Jennifer Sherman was at the end of a long Sunday study session when she received a text message from her 17-year-old brother, Jeremy.
“Are you with Mom or do you know where she is?”
Their mother, Aliza, had gone out and promised to bring back pizza. But that was hours ago, and Jeremy was hungry.
For much of the day, Jennifer had silenced her phone while cramming for a pharmacology exam at Case Western Reserve University. Her mother sent a text message around 2:55 p.m. to say she was meeting with her attorney, Gregory Moore, at his downtown Cleveland office to discuss final preparations for her divorce proceedings in a couple of days.
But when Jennifer noticed it was 7:45 p.m., she grew worried.
Jennifer called Aliza’s cellphone. She could count on one hand the days they didn’t talk to one another. No matter when she called in the past, Aliza would pick up without hesitation.
This time was different. Her mother didn’t answer.
Jennifer tried a second time. Nothing. So she called Jeremy back to figure out where their mother could have gone.
Before she left, Aliza had told Jeremy she was headed to their grandmother’s house in Cleveland Heights to get some medicine and run errands. Although their grandmother, Doris, lived in Florida, she kept a home nearby for when she’d visit.
Jennifer called her mother one more time, then tried Moore’s office. Neither of them answered. So Jennifer put on a pair of slippers and ran to her car wearing nothing but a pair of gray pajama pants and a fleece hoodie.
As she drove north from her home in Solon, Jennifer tried to sort out the possibilities. Maybe Aliza never went to Doris’ house in Cleveland Heights. She always tried to protect Jeremy from the divorce that left her emotionally and physically worn down, so it was possible Aliza used her mother’s house as an excuse. Or maybe Aliza drove to Doris’ first, got in a car accident and never made it downtown. Perhaps she simply misplaced her cellphone and would be home shortly.
Jennifer continued to dial between her mother’s cell hoping she would answer.
Then the calls started coming to her. Doris had been trying to reach Aliza for hours. Aliza’s brother Harry wasn’t having any luck either.
Jennifer knew. Something terrible had happened.
Aliza prized family above all else. It was the reason she worked as an in vitro fertilization nurse at the Cleveland Clinic, helping women fulfill their second, third and fourth chances at building families of their own. It was why she continued living with her soon-to-be ex-husband, Sanford, for nearly a year-and-a-half after she filed for divorce.
As Jennifer approached Warrensville Center and Cedar roads, her phone rang again. It was Jeremy. Cleveland police officers were on their way to the Beachwood house, where Jeremy lived with Aliza and Sanford, to talk with the family.
Jennifer made a U-turn across the four busy lanes and frantically called her then-boyfriend Kevin Rivchun to tell him the news. He was visiting his parents’ house nearby and was on his way to meet her. Less than 10 minutes later, they converged on Jennifer’s childhood home on Penshurst Drive.
Over the past five years, 25-year-old Jennifer had distanced herself from her father. She was furious at him for how he treated Aliza, how he had handled himself throughout the divorce proceedings and further fractured their family. Even now, Jennifer wanted nothing to do with him. As Kevin pulled behind her in the driveway, Jennifer ran inside, grabbed Jeremy and pulled him out of the house, leaving Sanford alone inside.
For 45 minutes, they sat in her car at the end of the driveway. Outside it was quiet, the ground covered in a thin blanket of snow. Inside, Jennifer’s thoughts raced about what might have happened, about how close her mother was to starting over.
When the police arrived, two detectives stepped out of the car. Jennifer rushed out to meet them. Reeling, she reached for the detective’s coat with both hands and pulled the officer close.
“What happened to my mother?” she asked, tears streaming down her face.
A red-brick walkway separates the glassy Galleria at Erieview and 75 Erieview Plaza’s cement honeycombs next door. It’s a quiet, easily overlooked cut through between office buildings with concrete pillars and vacant storefronts.
