Sarah Jo Pender is a woman convicted along
with her former boyfriend Richard Edward Hull of murdering their
roommates: Andrew Cataldi and Tricia Nordman on October 24, 2000 in
Indiana. She came to national attention in August 2008 after she
escaped from the Rockville Correctional Facility and was featured on
America's Most Wanted. She was recaptured on December 2008.
Sarah Jo Pender, then 21, was a graduate
from Lawrence Central High School in 1997. She worked as a secretary
at Carl E. Most and Sons. Richard Hull, her boyfriend, worked
as a bouncer at a bar. He had a criminal history which included 6
misdemeanors and two felony convictions for auto-theft and for
Andrew Cataldi 24, and Tricia Nordman
25 were both fugitives from a Nevada Correctional Facility where
Nordman served time on a forgery conviction and Cataldi on a
possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine conviction.
According to the police, Richard Hull and Andrew Cataldi reportedly
sold drugs from their place, a fact confirmed by Hull himself.
According to neighbor Jana Frederick, tensions had
been growing for three weeks between the couples as Richard Hull and
Andrew Cataldi often had arguments. At some point before the murders,
Richard Hull, who couldn't legally purchase a firearm because of his
record, sought to buy one from her boyfriend's son. When that didn't
work, he turned to Sarah Pender, who he somehow convinced to buy a
weapon for him.
In the morning of October 24, 2000, Hull drove
Pender to a local Walmart where the clerk who handled the sale of the
12 gauge shotgun used for the murder saw Hull pick himself the
ammunition and bring it to the counter where Pender paid for it. The
couple then went for an outing with Pender's parents and came home
around 11 p.m.
Sarah Pender left the place shortly after to take a
walk in the neighborhood. According to Richard Hull, while she was
away, an argument broke over money Hull's sister, Tabitha owed to
Cataldi. Cataldi, who knew about the recently purchased shotgun, went
into Hull's room and tried to grab the weapon. "He said he was
going to kill my f------ family" later told Richard Hull to the
detectives. A struggle followed. Hull then shot Cataldi in the chest
and Nordman in the chest and in the head.
When Pender came back to their home, both victims
were dead and Hull had already loaded one of the bodies in the back of
a truck he had borrowed from a friend, Ronnie Herron, on October 23,
2000. He needed it to get stuff out of the basement because he and
Cataldi planned to have a chemist from Las Vegas use the place to cook
meth. Hull and Pender then drove a few blocks away and dumped the
bodies in a dumpster where they were found by Steve Stultz.
On October 25, 2000, Sarah Pender went to work as
usual while Richard Hull borrowed a plug adapter from neighbor Jana
Frederick to clean up the blood in the house. On October 26, the
couple went to Noblesville to bring the truck back to its owner; the
home of which Richard Hull burned several blood stained items. On the
same day, detectives, who had identified the victims, searched Hull
and Pender's house. They found traces of blood and noticed that
attempts had been made to conciel the murders.
Hull was arrested in Noblesville on October 27,
2000 and he admitted he committed both murders. On October 28, 2000,
Sarah Pender turned over a pair of blood stained pants belonging to
Hull to the police. DNA testing showed that the blood was that of
Tricia Nordman and Andrew Cataldi. No DNA evidence was found that
linked Pender to the murders of which both she and her boyfriend were
charged. Sarah Pender explained later that "after he committed
these murders, I did not call the police, but instead stayed with him
out of love, fear, loyalty and sheer stupidity".
Sarah Pender went on trial at Marion Superior Court in July 2002.
She was represented by attorney James Nave. The judge was Jane
Magnus-Simpson. The Prosecutor was Larry Sells. Larry Sells was a
republican candidate who had just been defeated when he ran for office
to become Hamilton County Prosecutor. He had campaigned stressing his
tough sentencing for criminals. He was favourable to the death penalty
and managed to get it on several occasions. He believed that trials
should results in convictions in more than 75% of the cases.
Neither Sarah Pender, nor Richard Hull testified at the trial.
Evidence against Pender
Citing the fact that Sarah Pender had bought the murder weapon on
the morning of the murders and that she later helped Richard Hull in
disposing of the bodies, Larry Sells told the jury that she had
planned the murders and had manipulated Richard Hull into committing
According to Indianapolis Star journalist Vic Ryckaert,
Sells "likened her influence over Hull to the control Manson had
over his followers, who committed a string of murders in 1969."
