Aliza Sherman Family Pictures Aliza Sherman Family Pictures
Share this Story:

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.”

Jan Lash sits alone at a granite island in her kitchen while her husband, Steve, works quietly in his home office nearby. Framed pictures of Lash’s three children are displayed on built-in bookshelves in the living room behind her. Although the couple of 37 years moved to Moreland Hills about eight months ago, their house already feels like a home for the empty nesters. 

Lash still reels from the loss of her best friend. As she thumbs through a plastic storage bag full of photos, she’s taken back to much livelier times filled with birthdays, bar and bat mitzvahs and family gatherings. In one photo, Aliza stands beside Lash wearing an eggshell blue dress, her arm thrown casually around her shoulders. Her hair is permed, her eyes bright, the smile lines on her face not yet defined.

In another, Aliza sits on a nut-brown couch with her head turned toward Jennifer, a still-tiny blond baby who’s looking at the camera with a goofy grin. 

“It’s such a loss, not having her see all the wonderful things that are happening in her children’s lives,” says Lash, quietly.

A third photo shows Aliza more recently, toward the end of her divorce. Jason, her middle son, is sandwiched between her and Lash at a Ohio State University fraternity parents’ night. In the photo, Aliza’s smile is worn thin, the skin under her eyes darkened and dull.

“She really tried to be strong,” she says.

A collection of greeting cards from Aliza tucks between the photos. The strokes of her cursive handwriting are light and elegant. “Thank you for being my rock, my lifesaver and for never giving up on me and our friendship.” On another is written, “You always give me a reason to go on, to be happy!” 

“She was such a resting place for me,” says Lash, sighing. 

The two met during a Lamaze class in 1985 while each was pregnant for the first time. 

“I was scared to death,” Lash recalls. When she realized they shared a due date and Aliza was a maternity nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital, Lash knew she hit the jackpot. “I thought, Hot dog, I’m talking to this girl!” she says, laughing. 

The relationship between the new mothers was cemented when Joshua Sherman and Matthew Lash were born in the same hospital within 20 hours of each other. “We helped each other through life,” says Lash.  


More than 600 people came to the Berkowitz-Kumin-Bookatz Memorial Chapel in Cleveland Heights for Aliza’s funeral March 28, 2013. They stood shoulder to shoulder inside the large chapel, while others filed into overflow rooms to watch the proceedings.

Bob Jacob, managing editor of the Cleveland Jewish News, was among those at the service and reported on it in the April 4 opinion section.

Aliza’s children — Josh, Jennifer, Jason and Jeremy — sat nearby her pine casket in an offset family visitation room. Josh’s wife, Laura, Jennifer’s boyfriend, Kevin, Jan Lash, and Aliza’s three brothers, Steve, Harry and Edward Czinn, were there too. Sanford, her husband of 31 years, stood quietly in the back of the room separated from them all. 

When it was time, each family member walked across the room to give a eulogy at the pulpit, pausing briefly to touch or kiss the casket along the way.

Jason spoke of his mother’s love. “My mom cared about myself, my siblings and her parents more than anything in the world,” he said, according to the Jewish News. “All she wanted was for us to be happy, and she did everything in her power every day to be sure.”

When it was Harry’s turn, he asked those gathered in that great hall a question. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” he asked. “There’s no good answer to that. But one thing’s for sure: Aliza was good people.

“Unfortunately,” continued Harry, pausing for emphasis, “that wasn’t enough to prevent her tragic and cruel death at what would be the hands of a coward.”

When it was Jennifer’s turn to speak, she addressed her mother directly.

“My special gift in life is having you as my mother,” she said. “The bond between us is enormous. It’s something I can always count on when it feels as if everything else is falling apart. I’m so glad that God in his infinite wisdom allowed me to belong to you, to be your child and your best friend.

“More than anything,” she continued, “I am so thankful to be given that honor to love you and call you my mother. I love you Mom.”

