Man convicted in 1984 Wood County murder sentenced to life in prison

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)
Published: Jan. 23, 2023 at 7:49 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. (WSAW) - A Port Edwards man convicted of killing a woman in 1984 will spend the rest of his life in prison.

In November, John Sarver, now 59, was found guilty at trial of killing Eleanore Roberts. Sarver was 21 years old at the time of Roberts’ death. Roberts was 73-years-old.

Because Sarver committed the crime after Nov. 3, 1983, but before Aug. 31, 1995 the judge has no say over his parole eligibility. Sarver will have to serve 13 years and 4 months before he can go before the parole board. An inmate must satisfy five requirements before the parole commissioner may recommend a grant to the parole chair. The five requirements are: good conduct, competition of programming, sufficient reduction in risk to the public upon release, sufficient time served so as not to depreciate the seriousness of the offense, and a completed and approved release plan as determined by request of an investigation by the commission.Wood County Circuit Court Judge Nicholas Brazeau said Sarver’s time between the murder and his arrest in 2020 was his parole.

“He’s had the opportunity to live a full life... to raise a family that maybe he shouldn’t have had the opportunity to do. It’s a good thing that he did it because there are good people in this world, but there isn’t any... nothing in my mind or heart that makes me think that he should have opportunities to get out here,” said Judge Brazeau.

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.

Investigators were able to get some finger and palm prints 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 palm prints 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 Sarver’s, 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 told him 17 years earlier that 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.

During the sentencing hearing, Sarver’s attorney expressed that he believes in Sarver’s innocence and plans to appeal the conviction.