When a suburban Atlanta homeowner answered the knock at his door one chilly night after Thanksgiving in 1992, he was met by two little boys, spattered with blood.
"A bad man shot my mom," the older boy said, his words choked with terror. The homeowner asked the boy again what happened, and who shot his mother. "A bad black man," the boy said, "with a pirate gun."
The homeowner and a friend went to where the boys pointed to a van across the field and made a horrifying discovery. When they opened the door, the body of a young woman, her head almost completely blown apart, fell out.
Det. Pat Banks of the Cobb County Sheriff's Office was sickened with rage after arriving on the scene and seeing the two blood-streaked little boys shivering with fear and shock under a blanket in the back of an ambulance. Banks and other Cobb County detectives were soon swept up in one of the Atlanta area's most high-profile murders.
Frederic Tokars, Sara's husband, was a well-known local attorney and a former prosecutor. So the discovery of her body was a big news story; the media was all over the Cobb County S.O. and anybody who knew the victim.
Theories of the Crime
The detectives working the Tokars case soon discovered that the victim was not the kind of person who was likely to end up dead in a parked vehicle. She had no bad habits, no enemies, no affairs, she wasn't known to use drugs, and she had no ties to anyone questionable. Except, perhaps, her husband Frederic Tokars.
Could this have been some type of retaliation from an enraged client? Or was it a random robbery of Sara, an attempted sexual crime perhaps, with her refusing the assailant and paying for it with her life?
The crime scene also didn't offer much. These were the days before widespread use of DNA evidence, so all Banks and the other Cobb County S.O. investigators had to go on were fingerprints. There was no empty casing, no discarded items, just blood...lots of blood, and fragments of Sara Tokars' skull and brain.
When they started interviewing the boys, the detectives realized that Sara Tokars had been accosted as she entered her house, just after she and her sons had arrived home from a vacation trip to Florida. So a burglary maybe, and she surprised the bad guy. But that didn't make sense. Why would a surprised burglar kidnap a woman and her children and then shoot the woman?
The story got more peculiar when Banks inspected the Tokars home and found that the sliding glass door in the rear had been left unlocked. Stranger still was the inside door leading from the garage to the inside of the house. The knob had been reversed, making it impossible to lock the door from the inside. Why would anyone do that?
The family flew in, mostly Sara's family, the Ambruskos, from Florida and even Scotland. Sara's grief-shattered father and sisters offered important insight into Sara's life.
Sara, it seems, had not been a happy bride. In fact, she had spoken of divorce more than once, telling tales of loneliness and abandonment because her husband was rarely home. Her solace was the time she spent with her young sons. She was a great mom. She had to be: There was, essentially, no dad.
Most of the details from the Ambrusko family would come later. First, the detectives wanted a chance to get Frederic Tokars' perspective on how this could have happened and, as soon as possible, get a walk-through inside the house with him so he could shed light on what, if anything, was different or missing.
Tokars presented himself to Det. Banks and Det. Brad McIntyre as a babbling, sobbing mess. That was certainly understandable. What wasn't understandable was his lack of cooperation. Why would a man whose wife was just murdered not want to walk through the house with the investigators? Also, one of Tokars' first calls was to his own defense attorney.
Red flag number two was not long in coming. Banks and McIntyre smelled beer on Fred Tokars' breath. Howard Weintraub, the attorney who accompanied Tokars, tried to explain, saying he gave his client a couple of beers to calm him from his near-hysterical state.