Sarah Blackburn’s son was worried about his mother.
His father came into his room the morning of Jan. 10 and told him he would be taking him to his grandpa’s, detectives said.
The boy later told his grandfather that his father, Dr. Robert Blackburn, was acting strangely. He had a cut on his hand and he seemed to be in a hurry.
Blackburn told him he had cut himself on the garage door.
When the boy walked out of his room, he noticed the door to his mom and dad’s bedroom was closed.
Blackburn told him his mother was with her friends.
The boy suspected something was wrong. His mother wouldn’t leave the house on a Sunday morning without telling him.
The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office announced Thursday it had officially closed its investigation into the deaths of Dr. and Sarah Blackburn.
Reports show Dr. Blackburn had savagely beaten his wife and later took a .32-caliber semi-automatic pistol and fired it into her mouth. He used the same gun to kill himself.
Their bodies were discovered in the closet of the master bedroom in their home at 6492 Laurel Oak Drive.
Sarah Blackburn, 40, had not been with friends that morning, according to the sheriff’s office.
Detectives indicated Dr. Blackburn had beaten his wife while their son was still in the house.
The couple’s daughter had spent the night with her friend’s family, according to reports.
Autopsy revealed extensive injuries
The medical examiner conducted an autopsy the following day.
Sarah Blackburn suffered multiple bruises to the face, chest and neck area. She suffered rib fractures, a broken collar bone, a broken sternum, a lacerated liver, a lacerated heart, broken bones in her neck and a gunshot wound that traveled through the back of her head, according to the autopsy.
Robert Blackburn had lacerations to the knuckle area on his right hand and bruised knuckles on both hands. He suffered a small laceration across his chest and a gunshot wound to the head, the report showed.
There were blood stains throughout the house, from a bloody paper towel in the kitchen trash can to drops of blood along the hallway that led to the master bedroom.
In the main bathroom, forensics collected bloody clothes out of the laundry hamper. There was a long-sleeved denim shirt, men’s pajama pants with “Gator” print, a gray sweatshirt, a blue sock and a white T-shirt – all of which contained blood smears and/or splatter, deputies said.
Several towels also were found in the hamper.
“The stains appeared diluted, as if the towels had been used for cleanup,” wrote Detective Randy Williamson in the report.
A bottle of bleach was discovered along the edge of the bath tub, according to the report.
Sheriff Richard Nugent said Dr. Blackburn committed “one of the most vicious beatings” he had ever seen.
Nugent has spent 37 years in law enforcement.
“This was particularly violent,” he said. “The damage he did to her … Obviously, he was a man out of control.”
The blood on Sarah Blackburn’s face was dried and her body was cold, indicating she had been dead longer than her husband, Williamson stated.
Dr. Blackburn’s body, he said, was still warm when deputies arrived.
Son and grandfather returned to crime scene
Dr. Blackburn, 55, called Ralph Napolitano, his wife’s father, shortly before 11 a.m. and asked whether he could watch his son, detectives said.
The sheriff’s report detailed the following:
Minutes later, Blackburn rang the doorbell at Napolitano’s house, left his son standing on the front porch and returned to his Ford pickup.
Napolitano opened the door and noticed Blackburn driving away. He told detectives he thought it was unusual because his son-in-law usually comes inside and talks for a few minutes.
Napolitano called Blackburn, who told him he was in a hurry and had a meeting with the Corrections Corporation of America, the company that runs the Hernando County Jail.
Blackburn was the medical director at the jail, along with the Spring Hill and Hernando County fire rescue districts.
Napolitano and his grandson talked about Blackburn’s behavior. The two decided they would play a round of golf and, on the way to the course, they would stop by the house, pick up the golf clubs and check on Sarah Blackburn.
Napolitano arrived at 12:30 p.m., at which time he used his key to open the front door.
Blackburn confronted his father-in-law and asked why he was there. He explained he wanted to get his grandson’s golf clubs and asked about Sarah Blackburn’s whereabouts.
Dr. Blackburn said she had gone shopping with friends. Around that time, the boy opened the garage door and saw his mother’s SUV.
Napolitano had tried his daughter’s cell phone and there was no answer. Growing more suspicious, he had Blackburn “look him in the eyes and tell him Sarah was not there,” Detective Williamson wrote in his report.