Before the end of the eulogies, as the family prepared to finish the service, Josh, her firstborn, suddenly stood up. Although he wasn’t listed as one of the speakers for the service, he walked toward the podium when given a nod from the rabbi.

“I feel like I’m in a nightmare right now,” he said. “I feel like I’m going to wake up and it’s going to be a bad dream. She was the best mother in the world. I wish I would have been closer with her.”

From the front row in the family visitation room, Lash could see her sons sitting at the front of the large crowd, crying. Josh’s words gave her hope.

“I thought, Well, maybe this family could be put back together,” recalls Lash. “Then it took such a turn.”

Josh’s voice changed. “This is not right,” he said, according to the Jewish News. “And the way she died was not right. I’m sick of hearing about these stories on the news.”

A hush settled over the crowd.

“No one knows who did it,” he said. “I’m going to say right now, my father had nothing to f---ing do with this!”

Gasps could be heard throughout the chapel. Jennifer asked if someone could get him out, get him to stop.

“I’m saying it right now,” he continued. “She was the best mother in the world, and if I find out who did this, I will take care of them myself.”

Aliza’s strength was rooted in her upbringing. 

Her parents, survivors of the Holocaust, met and fell in love in a displaced persons camp. They came to Cleveland in the early 1950s. “Their lives were geared toward committing themselves to giving their children a better life,” says Aliza’s brother, Edward Czinn.

Growing up, Aliza was always one of the prettiest girls in the neighborhood. She was accepted into CWRU’s nursing program but couldn’t afford it. So she attended Huron Road Nursing School’s program instead. Still, she attended Hillel events with other Jewish students on the CWRU campus. That’s where she met a medical student named Sanford. 

He had brown hair and brown eyes, the stubble over his chin short and brisk. He was heavyset and towered over her at 6-feet tall. His parents were also Holocaust survivors from Poland. They fell in love and were married about two years later on Sunday, Nov. 28, 1982.

By the early 1990s, Aliza and Sanford had begun to fill their four-bedroom colonial on tree-lined Penshurst Drive. Sanford was running a successful ophthalmologist practice. Aliza left nursing behind to raise Josh, Jason and Jennifer. 

But their marriage was not without troubles, according to Aliza’s brothers. “He could be a good and gracious guy,” says Edward. “But he had two sides to him.”

At times, that meant Sanford was incredibly generous, gifting money to friends and family members. He kept the family’s finances and was known to invest thousands of dollars in stocks and day trading, and found ways to boast about his wealth. 

“He was a guy who could be kind of tough and mean, even with his own family,” Edward says. “He sometimes didn’t hesitate to exhibit that in an open setting with other people watching.”

Through his lawyer, Brian Green, Sanford declined  Cleveland Magazine’s interview requests.

In 1995, Aliza gave birth to Jeremy. Four years later they moved into a 4,883-square-foot, five-bedroom home at the other end of the same street. With the extra space, Aliza tried to make their home a gathering place. She kept a cupboard in her kitchen full of chocolate for the kids and memorized everyone’s favorite foods for Saturday Shabbat. The Lashes joined the Shermans for nearly every Hanukkah. 

For Aliza, her children and her faith were the center of her life.

“You knew there were problems there, but [Aliza] didn’t really go into details,” says Edward. “Maybe she didn’t want to share it, maybe she was embarrassed about it, maybe it just wasn’t her style.”

“I have memories from when I was 3-years-old sitting on the carpet in the family room and covering my ears when they were fighting,” says Jason. “The police were at our house numerous times throughout our childhood, because me or one of my siblings just called the cops when they were fighting.”

In 2004, everything seemed to take a turn for the worse. 

Sanford, then 49, unexpectedly retired from his ophthalmologist practice. According to court records and depositions, Sanford’s office assistant quit and moved to Nevada after 18 years on the job. Rather than train a replacement, he decided to close his practice.

