Details released in Hernando County murder-suicide case

BROOKSVILLE — Sarah Blackburn did not answer her cell phone that morning. Her Ford Expedition was still in the garage, and her purse was on the kitchen counter.

Her husband, Dr. Robert Blackburn, insisted to her father that she had gone shopping with friends. But Ralph Napolitano wasn't so sure.

"Look me in the eye and tell me my daughter is not here," he demanded of his son-in-law, according to a Hernando County Sheriff's Office report.

Blackburn stuck to his story, and Napolitano eventually left the home with the Blackburns' son — but with deep concerns in his heart.

By then, it was already too late: Sarah Blackburn lay dead not far from where her father had stood, brutally beaten and shot once in the mouth with a 1907 .32-caliber pistol.

Soon, Robert Blackburn would be dead as well.

Investigation documents released Thursday by the Sheriff's Office provide more details on the shocking events of Jan. 10 that left the prominent couple dead in a murder-suicide.

Not long after, investigators found a copy of an e-mail between William Nyman and Sarah Blackburn in her purse and contacted Nyman.

Nyman told investigators the two met 18 years ago when she was a student. They had a brief romantic relationship, and she later married Robert Blackburn.

Sarah Blackburn, 40, and Robert Blackburn, 55, were married for more than 16 years, but by several accounts, the relationship was stormy.

In August, Sarah Blackburn called Nyman out of the blue and they met for coffee. They found that both were having trouble with their marriages. Nyman, a radiologist who lives in New Port Richey, told investigators that he thought she felt comfortable talking to him because he wasn't part of the well-connected crowd in Spring Hill where, according to Sarah Blackburn, "everybody knows everybody."

"Sarah told William that Robert insisted on controlling 'everything' and when she started to become more independent and changing, he didn't like it," the report said.

Some months later, the couple argued one night and went to bed angry, Sarah Blackburn told Nyman. She got up to find her husband sitting in the den, where he kept his swords and guns. She asked what he was doing.

"Just thinking," he replied, according to the report.

She asked if he was trying to scare her, and he said no.

But Nyman told her that he was worried about her safety and that she should start locking the safe where the guns were kept. She told Nyman that only she knew the combination; her husband didn't know it.

After that incident, she told Nyman, she started locking the safe. According to reports, the safe was locked when authorities arrived at the grisly crime scene.

In November, she consulted a lawyer about a divorce. Nyman recommended that she wait until after the holidays "for everybody's benefit."

Nyman said he last saw her on Jan. 8 at his home. They talked the next day on the phone. She sent him an e-mail that day saying a dinner party had gone badly.

"Sarah stated that she could not take it anymore and she was going to drop 'the D word,' " Nyman said, according to the report.

Among the guests at the party that night were Spring Hill Fire Rescue Chief Mike Rampino and his wife, Kim, who told investigators she and Sarah Blackburn were like sisters.

Besides having his own successful practice, Robert Blackburn was the medical director for several hospitals, Hernando County Fire Rescue, Spring Hill Fire Rescue, the Brooksville Fire Department and the Hernando County jail.

Kim Rampino told investigators that there didn't seem to be any obvious tension between the Blackburns at the party but that Sarah Blackburn told her she would be telling her husband that night that she wanted a divorce. Rampino said she "begged" her to wait until Monday when the couple's two children were in school.

But evidently she could not wait.

"Everything appeared to be fine that night," Mike Rampino said Thursday. "We were all having some food, just chilling."

On the morning of Jan. 10, the Blackburns' 12-year-old son told investigators, his father woke him about 11 a.m. to go to his grandfather's house.

The boy noticed that his father was bleeding from his right hand; he said he had cut himself on the garage door. His father seemed "agitated and in a hurry," the boy told investigators.

The door to the master bedroom was closed, which the boy said was unusual. He asked about his mother and was told she had gone shopping with friends.

Blackburn took his son to Napolitano's house in Hudson, but stayed in his truck and left as soon as the door opened. Napolitano thought that was odd since his son-in-law usually stopped in to chat. The boy told his grandfather that he was worried about his father's peculiar behavior.

Napolitano and his grandson went back to the Blackburns' home.

Robert Blackburn met them at the door and seemed agitated, Napolitano told investigators. Blackburn told them his wife was shopping. Pressed further, he told them that Sarah had been going out a lot lately and that she didn't like him anymore.

He told them that "the marriage was over," according to reports.

Napolitano then left, resolving to return later to check on his daughter.

The couple's 14-year-old daughter was not home. She had spent the night at a friend's house.

In an interview with investigators, the teen said she and her father "were often at odds with each other" and dealt with their differences by not talking to each other. She described her parents' relationship as being tumultuous for years, noting that they argued a lot and that Robert Blackburn frequently slept in a guest bedroom.

She and her brother are now living with family members.

Just before he turned the gun on himself, Robert Blackburn summoned his longtime office manager, Ruth Hoock, to the sprawling mansion on Laurel Oak Drive in the gated Lake in the Woods community.

He told Hoock that his wife had wanted to ruin him and take their two children. He said she had attacked him, so he killed her. He then showed Hoock where important family papers were kept, asked her to ensure the kids were looked after and told her he intended to kill himself.

He then forced her to leave the home.

As she sat in her pickup outside, calling Sarah Blackburn's brother and then 911, Robert Blackburn put the same vintage pistol he used on his wife into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120. Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431. Follow Joel Anderson on Twitter at twitter.com/jandersontimes and follow Tony Marrero at twitter.com/tmarrerotimes.

Details released in Hernando County murder-suicide case 03/11/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 12, 2010 8:15am]

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