Pennsylvania woman charged in girl’s rape, murder fostered 30 kids

Sara Packer, center, handcuffed, the adoptive mother of Grace Packer, was led out of District Court in Newtown, Pa., Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, by Pennsylvania Constables and taken into custody. Packer, whose teenage daughter's dismembered remains were found in the woods last fall, has been charged along with her boyfriend Jacob Sullivan with killing the girl in a "rape-murder fantasy" the couple shared, a prosecutor said Sunday. (Michael Bryant/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — 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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