Aliza returned to work, this time as an in vitro fertilization nurse at the Cleveland Clinic in Beachwood. Meanwhile, Sanford spent weeks at a time at their summer home in Florida or in New York, according to court records and depositions.

The family disputes also continued. According to a police report filed Dec. 12, 2004, 9-year-old Jeremy called 911 because he was frightened when a fight erupted over a Hanukkah game of dreidel. Sanford told police the argument started between him and Aliza over the prizes. Josh said the fight escalated when Jennifer joined the argument, swearing at him and their father. Jeremy said Josh threw a chair.

Less than a year later, on Oct. 22, 2005, a fight broke out after Aliza discovered Sanford had resumed a friendship with someone named Larry. In a statement filed with the police, Sanford reported that Aliza hit him and beat the television and Sanford’s car with a handheld massager. In the same report, Aliza told police Sanford “routinely call[ed] her names and threaten[ed] to leave her, divorce her, [and] withhold family finances from her.” 

“He could be intense, but Aliza could be intense too,” says Edward. “You had two people who were pretty hardheaded at times going at it.”


On the night Aliza was killed, the officers who arrived at their Beachwood house had more questions than answers.  

It was unclear what happened or whether Aliza even met with her attorney. Police wanted to know: Where was she going? Did anyone want to hurt her? Did they know if Aliza was in any kind of trouble? 

None of it made any sense to Jennifer. She fell to the ground like a sinking stone in the snow. She lay there for several minutes until Kevin and his father, who arrived minutes later, carried her to the backseat of Kevin’s car. 

“It was so symbolic of what was going to be the next four years of our lives,” Jennifer says now. “I literally could not move. I was totally numb.” 

For three days after the funeral, Jennifer sat shiva, a traditional Jewish mourning practice, in her Solon home. The divide between Jennifer and her father had grown so deep, she refused to do it in Beachwood where she grew up. Her mirrors were thinly veiled with cloth to avoid self-reflection and focus on her mother’s absence.  

“She was my hero,” says Jennifer. “I was in awe of her. She was the most selfless person I have ever known, who did everything to help other people and lift other people up without ever expecting anything in return.”

From sunrise to sunset, family and friends surrounded her with their blessings and comfort.  

“We all converged on poor Jen,” says Lash. “There was a group of women always at that house bringing food, bringing cards, just trying to help this poor girl.”

It was there, amid an unfathomable void in Jennifer’s great room, that the Justice for Aliza movement began. 

Two weeks after the funeral, nearly 80 friends and family gathered on the brick walkway where Aliza was killed. Behind dark sunglasses, Lash cried and held a sign with the picture of Aliza in her eggshell blue dress.

“It was horrific,” says Lash, recalling what it was like to be back at the site of the attack for the first time. “You had a bunch of broken people banding together to envelope this family to keep them lifted up. We were doing whatever we had to do to move forward.” 

They teamed up with Cuyahoga County Crime Stoppers to offer a $25,000 reward for information about the case and promoted it on a billboard near East 14th Street and Carnegie Avenue. A Facebook page was created to support the family and spread word of events. 

Jennifer pressed pause on her life. She took time off from nurse practitioner’s school at CWRU, left her job in the Cleveland Clinic cardiac intensive care unit and devoted herself to her mother and the investigation. 

“She pretty much put her life on hold,” recalls Jason.  

A first-year medical student at Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, Jason briefly considered dropping out. “All of my mom’s friends were like, ‘That’s the last thing your mom would want you to do,’ ” he says. “So, I went back to school.”

Jennifer set up a bedroom in her basement for Jeremy until he graduated high school and left for college at the end of the summer. Aliza’s friends planted sunflowers in Jennifer’s front yard to represent her mother’s love for gardening and for life. 

“My mom would always say to me, ‘Jen, if I’m not here one day, you’re going to have to be the one to keep everyone together,’ ” Jennifer recalls. “I wanted to make sure they felt they weren’t alone and that they had somewhere where people loved them.”

