Penn­syl­va­nia woman charged in girl’s death fos­tered 30 chil­dren

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Maryclaire Dale

PHILADEL­PHIA >> A Penn­syl­va­nia woman charged 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.

State of­fi­cials on Fri­day con­firmed that 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.

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, 41, and boyfriend Ja­cob Sul­li­van, 44, are charged with killing the girl in their Bucks County home be­fore Packer re­ported her miss­ing in July. Grace Packer’s body was found in a wooded area up­state in Oc­to­ber, and the cou­ple was charged with mur­der Sun­day af­ter a joint sui­cide at­tempt.

They are be­ing held with­out bail un­til a pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing set for next week. Nei­ther one has a lawyer listed in court records.

Packer’s ex-hus­band, David, 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, told po­lice that David Packer had started en­gag­ing in sex with her when she was 15 and that it con­tin­ued un­til she was 18. She said that Sara Packer was at least aware of the sit­u­a­tion by the time the teen was of le­gal age, ac­cord­ing to Le­high County Dis­trict At­tor­ney James Martin, whose of­fice pros­e­cuted the case. Sara Packer was in­ves­ti­gated but not charged.

David Packer went to prison for about five years on statu­tory rape and in­de­cent as­sault charges. Sara Packer was barred from tak­ing in any more fos­ter chil­dren, but kept the two chil­dren she had adopted — Grace and her bi­o­log­i­cal younger brother. She also lost her $44,000-a-year job as a Northamp­ton County adop­tion su­per­vi­sor.

No agen­cies would have checked on the fam­ily after­ward un­less a child wel­fare com­plaint was filed, 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, 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 say. As soon as she re­turned home, the cou­ple started plot­ting her death, ac­cord­ing to the po­lice af­fi­davit filed in the case.

Sara Packer watched as Sul­li­van raped her on July 8, then went out to buy Tylenol PM used to se­date her daugh­ter be­fore they left her to die, bound and gagged, in a swel­ter­ing at­tic, the af­fi­davit said. Sul­li­van stran­gled her when they found Grace still alive the next day, po­lice said. They packed her body in cat lit­ter and hid the body in the house for sev­eral months be­fore they dis­posed of it.

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 a check on the wel­fare of the 30 for­mer fos­ter chil­dren.

“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.

“As you can imag­ine, we have our hands not only full, but over­flow­ing with the mag­ni­tude and scope of this case,” he said.

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