A high-profile South Jersey hospital CEO stabbed his wife to death and then set fire to their bedroom in a bizarre murder-suicide, according to a report released Friday by investigators in Somerset County, New Jersey, nearly six months after their deaths.
The determination brought no closure to the couple's family, though, who called prosecutors' investigative work flawed and vowed to sue.
Firefighters found Cooper University Health System CEO John Sheridan Jr, 72, and his wife, Joyce, 69, in the burning master bedroom of their Montgomery Township, New Jersey home on Sept. 28, 2014.
The revered top executive stabbed his wife multiple times in the face and once in the chest, perforating her aorta, which ultimately caused her death, according to the investigation results released on Friday.
He then turned a knife on himself, doused the room with gasoline and set it ablaze, trapping them inside, police said.
"Somebody's tapping on the window," said a neighbor in a chilling call to 911 that morning. "Somebody's trying to get out." That person very well have been Sheridan's wife of 47 years.
Initially, it was reported that Joyce Sheridan was alive when she was found by firefighters inside the couple's bedroom, but following the six monthlong investigation, it was determined that the retired schoolteacher was dead before her husband set fire to the room.
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The coroner ruled John Sheridan died of "sharp force injuries" to the neck and torso and smoke inhalation. His body was found underneath a heavy, burning wooden armoire which fell on him, breaking five of his ribs, according to investigators. A large carving knife, covered in Joyce's blood, and serrated bread knife were found near the bodies.
Investigators conducted 180 interviews during their probe. Some colleagues of John Sheridan said he seemed "withdrawn," "very upset" and "out of character" because of work-related issues in the days leading up to the deaths.
The Sheridans' sudden and violent deaths shocked colleagues, family and friends who regarded the couple as liked and seemingly happy.
Sheridan joined Cooper in 2005 and is credited with helping transform the health care system, including adding a cancer center and medical school. Mrs. Sheridan was a teacher at South Brunswick High School who had a passion for helping students in need. They were friends of governors and other politicians.
"The death of our parents has left a hole in our hearts and family that can never be filled," the family said in a statement following the discovery.
But Friday, the couple's four sons — Mark, Matt, Dan and Tim Sheridan — angrily blasted prosecutors' ruling calling it an "embarrassing bungling" of a murder investigation.
“From the outset we have said that no one wants answers about our parents’ deaths more than we do. The conclusion announced today fails to provide those answers," they said in a statement.
The men questioned several aspects of the investigation including how their father wound up under the heavy furniture after stabbing himself, why there was no motive for the suicide and why investigators failed to find the knife used to carry out the self-inflicted wounds.
Prosecutors admitted they could not locate the weapon, but did test a melted piece of metal on the bedroom floor. They couldn't, however, say if it was a knife that that melted in the fire.
The children went on to say county prosecutor Geoffrey Soriano told them he had "no idea what happened in that room." They also question the ruling out of foul play by an intruder.
"This conclusion seeks to convict our father based on little more than rank speculation," the men said. "We will be filing a lawsuit challenging the conclusion announced by investigators."
"We will not allow our father to be convicted based on guesswork resulting from an inadequate and incomplete investigation simply because he is not here to defend himself," they went on to say.
In a statement, Soriano called the family's loss unfathomable, but defended the ruling saying, "we stand confidently behind the results of this investigation which was completed in a very methodical and comprehensive fashion by a number enforcement agencies, including our State Medical Examiner's Office."