|19 year-old Sarah Lee Stern (2016)|
Sarah Lee Stern was a budding YouTube star pursuing a career in the arts when she was reported missing in Neptune City, New Jersey on December 3rd, 2016. A massive search for Sarah was prompted when her car was found abandoned, with the keys inside, on Belmar Bridge over Shark River. Thinking she may have jumped, a dive rescue team searched the water, possibly for her body, but none is found. In the days following her disappearance, both police and community members searched for Sarah in the surrounding area. Unfortunately, the searchers were unable to find Sarah or any clues to her whereabouts.
On February 1st, 2017, nearly two months after her disappearance, Sarah’s childhood friend Preston Taylor (19) confessed that on the night of December 2nd, 2016, he helped Liam McAtasney (19) throw Sarah’s body over Belmar Bridge and into Shark River. Earlier that day, Liam allegedly went to Sarah’s house and strangled her to death before stealing $7,000 from her. After that, he left Sarah’s body at her house and called Preston to ask him to help dispose of her body. Preston then went to Sarah’s house, retrieved her body, and hid her under a bush near her home. Later that evening, both Liam and Preston returned to Sarah’s home and placed her body in the front passenger seat of her own car. Liam then drove Sarah’s car to Belmar Bridge, with Preston following in his own car. Upon arriving, the two threw her body into the river.
Liam McAtasney (left) and Preston Taylor (right)
Sarah, Liam and Preston were all childhood friends. In fact, Preston and Sarah attended the prom together in high school. Liam and Preston also feigned concern for Sarah following her disappearance, and volunteered in the initial search for her. Prosecutors allege that Liam had been planning to rob and kill Sarah for at least 6 months and that he let Preston in on the plan sometime before it occurred. Preston pleaded guilty to all of his charges in April 2017. Liam maintained his not guilty plea and went to trial in January 2019.
Preston, Sarah and Liam pictured together before their prom in 2014
A jury ultimately found Liam guilty of murdering Sarah in February 2019. At his trial, a video was played that contained a recording of Liam detailing what he did to Sarah. This video was secretly recorded a few weeks after Sarah’s death by a friend of Liam’s who was working with police. In the recording, Liam is heard saying “it took me half an hour to kill her. The worst part of it is I thought I was walking out with $50,000 to $100,000 in my pocket. [But] she had one safe that she took money out of and it only had $10,000.” Liam also admitted to studying Sarah’s mannerisms–particularly her movements while driving–in the months leading up to her death. That way, when Liam left Sarah’s home in her car, the neighbor’s surveillance camera would capture movements identical to Sarah’s typical movements while driving and make it appear that Sarah was the one who voluntarily left her home in the car.
Preston Taylor also testified at Liam’s trial. He maintained that Liam planned to kill Sarah for months before doing so, and that the two disposed of her body together.
In June 2019, Liam McAtasney was sentenced to life in prison without possiblity of parole. Sarah's body has never been found.
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