When Are Twenty Stab Wounds And A Death Not Murder?: Ellen Greenberg, USA

Ellen Greenberg

This is a very strange case indeed. A family are trying to get the cause of death changed because the Philadelphia, USA, authorities have declared that the 20 stab wounds Ellen Greenberg suffered were self inflicted. Yes, you read that right, 20. Not just wounds to the chest, arms or legs either. There were 10 to the back of her head and neck.

The story goes that this 27 year old teacher was alone in her apartment on 26th January 2011. Her fiancé, who she lived with, had gone to the gym at about 4.40 pm. When he returned the door was locked from the inside so he could not get access. A slide bolt had secured it. He text Ms Greenberg, he called and he banged on the door. Neighbours later said that they heard him. He then went and tried to get help from the security office in order to force entry.

Ms Greenberg’s apartment building, Venice Lofts, Philadelphia, USA
Another view which shows the levels of the floors a little more clearly.

When he did break down the door he found the lady with knife wounds and she was dead in the kitchen. The apartment was on the sixth floor. The cops were called and they had a look around and believed they were looking at a suicide. I can’t say all of them did, but from what I have seen that was the consensus of opinion.

The medical examiner determined it had been a homicide. Later that was changed to suicide. In January this year the family were told that their belief their daughter had been murdered was wrong. They had instigated proceedings to get the ME to change the declaration from suicide to homicide.

The Police Argument

The apartment was totally secured from the inside

Fresh snow on the balcony outside had not been disturbed.

Only Ms Greenberg’s DNA was on the knife.

There were no defensive wounds

Ms Greenberg had been undergoing treatment for anxiety.

She had searched for posts about suicide on her laptop ( I have seen this disputed I have put a link below to statements by the family lawyer)

The Family’s View

There was an unfinished salad on the countertop of the kitchen and the knife block from which the blade came was overturned.

The large wound on the back of her head could have been the first blow. As she would have then been incapacitated the lack of defensive wounds is explained.

She had not searched for suicide on any tech. They say an FBI lab and their own expert have confirmed this.

The wounds were not just surface cuts. They were serious wounds. The knife was found stuck in her heart

They say that though she was under treatment for anxiety there was no indication she was suicidal. The report I saw said her psychiatrist had backed that assertion up.

The family say that she had indicated she had something troubling her. She had talked of quitting her job and moving home. They believe that was from some issue she was not telling them about rather than her mental health.

A process called photogrammetry had been used and that supported the belief that she had not killed herself and indeed some of the wounds could not have been inflicted by her. Photogrammetry was used to create a 3D image of Ms Greenberg and test out possible ways that she could have done this to herself.

An image from the 3D technique used to demonstrate suicide was unlikely

The family heard ( I have the link below) a medical examiner say that at least one wound showed no bleeding. When asked if that meant that it was a post mortem wound the expert said yes. Later the ME office said she had mis spoken.

My Thoughts

I looked at the apartment building. It is called Venice Lofts in Philadelphia. The way I understand it in the USA people count the floors of a building in a different way to us. We have a ground floor and then a first floor and then on. You guys count the ground floor as the first floor and then on. If that is the case then the apartment Ms Greenberg died in is on the top floor.

Ellen Greenberg

The roof looks flat so access via a loft hatch and then through the roof space to another apartment looks unlikely. The only other way would be out of the window and then up or down. I am guessing there is no unusual access point like a maintenance hatch so that is what we have. A sealed box and an established timeline.

I went looking on the medical journal websites I have access to and indeed found many reports of horrendous self inflicted injuries. None as unlikely as these.

So what do the like of us have? We are limited to media reports so we don’t have a lot. I have one theory but it is so slim I am going to keep it to myself. It is nothing startling, it is the only one that fits if you put a determination of suicide to one side.

As I understand it the family are now looking at another legal challenge to see if they can get a full investigation going. In history there have been many suicides that turned out to be unusual murders and many murders that turned out to be bizarre suicides.

What do you think? Maybe you know the layout of this apartment block and could give us some guidance?

Some other cases we have covered that have this element of doubt between accident, suicide and murder are:

Audrey May Herron

Mike Hearon

Phoebe Handsjuk

Brandon Swanson






For information regarding the laptop searches search on Crimeonline.com ( it opens up a huge lot of text if I link it)