The "female Charles Manson" tag has stuck to Sarah Pender ever since.
To prove Sarah Pender's guilt, Sells relied chiefly on a letter
allegedly send to Richard Hull by Pender in May 2001 and on the
testimony of inmate Floyd Pennington. In the letter she allegedly
wrote to her former boyfriend, the woman took responsibility for the
murder. "I wish I could go back and change the events of that
night," said the letter. "Drew was so mean that night. I just
snapped. I didn't mean to kill them. It must have been the
acid.[...]"When you said you would try to take the blame, I knew then
that you loved me deeply. At first I thought you would tell, but you
stuck to your promise." the letter ended with a postscript:
Forensic Document Examiner Lee Ann Harmless testified the letter
had been written by Pender. Defense attorney James Nave said the
letter was a fake. he said that Sarah Pender was no "clever
criminal mastermind" and that the murder "was not a cleverly
planned criminal act. It was an act of the moment." He argued that
Richard Hull had shot Cataldi and Nordman because they were about to
cut him out of a big drug deal.
Another evidence presented to the jury was the testimony of fellow
inmate Floyd Pennington, who had a pen relationship with Sarah Pender
for several months. He testified that Pender had admitted to him her
responsibility in the double homicide during a meeting they had
arranged on September 22, 2001 at Wishard Hospital.
On August 22, 2002, Sarah Pender was found guilty and sentenced to
110 years in prison. Richard Hull pleaded guilty to avoid trial. His
line of defense was that he had been influenced by Sarah Pender at the
time of the murder, which was considered at the time by the court as a
mitigating factor. He received a 130-year sentence.
The only hard piece of evidence presented at Pender's trial as
proof of her guilt was the letter that she allegedly wrote on May 16,
2001 and sent to Richard Hull. Richard Hull gave this letter to his
attorney who passed it on to Indianapolis detective Kenneth Martinez
between September and October 2001. Sarah Pender, her lawyers and her
supporters have always said that it was manufactured evidence against
her by Hull to shift the responsibility of the murder on her. Several
elements support this claim.
Richard Hull himself, in a signed affidavit, has recanted and
admitted the letter was a forgery. In it, he has explained that
while he was detained at Marion County Jail, he showed samples of
Pender's handwritting to fellow inmate Steve Logan and asked him to
write the letter for him, since Logan wrote more like a female. The
deal was that Richard Hull would provide protection for Steve Logan,
who was a small white guy on the cell block. By producing the forged
letter, Hull's goal was to get a shorter sentence and walk home.
However, On May 4, 2004, when he appeared for re-sentencing, the
court found as an aggravating factor the notarized affidavit in
which he admitted the forgery, since it contradicted his earlier
testimonies. The court found “an additional aggravating factor,
which [arose since the original sentencing], which, actually, is
very serious. [Hull] appears to have committed perjury in an effort
to help his co-defendant manipulate her way out of a criminal
conviction for [the] very serious offenses of murder.” While
admitting the May 16 letter was a forgery resulted in a heavier
sentence for Hull, it was of no benefit to Sarah Pender.
Fingerprints from both Hull and Steve Logan were found on the
letter, but not those of Sarah Pender.
Detective Kenneth Martinez could not find a sealed envelope to
match the letter.
Most of the eighty letters sent by Pender to Hull were in
cursive writing. The alleged self-incriminating letter was printed,
which was less common.
While Steve Logan has always stopped short of admitting he wrote
the May 16, 2001 letter, he has testified that Hull showed him
letters written by Pender and also asked him to write some sort of
letter as a way to reduce his charges or sentences, which Logan
claims he didn't. On another occasion, according to Pender, Steve
Logan also admitted to a private investigator hired by Pender that
Richard Hull had requested that the forged letter be written.
Between the alleged time of redaction of Pender's alleged
self-incriminating letter, May 16, 2001, and the moment it
was given to him by Hull's attorney, September–October 2001,
pursuant to a search warrant, Detective Kenneth Martinez ceased jail
correspondence between Hull and Pender on July 17, 2001. He
did not find the May 16th letter, even though Hull's had allegedly
kept it during all that time. Supporters of Pender say this is
because the forged letter had not yet been written.
Over Pennington's testimony
At the beginning of September 2001, Floyd Pennington was an
habitual offender and violent felon waiting for sentencing over
robbery. He also had a previous record for Child Molesting, a crime
for which he got a five year sentence in 1989.
