Trial date set for man charged with 1984 murder

Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 8:24 AM CDT
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WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. (WSAW) - A five-day trial is scheduled to begin in March for the suspect in a 1984 homicide case.

John Sarver, 57, is charged with killing Eleanore Roberts, 73. Sarver would have been 21-years-old old at the time of Roberts’ death.

On Nov. 27, 1984, Roberts’ son told Nekoosa police that he found his mother dead in her home in the town of Saratoga. The forensic pathologist who did the autopsy determined that she died from a combination of blunt force trauma and numerous sharp force injuries, which based on the shape and other factors, he believed came from her being stabbed with scissors. He noted there were no natural causes related to her death and they were linked to homicide.

After 36 years with no arrests, Aug. 28, 2020, the court process began for a man accused of...
After 36 years with no arrests, Aug. 28, 2020, the court process began for a man accused of killing her on Nov. 27, 1984.(WSAW Emily Davies)

Investigators were able to get some finger and palmprints from the bathroom area along with some bloodstain samples. As evidence processing technologies advanced over 35 years, including DNA analysis, the evidence was tested repeatedly. In 1988, three separate palmprints were determined to match Sarver’s right palm. That was confirmed again in 2019.

Sarver was first interviewed on Dec. 3, 1984. He told investigators the day before Roberts’ death, he was with another witness shooting pool at Evergreen Lanes. In 1988 when the palmprints were identified as Sarvers, that other witness he claims to have been with was interviewed, and while investigators admit the witness could not specifically remember everything that night, he said he didn’t remember ever shooting pool with Sarver.

Sarver was interviewed again on May 1, 1985, saying his last contact with Roberts would have been in the summer of 1984. When he was interviewed again in 1988, he confirmed his last contact with her was late summer, early fall, which was consistent with other records investigators had. He said he never was inside her home. Investigators said Sarver gave several different alibis in that interview, none of which could be confirmed, in fact another witness he said that he was with told investigators they were by themselves that evening.

Another witness around the time of Roberts’ death told investigators Sarver was having financial difficulties and that he had borrowed $2,000 from him shortly after the murder. That witness said he was never paid back.

In 2005, a confidential informant at the time told an investigator that Sarver had to him 17 years earlier he had killed a lady, including in the conversation a “karate chop to her neck.” Roberts’ injuries were consistent with that motion.

Another pair of witnesses had a conversation they shared with investigators about how Sarver admitted to entering Roberts’ home through the back door to rob her but was surprised by Roberts, who he beat to death by “accident.” One of the witnesses told investigators Sarver told them over the phone that he hit Roberts in the back of the head and neck using some type of weapon to kill her.

Sarver remains in the Wood County Jail on $1 million cash bond. The trial is set to begin March 14.

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