For the last decade, the parents of beloved Philadelphia school teacher Ellen Greenberg have been convinced that their daughter’s mysterious 2011 stabbing death was murder, not suicide. Now, new evidence submitted earlier this month is being reviewed by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office. Ellen’s parents believe the evidence will finally prove their case.
But Josh and Sandra Greenberg tell Dateline that this holiday season isn’t the time to relax or celebrate just yet. They will be spending it doing what they’ve been doing the past 10 years: fighting to get justice for their daughter.
“Our way of enjoying the holiday season is doing whatever we can to get justice for our daughter,” Josh Greenberg said. “When it comes to a family holiday, there’s a hole in our heart – just like an empty seat at the table where our daughter should be.”
December 26, 2021, marked a month before the anniversary of Ellen’s death, and her parents still have so many unanswered questions. They are hoping for a miracle in the new year.
The attorney general’s office released a statement to the press this month, and reiterated to Dateline, that it’s reviewing the case for the first time in years after receiving evidence from the family’s attorney Joseph Podraza this month in Ellen’s death.
Ellen, a 27-year-old elementary school teacher, was found dead on January 26, 2011, with a kitchen knife lodged in her chest, inside the apartment she shared with her fiancé, Samuel Goldberg, in the Manayunk neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Authorities eventually ruled Ellen’s death a suicide, but her parents believe she was murdered and have fought for nearly 11 years to have officials reopen her case and conduct a thorough investigation.
Josh Greenberg told Dateline he has never stopped grieving his daughter. But he added that there’s no time to sit in the corner and cry. Now the Greenbergs just want one thing: to clear their daughter’s name.
“My daughter did not commit suicide,” Sandee told Dateline. “We’ve grieved her life for years. Now we want to clear her name. We want justice for her. And we want closure.”
The Greenbergs tell Dateline that from the moment they got the call their daughter had been found stabbed to death at her Philadelphia home on a cold winter night in January of 2011, the idea of suicide never crossed their minds. They knew someone had killed her.
A nor’easter blew in that day, blanketing the state in snow. Schools closed for the day and Ellen came home early.
According to the investigation report, Ellen’s fiancé, Sam Goldberg, came home from the gym on the evening of January 26, 2011, to discover he was locked out of the apartment, unable to use his keys because the apartment’s swing bar lock was engaged from the inside. He told police he banged on the door and tried to reach Ellen by phone, but got no response.
Goldberg was eventually able to force open the door, according to the ME’s investigation report, and found Ellen just inside the front door in the kitchen with her upper body propped against the cabinets and her legs splayed out in front of her. When he called 911, according to the report, Goldberg was “instructed to start CPR until he noticed a knife in her chest, then was instructed to stop.”
Ellen had 20 stab wounds — including 10 to her neck and head, along with bruises in “various stages of resolution” on Ellen’s arm, abdomen and right leg,” according to the autopsy report.
When police arrived at the scene that night and observed no forced entry into the apartment, no defense wounds and no evidence of a struggle, they stated that it appeared Ellen died by suicide.
But when the autopsy was conducted, the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office initially ruled Ellen’s death a homicide. Ellen’s father, Josh Greenberg, told Dateline he believes the medical examiner decided to reclassify her death as a suicide to align with police investigators. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the medical examiner was told that authorities were “leaning” toward suicide and looking “mental issues” she might have had.
Ellen graduated from Penn State as a communications major, and considered becoming a speech pathologist, but decided to take a different path and went to Temple University at night to earn her teaching credentials.
About three years after she started her teaching career, she had a good job at Juniata Park Academy and was engaged to be married. In 2010 when she suddenly wanted to return home to Harrisburg, it didn’t make sense to her parents.
Ellen’s cousin, Debbie Schwab, told Dateline her normally “bubbly” cousin had been dealing with anxiety for months before her death and had been prescribed anti-anxiety medication. She added that Ellen’s psychiatrist’s notes from a session before Ellen’s death stated, according to the report, that “there was never any feeling of suicidal thoughts.”
On March 7, 2011, when the medical examiner’s office reversed the ruling and changed the manner of Ellen’s death to suicide, the family was devastated. But they kept fighting.
The Greenbergs enlisted their own teams of experts, including famed forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht and forensic scientist Henry Lee. After investigations of their own, they disputed the medical examiner’s ruling of suicide.
One of the attorneys the Greenbergs had hired, Larry Krasner, became Philadelphia’s District Attorney in 2018. They asked him to reopen their daughter’s case, but citing a conflict of interest, Krasner recused himself and referred the case to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.
According to a statement obtained by Dateline that was released in January 2021, the Attorney General’s Office conducted its own investigation which resulted in evidence on Ellen’s computer and phone that supported the suicide ruling, even though the ME’s investigation report from 2011 said nothing indicative of suicide was found on her computer.