On September 20, 2001, he met with detective Kenneth Martinez,
saying he could arrange a meeting and have Pender admit to him her
responsibility for the murders. He had been involved in a
correspondence with Pender which totalled at the time 75 letters. This
had evolved in a long distance love relationship. After his meeting
with detective Kenneth Martinez, he wrote to Sarah pender at which
date she should fake being sick to be sent to Wishard Hospital.
On September 22, he faked having a kidney problem and both met as
planned at the hospital. On September 28, 2010, Pennington gave a
statement according to which he had been able to discuss during three
to four hours with Pender. He told that they were left alone for half
an hour during which Pender admitted to planning the murder, coercing
Hull to kill both Cataldi and Nordman and being present in the house
at the time of the murders.
Sarah Pender says that Floyd Pennington is a liar. Supporters of
Sarah Pender believe it is no coincidence if Floyd Pennington decided
to make a statement against Pender at the end of September. This
happened just before he was due to be sentenced, and just at the time
Richard Hull decided to give Pender's alleged self incriminating
letter via his attorney to Detective Kenneth Martinez. Floyd
Pennington had been incarcerated in the same cell block as Richard
Hull for two months. They believe Floyd Pennington knew about the
letter and saw an opportunity to make a false testimony against Sarah
Pender that would look credible and would hopefully benefit him and
get him some leniency.
Pender escaped from Rockville Correctional Center, a
medium-security prison 50 miles west of Indianapolis, on August 4,
2008, with the aid of prison guard Scott Spitler Sr., and
former cellmate Jamie Long.
At the time of Pender's evasion, Scott Spitler had been a
corrections officer at Rockville Correctional Facility for 5 years.
The previous month, he has been placed in a pre-trial diversion
program for a misdemeanor charge of battery. Although he was married
and had children, he was also engaged in an on-going relationship with
Sarah Pender behind bars.
Jamie Long was 41 years old and married to Larry Long. She had a
criminal history of two felonies and 12 to 15 other convictions. Both
women had met in 2001 while they were inmates at Marion County Jail.
They formed an intimate relationship and Long referred to Pender as
her "wife" while they served time at the Indiana Women's Prison
in Indianapolis. After her release, Long frequently visited Pender.
In April 2007, Sarah Pender submitted a petition for writ of Habeas
Corpus. On September 5, 2008, in a closing judgment, her petition was
dismissed. She later wrote: "Once my appeals were exausted [sic],
I had no hope left and I chose to create my own justice. I served the
equivalent of 21 years of my sentence and I felt that was enough. I
escape because I felt justified in doing so."
Sarah Pender reportedly planned her escape in the days or weeks
before it happened with a cell-phone provided to her by Scott Spitler.
On August 4, 2008, Sarah Pender went to the facility's gymnasium where
she changed clothes, hiding her prison uniform above the ceiling's
tiling and putting on civilian clothes that Spitler also had given to
her. She then walked toward the fueling area where they had agreed to
meet. Spitler told her to get in the van and hide under the seat,
which she did. He then drove to the prison's gate where he knew, out
of experience, that the guard would not search his vehicle. Spitler
dropped off Pender at one of the facility's parking lot, where Jamie
Long picked her up, gave her $140 and drove her to Indianapolis. After
an inmate count, it appeared that Pender was missing. The Prison was
put on maximum security lock down.
After viewing video surveillance tapes and consulting the
guardshack log, investigators identified Spitler as Pender's
accomplice. He was arrested on August 5, 2008 and charged with
assisting a criminal, official misconduct, sexual misconduct and
trafficking with an inmate. In February 2009, he was sentenced to 8
years in jail. Jamie Long was arrested on August 7, 2008 after Spitler
denounced her to investigators as the person who had picked up Pender.
She was charged with aiding an escape, a class C felony, and sentenced
to 7 years in jail.
In September 2008, TV show America's Most Wanted began to ran a
feature on Sarah Pender. In October 2008, Pender was added to the US
Marshals 15 most wanted fugitives list. She was the only woman on the
list at the time.
In the meantime, Sarah Pender had settled in a North Side Chicago
neighborhood where she went under the name Ashley Thompson. She
found a job as an estimator for a contractor. She led an ordinary and
uneventful life as an employee, which she has extensively described in
her blog "the Long way Home".