Blackburn lied to him again. She was with friends, he said.
Blackburn had called Ruth Hoock, the office manager at his medical practice. She arrived while Napolitano and his grandson were still at the house, the report showed.
She waited in the dining room until they left.
After Napolitano and the boy got back in the car, the boy told his grandfather he noticed his mother’s pocketbook on the kitchen counter. He knew she would never leave without it.
The two were gravely worried. Napolitano decided to drive his grandson back to his house and return to Blackburn’s house to do some further investigating on his own.
By the time he returned, deputies were already at the house.
Ruth Hoock’s 911 call
Shortly after 1 p.m., Hoock called 911.
Deputies arrived and she was seated in her pickup parked in Blackburn’s driveway.
An emotional Hoock said she thought Blackburn had killed his wife and he had threatened to kill himself.
Blackburn had summoned her to the house, showed her his chest wound and told her his wife was dead and that she had threatened to destroy him.
He told her where she could locate important documents and made her promise his children would be looked after.
He then forced Hoock out of the house.
She later told detectives Dr. Blackburn said he killed his wife “in a violent rage.”
He thought his wife was going to ruin him.
Two deputies and a sergeant responded to the 911 call and entered the house through the unlocked front door.
They noticed traces of blood in the master bedroom, master bathroom and the walk-in closet.
Sarah Blackburn was lying on her back wearing blue jeans and a bra. A pink sweater was on her right arm “that appeared to indicate she was dressing when the altercation began,” wrote Sgt. Michael Burzumato in his report.
A puddle of blood had soaked into the carpet under Sarah Blackburn’s head.
Lying parallel to her was Dr. Blackburn. He had a bullet wound to his head and under his right hand was a gun.
Homicide detectives and forensics were immediately called to the scene.
The bloody towels and clothes in the hamper, the liquid bleach on the bath tub and the lack of blood on the bathroom floor indicated Blackburn had tried to clean the crime scene, detectives said.
Dinner parties and the threat of divorce
Bill Nyman had dated Sarah Blackburn 18 years earlier when she was a student.
Nyman, a New Port Richey radiologist, and Blackburn resumed their friendship after she contacted him in August 2009.
Because Nyman lived outside the clutches of Spring Hill, Blackburn felt comfortable with him. She found an outlet for her pent-up frustrations. She told Nyman her marriage was crumbling.
While at a formal dinner in San Francisco, Dr. Blackburn had become so angry at his wife, he left her at the restaurant with no money, identification or transportation.
Sarah Blackburn told Nyman that was the beginning of the end of their marriage. She intended to file for divorce.
A copy of an Internet transcript of a conversation between Nyman and Blackburn was discovered in the house by deputies. It was tucked inside Blackburn’s purse.
Detectives said Nyman was visibly shaken during their interview with him.
“(He) appeared emotionally upset and displayed obvious indications of mourning,” a report showed.
He said he last saw Blackburn two nights before her death. She said she and her husband were having friends over for dinner.
“Sarah said she was glad people were coming over because she dreaded any time she had to be alone with Robert,” Detective Williamson wrote.
Kim Rampino, wife of Spring Hill Fire Chief Mike Rampino, had known Blackburn for 10 years. She told authorities they were like sisters.
The evening of Jan. 9, Kim Rampino said her friend had pulled her aside at the dinner party. Blackburn said that would be the night she would tell her husband she was leaving him.
Rampino begged her to wait until Monday when the children were in school.
Later that night, Blackburn sent an e-mail to Nyman announcing her plans to divorce her husband. She said the dinner party was a disaster.
Nyman said that was the last time he ever heard from her.
Chief Rampino was contacted by Hernando Today the night of the killing and again two days later. He declined to comment because the case was “too personal.”
Nugent was with his wife Jan. 10 at an airport in Knoxville, Tenn., awaiting their flight to Tampa. He received a call from his staff about the murder-suicide. That was followed by several more calls from his friends.
Nugent and his wife knew the Blackburns. The women bonded.
When Nugent told his wife about Sarah Blackburn, she broke down and cried, he said.
Reporter Tony Holt can be reached at 352-544-5283 or firstname.lastname@example.org.