word of the case trickled out, and 13 years since Sarah was last seen. Forward momentum on the case seems, at present, to have stalled. The police seem stumped, but let’s hope that at least one of their theories is true—that some people never forget. For the memory of a young woman who once felt like she could do anything, could take on the world—for young women everywhere who feel that way—remembering is the least we can do.