On December 22, 2008, two hours after a rerun of America's Most
Wanted, her neighbor identified her and called the Chicago police,
which arrested her at her apartment. Although she denied being Sarah
Pender for a little while, she did not resist arrest.
Sarah Pender is now being held in Solitary Confinement at the
Indiana Women's Prison in Indianapolis. This punishment, which should
have lasted a year, has been arbitrarily prolonged by the Indiana
Department of Correction, with no set date for her release back into
general population. She is kept under observation and has no contact
with other inmates.
Sarah Pender's current release date from jail is April 4, 2054 –
when she would be 75 years old.
"Female Charles Manson" Label
In 2002, during her trial, Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Larry
Sells likened Sarah Pender to a "Female Charles Manson" to
describe her alleged influence over Richard Hull. At the time, this
comparison was relayed by the media on several occasions and it has
regularly resurfaced since in the online media.
Supporters of Sarah Pender claim that this comparison is
inappropriate because Sarah Pender did not plan, commit or pressure
Richard Hull into murdering Tricia Nordman and Andrew Cataldi. They
claim that even if Sarah Pender had organized the murders, the
comparison would be grossly exaggerated : Charles Manson was a guru
with a juvenile offender record and a psychiatric history who led
several members of his sect to commit several murders on several
occasions over a period of several monthes. Sarah Pender held a
legitimate job at the one-time the one-Richard Hull shot Cataldi and
In 2008 and during his trial, Scott Spitler explained that he had
been manipulated by Sarah Pender. At the time of the escape, Indiana
Department of Correction Commissioner Edwin Buss told the media that
Spender had "Manipulated him to the point where [he had planned his
day] to get a vehicule inside the facility and take her outside the
facility." Detectives said that she had first seduced and then
coerced Spitler into helping her to escape. Interviewed by America's
Most Wanted, Larry Sells said one more time about Pender that
"Lurking within is a dark evil demon [...] she has the ability to
seduce people into committing atrocious acts [...] she has a Charles
Manson-like ability to manipulate people."
The America's Most Wanted website made a particularly dramatic
depiction of Sarah Pender, labeling her a "cunning and dangerous
fugitive" and asking viewers to call "before she has the
opportunity to kill again." It precised that "Pender used her
body to get what she desired most -- Freedom" The show talked
about "her manipulative ways".
Sarah Pender has written that "the media, including "America's
Most Wanted", has selectively used facts in order to manipulate the
viewers to believe I am a degenerate, dangerous criminal in return for
sensational story and higher ratings under the guise of bringing
justice." Supporters of Sarah Pender claim that Scott Spitler was
aware of the media depiction of Sarah Pender and used it to minimize
his responsibility. They point out that Spitler did not act out of a
misguided love for a femme fatale when he helped Sarah Pender
to escape Rockville Correctional Facility : he was expecting a 15000 $
payment for his services, a fact the media reported on neither during
Pender's escape, nor before, during or after Spitler's trial.
Sarah Pender's supporters further point out that the relationship
between Pender and Spitler was not an exception at Rockville. Two
months after her escape, in October 2008, Roger Heitzman, another
correctional officer at Rockville, was arrested by the state police
for trafficking and engaging in sex acts with at least one female
inmate. Because the case was not high profile, no one claimed Heitzman
was a victim manipulated by the inmate involved.
Supporters of Sarah Pender finally claim that the Department of
Correction had also an interest in exaggerating Pender's abilities in
order to minimize media damage and their own responsibilities : the
Rockville Correctional Facility's hiring policy had already gotten bad
media publicity in February 2008 when it was revealed that mass
murderer Steven Kazmierczak had been hired there in 2007 to work as a
correctional officer. The fact that the guard posted at the gate did
not search Spitler's vehicle on the day of the escape as he should
have, Scott Spitler's behaviour, Roger Heitzman's arrest, the hiring
of psychopath Steven Kazmierczak are elements that clearly pointed out
problems within the institution which, when considered, had little to
do with Pender's personality. Supporters of Sarah Pender point out
that she committed no violence of any kind to prepare, during or
after, her escape.
Supporters of Sarah Pender claim that if anything, far from being
manipulative, Sarah Pender has often been used by a variety of people
as a convenient scapegoat to elude their own responsibilities in
crimes or errors they committed, or used in the media as a mean to get
high ratings and more copy of their newspapers.
A book on her escape, Girl, Wanted: The Chase for Sarah Pender,
was released June 7, 2011. The book, written by Steve Miller (author),
has been criticized as inaccurate and deliberately quoting key
documents in a misleading way.