As Aliza walked west around 5:30 p.m. toward Moore’s Stafford & Stafford office on the fifth floor of 55 Erieview Plaza, her chestnut-colored hair was cut in a suburban bob. She wore a sapphire ring, the birthstone she shared with her daughter Jennifer, on her right hand. A necklace with the Star of David and her deceased grandfather’s wedding band hung around her neck.
About 30 feet from the entryway and two days from her date in court, Aliza was attacked, stabbed 11 times — once in her right arm, twice in the right side of her neck and eight times in the back.
An employee on the fourth floor of 75 Erieview Plaza heard her screams and rushed downstairs. By the time he arrived, she was struggling to stand. Blood pooled out of her mouth. He immediately called 911, but Aliza was fading.
“Don’t die, lady,” he pleaded with her. “Stay with me, OK?”
Aliza tried to cry out, but he couldn’t understand her. When she tried to talk, Aliza coughed up blood instead. So he had her roll onto her stomach.
“There’s blood everywhere,” he told the dispatcher. “I’ve never seen this much blood.”
Forty seconds later, sirens ripped through downtown.
“I hear them! I hear them,” he shouted. “Lady, stay with me, alright? They’re coming.”
Another minute passed.
“She is going out fast,” he said.
At 6:14 p.m. on March 24, 2013, Aliza Sherman was pronounced dead in the emergency room of MetroHealth Medical Center.
More than four years later, the crime remains unsolved despite investigators’ best efforts, prominent billboards seeking “Justice for Aliza” and a circle of family and friends who have kept her memory and the case alive.
That time has been turbulent even as Jennifer has led marches, vigils and benefits in her mother’s name, worked to become an advocate for women who face domestic abuse and filed a civil suit against her father in an effort to recover more than $2 million he allegedly funneled out of an account in Aliza’s name.
As for the investigation, a grainy video retrieved from a surveillance camera mounted outside a nearby parking garage revealed a hooded figure in jeans and a green jacket running away from the scene moments after the attack with what seems to be a limp.
Because of the poor video quality and the person’s disguise, it’s difficult to tell even the individual’s gender or race. The brutality of the attack and the fact that none of Aliza’s jewelry had been stolen suggested to police that this was not a robbery or a random act of violence.
Police cast a wide net. They searched for the murder weapon at the scene and on the roofs of nearby buildings, but turned up nothing. They searched the Sherman residence for knives, but none of them were a match. To this day, the murder weapon remains missing.
Investigators interviewed employees in the floors above the walkway. They questioned Moore and members of the Sherman family.
“We’ve interviewed a lot of people, everybody who could possibly be involved or anyone who would want to talk to us about anything,” says Cleveland police deputy chief Ed Tomba. “We’ve done it.”
In January 2015, Cleveland police had exhausted their leads and turned over the investigation to Cuyahoga County prosecutors to re-examine the evidence.
For one year, nothing much happened. Then in January 2016, the first charges in connection with the investigation were made. Aliza’s attorney, Gregory Moore, was indicted on one count of tampering with evidence, one count of obstructing official business, one count of falsification, one count of telecommunications fraud and two counts of forgery. Prosecutors allege Moore sent Aliza text messages stating he was in his office at the time she was attacked, but phone records, electronic keycard data and witness statements allegedly show Moore left his office one hour before Aliza was murdered and didn’t return until one hour after police found her bleeding outside.
When the Moore indictment was announced, then-prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty said in a statement, “We believe that this indictment and the evidence behind it take us one step closer to bringing her killer to justice.”
Moore has denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty.
He is scheduled to appear in court May 3 on unrelated charges for inducing panic after allegedly making bomb threats to three courthouses on days his clients were scheduled to appear in court in 2012. He has pleaded not guilty to those as well.
“We’re taking another look,” says Ryan Miday, director of communications and public policy for county prosecutor Michael O’Malley’s office. “We’re hopeful that we’ll have some leads that will result in an indictment, but we’re not there yet.”