In October 2019, the Greenbergs’ attorney, Joseph Podraza Jr., filed a civil lawsuit on their behalf against both the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office and the pathologist who conducted the autopsy, to get officials to change Ellen’s manner of death from suicide to undetermined or back to homicide.
In January 2020, the judge ruled that the case could move forward. The court proceedings were on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, but started moving forward in 2021.
After months of pre-trial testimony and media coverage, the Greenbergs’ attorney said that on December 10, 2021, his team provided “numerous additional materials to the AG’s Office in response to the AG’s statement to the press that the AG would review new material if the material was supplied.”
Podraza told Dateline in an email last week that the materials included the apartment building surveillance video, the declarations of two building employees, and the videotaped depositions of Drs. Gulino, Osbourne and Emery of the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office. It was Dr. Emery, a pathologist in the Medical Examiner’s Office in 2019 trained in neuropathology, who previously testified that a specimen of Ellen’s cervical spine retained from the original autopsy contained one of Ellen’s stab wounds.
“According to Dr. Emery, the preserved wound Emery examined in 2019 was administered when Ellen had no pulse – she was already dead,” Podraza said.
He went on to explain that “this wound was not the last stab wound Ellen sustained because a knife was found embedded in Ellen’s chest when emergency personnel arrived on the scene.”
“We remain dumbfounded about how a person could self-inflict at least two separate stab wounds when dead,” he added.
Josh Greenberg told Dateline that the evidence clearly points to the fact that his daughter was stabbed after she had died, and that she had not died by suicide.
“If they’re postmortem that means they were done after death and Ellen could not have done them,” he said.
With the recent submission of new evidence, the Greenbergs called on Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro to review and reopen their daughter’s case.
Shapiro did not respond to questions from Dateline regarding Ellen’s case. In an email sent to Dateline this week, a spokesperson for the Attorney General confirmed to Dateline that they have received new evidence, which they are reviewing.
“We did receive evidence from the Greenbergs’ attorney earlier this month that is being reviewed,” the spokesperson wrote. The AG’s office added that they could not confirm details of the evidence submitted.
They also reiterated a statement previously sent around the 10th anniversary of Ellen’s death.
“Our hearts go out to the Greenberg family on the anniversary of Ellen‘s traumatic death. At the urging of the family and following a conflict referral from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office in 2018, our office reviewed the case and conducted an extensive investigation that did not uncover evidence to change the medical examiner’s finding of suicide. There is no statute of limitation on homicide, however, and if any new evidence is brought forward we believe it should be reviewed by the proper authorities. At this time, no such information has been shared with our office.”
The community of supporters around Ellen has never stopped their fight for justice and are hoping the AG’s review of recently submitted evidence will be the answer they’ve been waiting for.
“I’ve been in this business since 1966 and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Tom Brennan, a retired 25-year Philadelphia State Police veteran and former Chief of Dauphin County detectives, who has been working Ellen’s case for free for the past eight years.
He told Dateline they have gathered sufficient evidence he believes will prove that Ellen’s death was not suicide – but homicide.
“Every time we think we’re making headway, something blocks our path – we take two steps forward and one step back,” Brennan said. “But I think there is more than enough sufficient evidence to prove our case in court. And that’s what we intend to do.”
Brennan told Dateline that no matter how long it takes, he’ll keep going until it’s resolved.
“Our next step is to get the cause of death changed,” Brennan said. “Then we can go about the whodunnit.”
Ellen’s parents told Dateline they believe the evidence is enough to reopen the case and expect to hear from the AG’s office in a matter of weeks.
But for now, Ellen’s loved ones continue to share her story with the hope of one day getting justice.
Ellen’s cousin Debbie told Dateline they have received and are grateful for the overwhelming amount of love and support from the community. More than 125,000 people have signed a Change.org petition that calls on the Pennsylvania Attorney General to revisit the case.
There is also a Facebook page in Ellen’s honor called “Justice for Ellen” that currently has more than 32,000 fans.
“I just can’t believe it’s been 10 years,” Debbie told Dateline back in January. “Ten years and we’re no closer to justice. But we’re just going to keep fighting.”
This holiday season, just a month shy of the 11th anniversary of Ellen’s death, her parents say the time is a painful reminder of their loss.
“We just want Ellen’s name cleared,” her mother, Sandee, said. “She did not do this to herself. And she deserves justice. They try to close our doors, but we always find another way in. We’re never giving up.”
In national newspapers an obituary (obit for short) is a news article that reports the recent death of a prominent person. Although it tends to focus on positive aspects of the subject’s life this is not always the case. According to Nigel Farndale, the Obituaries Editor of The Times: “Obits should be life affirming rather than gloomy, but they should also be opinionated, leaving the reader with a strong sense of whether the subject lived a good life or bad; whether they were right or wrong in the handling of their public affairs.”
In local newspapers, an obituary may be published for any local resident upon death. A necrology is a register or list of records of the deaths of people related to a particular organization, group or field, which may only contain the sparsest details, or small obituaries. Historical necrologies can be important sources of information.