In April 2011, a Mail-Art Project "Send us YOUR Hand" has
been launched by Sarah, her family and friends under the organization
"Art for Humanity" to raise support and help Pender, who has been in
solitary confinement since 2008, to remain connected to the outside
On April 1, 2012, her case was profiled on an episode of the Oxygen
TV Series "Snapped". The TV show features interviews of Sarah
Jo Pender and her relatives, as well as those of many persons involved
in the case.
Richard Hull vs. State of Indiana
[O]n October 25, 2000, about three o’clock in the morning, Ed Leggon
saw two large people, one larger than the other, covering the bed of a
pickup truck out in front – parked out in front of the home at 906 S.
Meikle Street, here in Marion County, Indiana. He couldn’t
distinguish at that time either the race or the sex of the
individuals. Later, Sarah Pender and . . . Richard Hull, both
acknowledged that those individuals were them.
[A]t six o’clock PM that day, Stephen Stultz, an employee of the
Teamsters Local Union at 869 South Meridian, discovered the bodies of
a male and a female in a dumpster at the back of the Union address and
that’s just a short distance from the Meikle Street address. Those
individuals were later identified as Andrew Cataldi and Tricia
Nordman, roommates of . . . Hull, and Sarah Pender. The male had
been shot in the chest and the female in the chest and in the head
with a shotgun. Descriptions of the victims and photos of their
tattoos were shown on TV newscasts.
neighbor to the four individuals, Sarah Pender, Richard Hull, Andrew
Cataldi and Tricia Nordman, there at 906 Meikle, contacted law
enforcement and told them that she knew who the individuals were that
were – had been killed and also told them that Sarah Pender and
Richard Hull also lived at that address.
search warrant was secured by Detective Kenneth Martinez and other law
enforcement officers. They searched the 906 S. Meikle address and
discovered, among other things, that there was a lot of blood at the
scene. DNA analysis later determined that that blood belonged to –
the blood that they tested belonged to Tricia Nordman, victim in this
case. It was appearing as well that there’d been an attempt to clean
up the blood and conceal evidence of the murders. Jana Frederick told
police that Richard Hull borrowed a plug adapter around noon on
October 25, 2000, to use a carpet shampoo [machine] to clean the
residence there at 906 S. Meikle.
The police found a Richard Hull and a Sarah Pender in Noblesville.
When Richard Hull was questioned in the early morning of October 27,
2000, he initially denied any knowledge of what happened to Andrew
Cataldi and Tricia Nordman. The detectives advised him of some of the
evidence against him, including that he had borrowed from—Ronnie
Herron’s pickup truck the evening of October 23, 2000. That bodies
had been moved in that pickup truck.
The DNA analysis of the pickup truck showed that in the bed of the
pickup truck was blood of Andrew Cataldi, one of the victims in this
case. They advised him that [they] were aware that he and Sarah
Pender had gone to a South US 31 Wal-Mart. Sarah Pender was driven
there by Richard Hull and a twelve-gauge shotgun had been purchased
there the morning of October 24, 2000, just hours before Andrew
Cataldi and Tricia Nordman were shot with a shotgun. Richard Hull was
observed by the clerk who had handled the sale of the shotgun
obtaining ammunition, which was brought to the counter and paid for –
it was paid for by Ms. Pender. That ammunition [was] twelve gauge
deer slugs. Ms. Nordman was shot twice with a twelve-gauge deer slug
and both Cataldi – Andrew Cataldi and Tricia Nordman were shot with a
shotgun. DNA analysis of – excuse me. Strike that temporarily.
Richard Hull told law enforcement officers the morning of October 27,
2000, that his sister, Tabitha, owed Andrew Cataldi money. That he
and Andrew got into an argument that night. Cataldi knew he had the
Mossberg shotgun that had just been purchased. Cataldi went in Hull’s
room to try to grab the shotgun. They got in a struggle and Hull told
detectives, “He said he was going to kill my f------ family” and that
argument occurred just moments before the shooting actually took place
in the house.
On October 28, 2000, Sarah Pender, when giving their [sic] full
statement to law enforcement, turned over to them a pair of black
pants belonging to [Hull]. Those pants were tested and DNA tests
established that the blood on those pants was that of Andrew Cataldi
and Tricia Nordman.
And all those events occurred in Marion County, Indiana.