Chambers County – When 48-year-old Sarah Hartsfield was indicted for murdering her fifth husband in February, stories from across the country about the mother of four’s past started surfacing and unraveling a twisted web.
From her little brother’s bizarre death in 1990 to a murder plot she allegedly concocted, and even the fatal shooting of a fiancé, KPRC 2 has been uncovering more about Hartsfield every step of the way.
Sarah has not been arrested or charged in connection with the death of any person other than Joseph Hartsfield. Sarah is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
This in-depth, special look at the case comes as Hartsfield is indicted for murder, awaiting trial in Chambers County, and in jail on a $4.5 million bond.
Fiance dies in a self-defense shooting
Sarah was already on to David Bragg, who she had started seeing at the end of the Donohue marriage.
Bragg spent four years in the U.S. Air Force, according to a spokesperson, and was one of eight siblings.
“We loved to aggravate each other growing up,” Bragg’s brother Thomas said.
“I remember just the … standing presence that he had in the room,” another brother, Daniel, said.
- David Bragg graduated from high school in Virginia Beach, Virginia
- He was a volunteer paramedic in Virginia
- Career took him to Fort Hood for solar energy farm project, where he met Sarah
“One thing led to another, which happens very often, sadly, and it ended one marriage and started a new relationship,” Daniel Bragg said. “She went from being someone who kind of broke up a marriage to someone who now might be marrying my brother very quickly.”
- David Bragg moved to Garfield, Minnesota
- Sarah and David had a long-distance relationship
- The couple eventually got engaged
“Your brother was really trying to make Minnesota home?” KPRC 2′s Bryce Newberry asked.
“He liked the solitude of being out there in the woods. He liked the ability to be an avid sportsman,” Thomas Bragg said. “She had left the kids and the kids were actually going to school there in Minnesota, staying with my brother.”
Ryan Donohue, Sarah’s son, said the couple was “constantly arguing.”
“She kept showing up with carloads of household stuff and David kept telling her that he did not want her up here, it’s not time for her to move up there,” David’s father Carl Bragg said.
David Bragg was “trying to figure out how to separate amicably and … move on,” Thomas Bragg said.
On May 9, 2018, David Bragg was shot dead inside his Douglas County, Minnesota home. He never made it to the altar to marry the woman who killed him.
“Any time you lose somebody that’s a member of your family, I mean, it’s a gut punch,” Thomas Bragg said. “It felt unreal … it seemed planned.”
Sarah was asked about the shooting during her first Texas court appearance when she said:
- The third ex-husband came to visit the youngest daughter for her birthday
- David Bragg got mad for letting him see the kids outside of their visitation period
- She took “a beating of her life” and shooting him was an “automatic response”
- Wasn’t afraid when she went into the house, but took two guns with her so as to not leave them in the car with the kids
“The police came and talked to her,” Daniel Bragg said. “They never had her in any kind of handcuffs, that she sat the front seat of the cruiser and was taken to jail and … she was never treated like a suspect.”
By the time Thomas Bragg and his parents left Minnesota, he said it was clear Sarah wouldn’t be charged.
After eight months, Douglas County’s top prosecutor Chad Larson declined to file charges and wrote in a 2019 letter that David Bragg fired at Sarah before she shot back. He called it a justifiable self-defense shooting “as she was facing lethal force and had no reasonable possibility of retreating from the threat.”
“Seeing and knowing my brother and knowing the situation around it and the conversations that he had had with my parents about leaving and getting out of the relationship, it just felt dirty. It felt wrong,” Thomas Bragg said.
Her first ex-husband, Titus Knoernschild, learned about the shooting from Texas.
“When things go sour, she always tries to make all of us look very abusive. She’s the poor victim. We were the ones that abused her. So that’s the story she put on for this thing. And somehow the cops bought it,” he said.
Ret. Capt. Alfonz Markovics, Sarah’s former military supervisor, wasn’t surprised.
“If you were to come to me and tell me there was a shooting and she could not make it look like self-defense, that would surprise me,” he said. “If she could not stage a shooting, a self-defense? No, of course she can. Come on. It’s -- her skills, training, attention to detail.”
Bragg’s family said he had great marksmanship.
“I know my mom went in there, like, ready to do something,” Ryan Donohue, Sarah’s son, said.
Braggs’ family has always thought there were holes in the story and never knew David Bragg to be a violent guy.
“It sucks because I know some of his family and you know their version of him, uh, i don’t want to call them liars, but, like, the version that they have of him that they know is a totally different one than I knew,” Ryan Donohue said.
After the shooting, Sarah sent a Facebook message to Daniel Bragg.
“I remember sitting there, it came through and she was just explaining about how I’m not you know, this is what happened. I’m not guilty of this,” he said. “I don’t know why she would reach out to brothers or family members that she’d never even really talked to explain herself.”
She also wanted forgiveness.
“She demanded that … our Christian beliefs said that we had to forgive her and that we had to accept her and that we needed to bring her into our family,” Thomas Bragg said.
Ryan said he cleaned up the blood spot.
“We moved around the room that he died in, swept up all the junk on the floor, and we moved on with life.”
Days after her Texas arrest, Larson, the same prosecutor, re-opened the shooting investigation in light of new information that came into the sheriff’s office but wouldn’t provide more details. The renewed look at the case is ongoing.
“She called to tell me, you know, that story of her version and everything. And she was getting ready to start seeing her next husband. And she said he was a little bit older,” one of Sarah’s foster mothers Barb Stuart said. “It just keeps getting a little crazier, so I backed off and I didn’t reach out anymore. And we just kind of quit talking.”
Click on the graphic below to learn more about Sarah’s complicated past relationships.