Investigation Discovery’s ’48 Hours: A Question of Murder’ follows the bizarre case of the death of Sandra Maloney in Madison, Wisconsin, in February 1998. John Maloney was charged by investigators with the crime, but experts and others believe John may not have been guilty. This episode attempts to give the truth from both sides, and lets viewers decide what actually happened that day. So who is alleged to have killed Sandra? Let’s find out.
How Did Sandra Maloney Die?
Sandra J. (Cator) Maloney was born on July 30, 1957, in Madison in Dane County, Wisconsin, to Romana “Lola” Beale and the late Lavern Cator. In the 1970s, she moved to Green Bay to attend Preble High School. John Maloney was her future husband. They were married at St. Bernards Catholic Church in 1978, after Sandra graduated in 1976. The couple had 3 boys – Matt, Aaron, and Sean.
John reminisces on the seven years that were blissful for them. Sandra worked as a secretary and John was in a two-year program to learn criminal justice. John joined the police. Often described as a “Kool-Aid mom”, Sandra loved her children, volunteering at school activities where her children participated. Sandra was warm, compassionate, loving, and devoted to her children. Sandra woke up one morning with stiff neck in the early 90s.
Sandra, a paranoid woman, began to believe she had multiple sclerosis despite the fact that many doctors didn’t agree with her. She became addicted to Klonopin, an anti-anxiety medication. Over the next years, she began abusing alcohol and medication, visiting rehabs and mental hospital, and becoming involved in multiple car crashes. John was fed up and asked for a divorce. He also wanted custody of their three sons.
John was at a hearing in the custody battle for the town’s morning on February 11, 1998. Lola stopped by Green Bay to visit her daughter. Initially surprised to see so much smoke inside, Lola kept on calling her daughter until she stumbled upon Sandra’s charred body on the burnt sofa in the living room. The autopsy report stated that her lungs did not contain a lethal amount of carbon monoxide, usually seen in victims dying from smoke, and the medical examiner had ruled her death as “probable manual strangulation” based on some wounds around her neck.
Who Killed Sandra Maloney?
Initial responders from the Green Bay Fire Department, Brown County Arson Task Force dismissed this case as accidental fire due to the negligent smoking of cigarettes. Luminol was used to locate blood on the floors in the laundry room, bathroom and coffee table. A nearby trash can contained bloody rags, and there was also a laundry hamper containing a blood-soaked woman’s tee. A bloody fingerprint was also found on the basement shower door that turned out to be Jody Pawlak’s, who was the victim’s best friend.
Investigators also discovered multiple suicide notes with crossed outs, a telephone cord that was tied to the basement ceiling pipe and VCRs on the coffee table right underneath the noose. Sandra’s blood alcohol level was abnormally high, according to toxicology reports. According to multiple arson experts, forensic analysts, and John’s defense counsel, Sandra had tried to take her life that night but the noose broke and she smashed her head, thus accounting for all the blood.
Jody called to check in on her. She helped her get to her bedroom, then she left her with her cigarettes. According to experts, Sandra intoxicated set the house ablaze accidentally. However, the investigation was handed over to the Wisconsin Department of Justice (WDJ) to avoid any conflict of interest with John being an officer of the Green Bay Police Department.
Gregory J. Eggum, Special Agent at WDJ, allegedly had tunnel vision and was able to see John as a suspect due to his relationship with the victim. While he had no physical evidence that tied John to the crime scene, he decided to use John’s girlfriend, Tracy Hellenbrand, to get John. Tracy was an investigator with the Internal Revenue Service. She allowed investigators to record Tracy and John as she attempted to get John to confess. The prosecution and investigators had enough evidence to incriminate John for the first-degree murder conviction of his wife based on numerous such encounters.
John was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in February 1999. The earliest eligible date for parole is 2024. However, Truth in Justice, a Virginia-based group for alleged innocent convicts, took up John’s case and decided to fight it out. They had raised several questions and evidence that they claim to prove John’s innocence.
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