By May, they had created red plastic bracelets to raise awareness. The color symbolized the red strings Aliza used to tie on doorknobs and suitcases when she traveled as a way of warding off misfortune. 

“She used to wear the Lance Armstrong bracelets,” says Lash. “She had all sorts. She just supported everything.” 

On that first Mother’s Day without Aliza, more than 300 people holding red balloons marched behind a Justice for Aliza banner from the Beachwood school in Aliza’s neighborhood, past the home where she lived to the parking lot of the clinic where she worked. 

Photos from those early events show Jennifer withdrawn, the brim of her grandfather’s straw hat pulled over black sunglasses. But an introduction to Yvonne Pointer and Laura Cowan, two women who have long been invested in the fight against domestic violence, offered her inspiration and a way forward. 

“You become the only voice that the victim has because if you don’t, they become silent in the grave,” says Pointer, who’s become an activist in response to her daughter’s murder in 1984.  

In July, Jennifer gathered more than a hundred women for a self-defense class at the Beachwood Community Center. One month later, in the hopes someone would come forward with information, the Crime Stoppers reward was increased to $50,000. Jennifer also replaced her father as an executor of her mother’s estate.

“She was very adamant about finding whoever was responsible and making sure everything came to light,” says Jason. “She kind of saw it as her calling and her responsibility as my mother’s daughter.”

In September, Kevin proposed to Jennifer just three days before what would have been Aliza’s 54th birthday. He had initially planned on proposing the same weekend Aliza was murdered. Now, six months later, it was time. 

“My mom and I would daydream about the day I would be getting married or have kids,” says Jennifer. 

Within six weeks, Lash helped her make invitations, pull together decorations, find a venue and search for an elegant A-line white gown and veil from Brides by the Falls.

On Oct. 20 when Jennifer walked down a leaf-strewn aisle at the Club at Hillbrook in Chagrin Falls, neither of her parents were present. She was flanked by Jason and Jeremy while carrying a bouquet clasped with an open locket that held a portrait of Aliza from her wedding day. 

“Our lives were still so shattered,” she recalls. “But it was something that gave everyone a reason to come together and celebrate something happy.”

By 2011, the Sherman family was disintegrating.

Aliza had reached her limit. Her oldest children reportedly started choosing sides: Josh distanced himself from Aliza; Jennifer pulled away from Sanford. 

Josh would not agree to be interviewed by Cleveland Magazine for this story. 

“I just diminished our interaction with each other,” says Jennifer of her father. “I just became more aware of the type of people I thought should be in my life.”

She wanted her mother to do the same. “I encouraged her to go and seek happiness and freedom and peacefulness,” says Jennifer. “She deserved to be in a place where she was valued and appreciated.”

On Jan. 3, 2011, Aliza wrote an email to Rabbi Binyamin Blau, the then-principal of Fuchs Mizrachi School where Jeremy was a sophomore. She requested Jeremy be allowed a pass/fail grade for one of his classes rather than let his underperformance affect his grade-point average. Her email stressed that his academic struggles were due to family strife.

“I have been battling and struggling with a very controlling, hurtful spouse for many years,” she wrote. “It looks like a divorce is imminent, it took me a long time to reach this point, tried to avoid it at all cost, but seeing how my oldest son turned into a reincarnate of his father I realized I have to free Jeremy from this environment. Nobody knows about the steps I need to take, except my best friend, who is my support.”

Even after six years, as Lash reads through this email, it’s difficult for her to work through it. “She was always hopeful things would get better,” she says, tears welling up in her eyes. “I had a different kind of marriage so I didn’t understand what she was going through. I just tried to be supportive day by day.”

She takes a deep breath, covers her mouth and sighs heavily.

“She adored Josh,” says Lash. “That was extremely painful for her.”

She takes another breath.

