CHAMBERS COUNTY, Texas – A woman who was recently indicted following the sudden and suspicious death of her Beach City husband was previously under investigation for the shooting death of her fiancé in Minnesota.
Sarah Jean Hartsfield was indicted in Chambers County last week for murder after her husband, 46-year-old Joseph Hartsfield, died days after he was rushed to the hospital with a suspicious illness in January.
KPRC 2 confirmed on Wednesday that Hartsfield, who had a previous last name of Donohue, fatally shot her fiancé in 2018 in Douglas County, Minnesota.
The Douglas County Attorney ruled in early 2019 that the shooting was in self-defense, and she was never charged, according to a letter obtained by KPRC 2.
But in light of new evidence, the Douglas County Attorney told KPRC 2 that the case is being re-opened.
“Our investigation is considered “active” again because we are following up on new information that the sheriff’s office received yesterday regarding the 2018 shooting,” Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson said.
The case of Beach City’s Joseph Hartsfield:
Deputies were called to a Baytown hospital on Jan. 7 in regard to Joseph. Staff members said he wasn’t responding to the treatments the way doctors expected.
According to sources, he was diabetic and his sugar levels were dangerously low. Doctors had “no way to bring him back” and his death is believed to be an insulin overdose, although nothing else has been ruled out.
The medical examiner’s office hasn’t released an official cause of death.
Detectives said they found several inconsistencies, along with other factors, which made the illness appear “suspicious in nature.” He died several days later as the result of what the sheriff’s office said investigators believe to be foul play.
Investigators learned Joseph’s wife, Sarah, has lived in at least 39 different places throughout her adult life and had been married five times.
“When we started talking to other husbands and then finding out some of them maybe aren’t alive anymore, and other issues, everything just started pointing to foul play,” Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne said.
Detectives interviewed at least three of the living exes, he said.
“Every relationship that it appears that she’s been in, everybody wants out of it because they fear for their life,” Hawthorne said. “A number of them have either made the statement, ‘I needed out because I felt like my life was in danger,’ and some have found where their life was clearly in danger.”
The evidence in Joseph’s death, along with information about the woman’s past, was presented to an emergency Chambers County grand jury. They returned an indictment against her on Friday and she was arrested at the home where the couple lived in Beach City.
The case of Minnesota’s David Bragg:
A letter from the Douglas County Attorney explains that, on May 9, 2018, deputies were dispatched to the residence shared by David Bragg and Sarah, whose last name was then Donahue.
Deputies arrived to find Bragg’s dead body on the first floor of the home.
According to the county attorney, the couple was involved in a physical altercation before Sarah opened fire on Bragg. He reportedly discharged his gun at her, and she shot him back, ultimately killing him.
“It is clear from the incident that Sarah Donahue caused Mr. Bragg’s death. The remaining question is whether this shooting was justifiable under these facts,” the county attorney wrote.
Investigators who examined the scene say that the analysis matched the woman’s testimony of self-defense and that witnesses also provided statements consistent with what she had told them.
In January 2019, the county attorney said she was justified in shooting Bragg as a matter of self-defense and that criminal charges against her would be declined.
But the Bragg family has always had questions about what happened. A family representative shared this statement with KPRC 2:
“We are incredibly saddened to hear of the tragic loss of Mr. Joseph Hartsfield. As terrible as it was to hear, it did not come as much of a surprise to our family, as we too lost a treasured member of our family to the hands of Sarah Donahue (now Hartsfield). We are relieved to hear that Douglas County is willing to re-open David’s case. Almost 5 years ago our family lost a son, a brother, an uncle, and a FATHER. With very little information regarding his death, we were unable to ever really move forward. All we knew is that the man that was described by his killer was in fact not the David we all knew and loved. His death was very random, and the circumstances that surrounded his death seemed farfetched, and almost made up. Unfortunately, the DA for Douglas County was not willing to take this case to trial, and wrote it off as “self-defense” which brought a lot of concern to us, and zero closure. We are hopeful that this time around, we will be able to have that closure, and the knowledge that nobody else will be hurt by this woman.”
Plea for public’s help:
Hartsfield remains in the Chambers County Jail on a $5 million bond. She was appointed an attorney on Tuesday. Her arraignment date has not been set.
Chambers County District Attorney Cheryl Lieck Henry said her office is asking anyone who has known or been involved with Hartsfield in the past who may have information for the ongoing investigation.
“We need to build some sort of timeline on her, where she’s been, who she’s been with, and just get a picture of what we’re dealing with here,” Lieck Henry said. “With all of her names and some of the places that she has lived, there’s got to be something else out there.”
The DA said investigators are already hearing from people out of state with information about Hartsfield, whose past spans the country.
“She had a lot of people afraid for a long time is what I’m finding out,” Lieck Henry said.
One of those people is Hartsfield’s first ex-husband, Titus Knoernschild, who said their marriage ended horribly in the 90s and his family has been watching their backs for the last 27 years. She kept “interjecting herself” into their lives, he said.
“Sarah’s a narcissist and she’s good at making herself look like whatever she wants, or the other person wants to see,” Knoernschild said. “I knew she would eventually get caught for who she is.”