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Crime

The Hart family tragedy: The shocking true story of the murder-suicide behind A Thread of Deceit

Lily Wakefield April 8, 2020
Hart family lesbian couple murder-suicide

Jennifer and Sarah Hart, with their six adopted children. (Facebook)

A Thread of Deceit: The Hart Family Tragedy explored the shocking murder-suicide of a lesbian couple and their six children.

The documentary, released on streaming platforms on Tuesday (April 7), reexamines the case of Jennifer Hart, who in 2018 drove her wife Sarah and their six adopted children off a cliff on the Pacific Coast Highway, California and into the ocean.

Jennifer Hart and Sarah Gengler met when they were education students at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota, in the early 2000s, according to Glamour.

They began their relationship in college, but both were in the closet. Jennifer wrote in a Facebook post that once they came out as a couple, “the Midwestern mind-set was relentlessly unforgiving and unaccepting”.

Jennifer and Sarah eventually moved to moved to the lake town of Alexandria, Minnesota, where they were more open about their relationship.

In 2005, Sarah changed her name to Hart and in 2009 they travelled to Connecticut to get married, as same-sex marriage was not yet legal in every US state.

 Sarah and Jennifer Hart welcomed six children to their family.

In their mid-twenties the Hart family decided to foster and took in a 15-year-old girl. While the girl said later in an interview that she was hoping to stay with them until she was 18, the couple eventually dropped her off at her therapist’s office and never returned.

Two years later, the Harts fostered again and later adopted, taking in three siblings from the Texas foster system – Markis, 7, Hannah, 4, and Abigail, 2. Shortly after they adopted another set of three siblings – Devonte, 5, Jermiah, 4, and Ciera, 3.

Jennifer was very active on social media, painting a picture of a big, happy family. However, red flags indicating abuse soon started to crop up.

In 2008, Hannah, then 6 years old, went to school with bruising on her arm. She told her teacher that her mother had whipped her with a belt, but when interviewed the Harts said they didn’t know how it had happened.

The school also reported that the children often turned up without having been fed, and were asking other pupils for food. The children were soon pulled out of school.

Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to child abuse years before tragic crash.

In 2011, Sarah pleaded guilty to abusing one of her daughters after she hit her over a tub, leaving bruising on her stomach and back. She was charged with domestic assault and sentenced to a year of community service.

Just days before the crash in 2018, which would kill Jennifer, Sarah and their six children, another child abuse inquiry was opened against them after Devonte begged neighbours for food in secret.

After Jennifer drove their car off the California cliff, five of the children in the Hart family – Markis, 19, Hannah, 16, Jeremiah, 14, Abigail, 14, and Sierra, 12 – were found dead in or nearby the SUV.

The body of their sixth child, Devonte, 15, was never found, but Mendocino County sheriff-coroner Tom Allman later ruled that he was in the vehicle at the time of the crash, allowing his death certificate to be signed.

Coroner inquest ruled Hart family crash murder-suicide.

Although the crash was initially considered an accident, it was later ruled a murder-suicide as more evidence surfaced, including the lack of skid marks and the fact that Jennifer and Sarah had researched suicide online before the crash.

Toxicology reports after their deaths showed that Jennifer was driving over the legal alcohol limit, and that Sarah and two of the children had diphenhydramine in their systems, an antihistamine that causes drowsiness.

California highway patrol investigator Jake Slates said in the coroner’s report: “They both decided that this was going to be the end. That if they can’t have their kids that nobody was going to have those kids.”

Watch A Thread of Deceit: The Hart Family Tragedy on iTunes or Amazon Prime.

More: adoption, California, fostering, Hart family, lesbian couple, murder-suicide

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