“She would go through fire for her kids, each one of them, no matter what was going on,” she says.





Aliza filed for divorce June 20, 2011, according to Cuyahoga County court documents. She hired Joe Stafford of Stafford & Stafford at the advice of a longtime friend who had him presiding over his own divorce case. 

As one of Northeast Ohio’s busiest law firms dealing with divorce and family law, Stafford built a reputation for handling complex high-profile divorce cases. Aliza thought it would give her the upper hand.

The day after he received divorce papers from Aliza, Sanford filed his own complaint. 

Still, in an email Aliza sent to her attorney June 29, 2011, Sanford was pushing for counseling and hoping to work things out. “His moods swing from angry and mean to sweet, [and] accommodating,” she wrote to Stafford.

In a handwritten note, Sanford called her by her Hebrew name, Leba, and wrote, “Please get marriage counseling with me and save this marriage of 4 Holocost [sic] survivors.”

But Aliza was past that point. “I think after 28-plus years of trying I gave it a fair shot,” she wrote in the email. “If I had 1% hope that something could improve I would agree to the counseling, but I know this is all an act to mess with my head.”

She moved into the bedroom downstairs. The troubles persisted. 

Police reported visiting the home six times that year. One police report from July reveals an argument erupted between Aliza and Sanford, Josh and Josh’s then-fiancee, Laura. Another from that same month shows Josh called 911 because he was convinced Aliza stole losing lottery tickets and collectible coins out of his bedroom.

“Josh aligned himself up with his father and basically disowned his mother,” says Aliza’s brother Edward. “You had competing alliances within the house.”

Yet, neither Aliza nor Sanford wanted to leave the home out of fear the courts would see it as vacating the property. 

By the end of 2011, Sanford was seeking help from friends to persuade Aliza to settle the divorce. He requested the court put a restraining order on all joint bank accounts attached to Aliza’s name — including those she held with her mother, Doris, and with Jason and Jennifer. Aliza grew concerned, not only because it directly influenced their children’s financial stability, but also because she viewed it as another means of lording control over her life.  

In a rambling email she sent to herself at 2:10 a.m. in January 2012, Aliza expressed her fears. “I am really afraid he is going to have me killed,” she wrote.

When Lash and others offered to open their homes to Aliza, she wouldn’t move. Instead, she put a deadbolt on her bedroom door and locked herself in her room at night.

“I told you from the beginning I needed your help to bring a bully down,” she wrote to Stafford one month later. “I need to teach my sons that it is not okay to threaten and terrorize women. Even if I come out broke, it will be worth it, to give them this life lesson.” 

“You didn’t really know just how serious some of those statements were when she’d say it,” says Edward. “She feared him and thought he was capable of doing anything — that much I know.”  

Just when things looked like they couldn’t get more chaotic, they did. In March, Stafford’s law license was suspended for one year after the Ohio Supreme Court found that he violated six of the state’s rules of professional conduct for judges and attorneys. In his absence, Aliza’s case was given over to Stafford’s senior associate, Gregory Moore, of Sagamore Hills. 

But Aliza wasn’t impressed. According to her brother Edward, Moore was late for meetings and unresponsive to text messages and emails. Within the first six months, Moore filed several continuances on Aliza’s case, pushing back the divorce proceedings, because he was allegedly unprepared prior to appearing in court.

Rather than drag it out, Aliza interviewed at least two other lawyers to take her case. But, according to Edward, no one would have her. Her case was too far along, and Aliza was short on funds. 

Around this same time, according to prosecutors, the extra workload created by Stafford’s absence put a heavy burden on Moore. 

Prosecutors allege on at least three occasions between January and July 2012, Moore called in bomb threats to the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas, Lake County Courthouse and Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court on days he was scheduled to appear in court for cases he wasn’t prepared for.

By March 2013, according to court records, Judge Rosemary Gold ordered no more continuances would be granted in Aliza’s case and the trial would begin March 26.

