American Faces, Vol. 7, Issue 3
Cold Case Heats Up: Finding Julie Daniels ends a decade-long search and opens a new chapter in the hunt for her killer
By Rory Cullers
Ten years ago, America knew Julie Daniels only as an occasional background face at political gatherings. Back then, she was the smiling young redhead standing near Pennsylvanian senator Charles Sarazen, a man many thought would someday run for President of the United States.
But time has a way of turning expectations, and at the age of twenty-one, Julie eclipsed her stepfather when she went out to dine and dance with Alexander Robertson Webster IV – and never came home.
What was meant to be a romantic evening, what was meant to culminate with a two-carat diamond slid onto her finger at midnight, ended with an early-morning call to the Sarazens from a frantic college roommate.
Julie was gone.
Six days ago, two hikers found the remains of the young woman whom some pundits predicted was more than a pretty face. A woman who might someday equal or exceed the man who raised her. The story of Julie Daniels returned to our collective consciousness, and she once again became America’s daughter: an innocent who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
While the mystery of Julie’s disappearance has ended, a new one is now being crafted:
How did a college graduate and the stepdaughter of such a powerful man end up in a shallow grave, buried on the same land her family once owned? Who killed her and why? And how did her body go so long undiscovered?
Julie’s story offers few absolutes. The authorities know who did not kill her, but not who did. They know the method of death, but hardly the time. They know her body was moved, but not from where.
The red dress and shoes she wore that night, the purse she carried, and her jewelry were found with her, tossed in alongside her body. Her purse’s contents were untouched, ruling out robbery as a motive.
The facts of Julie’s life are common knowledge at this point. She is the youngest daughter of Laura Daniels, a divorced mother of three, who met and married politician Charles Sarazen when Julie was just six. Laura moved Julie and her siblings – Richard, age eight, and Natalie, age twelve – from the tiny, middle-class suburb of Priceton, VA, to a place worlds away in both geography and economics, Fox Chapel, PA.
The children went from public to private schools, learning the ins and outs of the financially privileged, and went on to higher education.
Natalie is the owner of Sarazen Salons, a private salon and spa chain that caters to Pittsburgh’s elite, while Richard is making a name for himself in the art world.
Julie never had such opportunities.
At twenty-one, she was about to graduate from St. Avoline’s of Beaumont, just outside of Latrobe, PA, a small, yet prestigious women’s finishing school. St Avoline’s graduates have gone on to sit on the boards of major corporations and charities around the world. With her summa cum laude degree in political science, Julie was well prepared to enter the same world of politics that her stepfather inhabited.
Beaumont is second only to Wellesley in terms of what doors its degree can open, and Julie knew that a piece of paper bearing the Beaumont name was the first step toward her political career.
But it was more than that, said her sister Natalie in a recent interview. “Julie loved the idea of attending Beaumont because she was the sixth generation of the Sarazens to attend. It gave her a sense of family, of permanence.”
Julie disappeared in the early hours of May 3, 2002, after leaving Dublin’s Pub, where she and her intended fiancé, Alexander Robertson Webster IV, heir to the Webster Packaging Industry fortune and now a well-known corporate attorney in Pittsburgh, had gone to dance until midnight, which was the hour he planned to propose.
“We finished dinner and having time to spare, decided to go to Dub’s. Julie loved to dance, and it was a perfect excuse to stay out later,” said Webster. “But we ended up arguing about something trivial, and I decided that I’d wait to propose. Somehow, ending an argument with a ring didn’t really sit well with me. I didn’t want it to seem like a peace offering.”
When he talks about that night, Webster still chokes, believing that his decision to wait was the reason she vanished.
At 12:30, when they should have been celebrating and planning their future, Julie left the club alone. According to the police reports, she and Webster were seen arguing prior to her exit.
He did not follow her, admitting that he wanted “to cool down first.”
When he did go to find her, she was gone.
“Julie had always had a temper. She was always impulsive,” says her stepfather. “Had Alex followed her out of the club immediately, she would be alive, yes; but he was thinking in terms of that temper. And they had both been drinking. He was thinking more about avoiding an escalation of the situation. They’d argued before and, I can’t deny it, she’d left him before and taken cabs back to her dormitory. Unfortunately, this time, we misjudged the situation. It wasn’t until her roommate from Beaumont called us the next morning that we became alarmed.”
While he sounds philosophical about it, Sarazen isn’t. Since Julie’s disappearance, he lost his wife as well. Laura Sarazen passed away last year after a short battle with breast cancer. With the cancer already at stage IV when it was diagnosed, she was given the option between quality of life or quantity.
She chose quality and died at home three months later. “Laura was so focused on finding out what had happened to Julie and on working with other parents of missing children that she let her health deteriorate. Ultimately, Julie’s murderer killed my wife as well.”
Webster was scrutinized intently, but in the end cleared of all suspicion…
Alex was impressed. Rory had done well. Very well. He liked how she portrayed him: powerful yet vulnerable. Her take on Charles was impressive, too. She’s made the bastard almost likable. He flipped the magazine closed without bothering to read the rest and stored it in the cedar chest with the other articles on him and Julie.
Closing the lid, he wondered how long it was going to take for her to leave DeLuca now that this was over. Maybe he could talk to her lawyer again, find out what might expedite things for her.