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Ex-Navy sailor ordered to trial in death of wife found in San Diego Bay

Matthew Scott Sullivan pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges stemming from the death of his wife, whose body was found on the shore of San Diego Bay two years after she was reported missing.

JOHN GIBBINS/THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE (TNS)

By PAULINE REPARD | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: February 16, 2019

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Tribune News Service) A former Navy man was bound over for trial Friday on one count of murder, accused of stabbing his wife to death in 2014 and hiding her body in their house for two years before dumping the decomposing remains in San Diego Bay.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Frederick Link said he had heard enough evidence in a two-day preliminary hearing to believe that Elizabeth Sullivan was the victim of a crime.

Further, the judge said, evidence of her blood in the attic of the couple’s Point Loma home, on the underside of a carpet and on a knife hidden under insulation in the attic, was enough to hold Matthew Sullivan for trial.

“The attic is the tell-tale key,” Link said. “Without that I don’t think you have a case.”

He added, “This is going to be a very interesting trial.”

Now-retired San Diego Police Department Detective Kimberly Collier testified during the preliminary hearing that the 33-year-old defendant separtated from the Navy and moved from California days after the discovery of his wife's body.

Defense attorney Marcus DeBose argued that a prosecutor had presented no evidence proving his client had killed Elizabeth Sullivan and that there was at least one other good suspect, the boyfriend she dated while married.

DeBose said Matthew Sullivan cooperated with San Diego police and homicide detectives throughout their investigation after his wife was reported missing, by a friend, on Oct. 13, 2014.

Deputy District Attorney Jill Lindberg brought in witnesses who said Elizabeth Sullivan had a troubled marriage and went to see a divorce lawyer that morning. Her friends never heard from her again after that night.

Police took a missing persons report on her, but found no evidence of foul play for two years.

Then, on Oct. 4, 2016 — the day movers were packing up Matthew Sullivan’s belongings at the Truxton Road home he had shared with his wife — Elizabeth Sullivan’s body turned up in the bay.

Her decomposed remains showed evidence of stab wounds into her sides as well as a fractured jaw and nose, doctors testified.

A police cadaver dog later reacted to a spot in the Sullivan garage where a refrigerator-freezer had stood for several years, Lindberg said.

Investigators also pulled up carpeting in the house, finding the woman’s blood soaked through to the sub-floor, and a bloody knife stashed in the attic. Matthew Sullivan’s DNA also was found on the knife, Lindberg said.

Authorities have never divulged a theory on where Elizabeth Sullivan’s body may have been during the two years she was missing.

Her remains were too intact to have lain in the water for that period, Dr. Othon Mena, formerly with the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office, testified.

However, Deputy District Attorney Jill Lindberg asked another witness, a friend of the victim, whether he had ever seen a refrigerator in the garage of the couple’s Point Loma home.

There was not one, but two, Nathan Caracter testified.

“They were pretty big,” with the freezer at the bottom, Caracter said. He said he had visited their home soon after they moved into the Truxton Road residence at Liberty Station around 2013.

Caracter said he first met Elizabeth Sullivan, whom he called Liz, in 2012 when she and her two young daughters came into the Fashion Valley mall store where he was working.

They hit it off and talked for hours, he said. Their friendship grew and continued over the next two years as they visited each other’s homes and went out drinking, he said.

On two occasions in 2014, Caracter said, he and Elizabeth Sullivan took crystal meth. One was the last weekend she spent at his home, on Oct. 10 and 11. She planned to see a divorce lawyer on Monday, Oct. 13, he said.

But when he texted and phoned her later that day to see what happened, she didn’t answer. She never answered his repeated attempts to reach her, Caracter said.

By Oct. 14, he was worried and reported her missing to San Diego police.

Detective James Hunter, who was working the missing persons unit at that time, testified that he got the Sullivan case two days later.

He talked to Matthew Sullivan, his wife’s boyfriend, her father in Virginia, and made two cursory searches of the house. He found nothing suspicious at that time, he said.

Dr. Mena, who supervised the autopsy, said the body was clothed in a sweater, bra, blue jeans, underpants and one boot. Some bones were exposed, and the body showed signs it had lain on one side for a long time.

He concluded that Elizabeth Sullivan — identified by dental records — died of “homicidal violence including sharp force injuries.”

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