So two days before their day in court, Moore sent Aliza a text message requesting she meet him at his office downtown to discuss final preparations for the case. On her way there, she spoke to Lash on the phone.

“She sounded optimistic,” recalls Lash. “But she was anxious about everything.”

Lash offered to go with Aliza, but she refused. “She just seemed very worn out,” says Lash. “I just said, ‘Your happiness is all I want. Next year will be better.’ ”

According to prosecutors, Moore never met with Aliza. They claim he initially provided a statement to investigators that he was waiting in his office during the time of the attack, but data retrieved one year later with the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from a downtown cell tower suggest he allegedly lied about his location and misled Aliza. When investigators attempted to follow up with Moore regarding his whereabouts, he refused to cooperate, according to Tomba. 

Moore has denied he lied to Aliza or the police.

“He’s got some questions to answer and hopefully that will come out in court,” Tomba says. “He’s not talking to us. If you don’t have anything to hide, why wouldn’t you talk to us?”



Two months after the first anniversary of Aliza’s death, Jennifer filed a civil suit against her father. In it, she sought to recover more than $2 million Sanford allegedly funneled out of a joint bank account he held with Aliza while she was alive.

“Her mother was fighting for certain things [in the divorce], and she was going to see that through,” says Lash. “Everything she did, she did for her mom.”

Jennifer’s civil suit claimed that Sanford conspired with five unnamed individuals to hide more than $2 million from Aliza by moving it from their joint bank account into one in Aliza’s name. According to court records, the Merrill Lynch account in question was discovered by Aliza when she hired forensic accountant Jeffrey Firestone two months before her death.

According to the suit, Aliza claimed she was not aware of the account when it was opened in her name in 2000. According to emails sent to Moore, Aliza was also unaware of ever signing a power of attorney giving Sanford control over the funds in the account. 

By the time Aliza discovered the account with Firestone’s help, the account had been closed and the money withdrawn, including transfers into an account in Sanford’s name.

A forensic document examiner hired by Jennifer corroborated her claim that it was highly likely the signature on the power of attorney did not match samples of Aliza’s handwriting. According to Firestone’s reports, $820,000 in damages were incurred by the transferring of funds from Aliza’s account into Sanford’s individual account.

Sanford claims he opened the initial Merrill Lynch account when his insurer PIE Mutual Insurance Co., one of the largest malpractice insurers in Ohio, was ordered into liquidation by the Ohio Department of Insurance in 1998. At the advice of a lawyer in the family, he moved money into a separate account under Aliza’s name to protect his assets. Sanford said Aliza was aware of the move and gave him power of attorney to control the funds since he handled the family finances.

Jennifer argued those funds belonged to Aliza’s estate since she was the sole proprietor of the account and had this issue been resolved in court, it may have belonged to Aliza upon the divorce. Sanford contended that the funds were considered marital assets used for supporting the family and therefore never belonged solely to Aliza.

Four months after Jennifer filed the suit against Sanford, her older brother Josh filed a motion to remove her as co-executor of Aliza’s estate. In the motion, he alleged his sister had a separate agenda: She viewed Sanford as a person of interest in the death of their mother and therefore could not act on behalf of Aliza’s estate without bias. 

It took more than a year of legal wrangling until Josh eventually dropped his claim in 2015. During that time, as the civil suit continued to unfold, the nature of Sanford’s character became a central focus in the civil case.

Sanford testified that from roughly 2006 to 2010 he had been having an affair with a woman who lived in New York and Florida and that he made several trips to visit her. Other testimony by some of Sanford’s closest friends, including Larry Shanker, revealed that Sanford had been at the end of his rope and was emotionally distressed in the time leading up to Aliza filing for divorce.

“He was rampant,” says Shanker, Sanford’s friend and a former law enforcement officer in his deposition. “He kept repeating the same thing day after day, seeking attorneys, the domestic problems, the fighting going on.”

Shanker and Sanford claim in their depositions that Aliza may have worn recording devices per instruction from her attorney and that she tried to provoke Sanford into arguments so she could capture them on tape. In his deposition, Shanker claims he and Sanford talked about Sanford’s marital problems and that he purchased Sanford a recording device for protection in the possibility that Aliza would use evidence against him.

Sanford denied using the recording device to tape Aliza, recording his ideas about the stock market instead, according to his testimony.

In more than one conversation that took place while walking along the shore at Headlands Beach State Park, Shanker says in his deposition, Sanford inquired how someone could get away with committing “a perfect murder.”

When one of Jennifer’s attorneys pressed further and asked how Shanker responded to such a question, Shanker said he gave Sanford his scenario. “Don’t use your car or don’t let your car be seen,” he testified. “Don’t use a gun because it could be heard. Don’t use your street clothes. Use something that would cover up your entire body, your face, your hands.”

According to Sanford’s deposition, he said he “probably” had conversations about Aliza but couldn’t recall the nature of those conversations or where they occurred. During Sanford’s deposition, he was not asked directly about Shanker’s “perfect murder” assertion.

“Having a conversation is not against the law,” says deputy chief Tomba.

In August 2016, the judge dismissed claims for civil remedy for criminal acts and claims of conspiracy. “There has been no evidence submitted that Sanford has been convicted of any criminal act relevant to this case,” he wrote.


Just 11 days before she was murdered, Aliza sent a text message to her brother Edward: “Hope all is well..Trial in 2 weeks! Hopefully there is life after death!”

For Aliza’s family and friends — and Jennifer especially — life after Aliza’s death is like trying to close a door that’s come off the hinge.

“Until justice has been served, her life will never be normal,” says Caron Chait, Aliza’s friend and former neighbor. “Then and only then can Jennifer continue with the rest of her life.”

On March 24, 2017, the fourth anniversary of Aliza’s death, less than 25 people gather behind the Galleria. Although the crowd is smaller than it’s ever been, the sun is shining on the 71-degree day. 

It’s a sign, Jennifer says, that perhaps good news may be just over the horizon. “It’s heartbreaking to be here four years later,” she says to a swarm of cameras and news reporters. “It doesn’t get any easier, at least not for me.”

In December, all sides agreed to settle the civil suit. Sanford agreed to pay $110,000 to Aliza’s estate with the stipulation that Jennifer would forever release and discharge him from any claims they might make in the future. Jennifer agreed to Sanford’s stipulation with one addendum: If in the future he is convicted of any criminal offense related to her mother’s death, she reserves the right to renew her fight and make further claims against him.

“We’re just focused on seeing that someone is held accountable for what happened,” she says. “Until we see that, we won’t stop.”

Behind her, Lash stands with Jason beside a small table covered in red felt and a fishbowl filled with red Justice for Aliza bracelets. Four tall votive candles bearing photos of Aliza sit on the table — one for each year since her death. 

The first, lit by Jennifer wearing all black, shows a photo of her sandwiched between her mother and her husband, Kevin, who could not be here today. He stayed home with their newborn daughter.

The second candle, lit by Jason, shows Aliza smiling in a bright blue nursing uniform. He has since become a pediatric resident at Cleveland Clinic Children’s hospital.

Lash lights the third, the photo on the glass showing Aliza standing in a white dress beside Jason at his high school graduation. Although Lash struggles to be here, she reads a poem. 

Finally, two friends, Mary Feuer and Maria Zoul, light the fourth candle bearing the image of Aliza displayed on all their posters and buttons, the image that brings them so much hope.

As they all stand in a moment of silence, wind rips through the corridor, but the candlelight never wavers. Each flame appears to shine like tiny red hearts from behind Aliza’s chest in each picture.

“No matter how many people show up, I will be here every year,” says Jennifer. “Hopefully, this will be the last.”

Share this Story: