Months later, family learns missing mother had been mistakenly ID'd at morgue

- When Sabrina Vanner went missing on May 5, her family was holding out hope someone would find her.

Little did they know the 59-year-old had died -- and her body was sitting in the Wayne County Morgue under an alias. The cause of death was fentanyl and morphine toxicity. Her family didn't know for months.

"This case is just bizarre," said her daughter Kenneasha Williams. "I want to prevent that from happening. I think that this should send some red flags to our authorities, to all of the people that are in charge. How did this happen?"

"It's not very often [something like this happens]. Usually we're able to identify individuals right away," said DPD Deputy Chief David LeValley.

The problem was, Sabrina Vanner was brought to the morgue as a Jane Doe on May 7.  She had no ID. Police ran her fingerprints and got a name: Jackie Montgomery. Investigators say Vanner gave that name to police when she was arrested in Royal Oak back in 1989.

"All of our fingerprints throughout the whole state at that time were done on paper cards," said LeValley. "So we're trying to identify family associated with that name, unsuccessfully." 

All the while, Vanner's family was waiting and hoping for their mother to be found.

"In this instance we had detectives working on the missing person case as well as other detectives working on the unidentified individual at the morgue," LeValley said. "And they weren't really able to cross paths until one of our detectives really put two and two together."

And that came about from phone records police say they received in mid-October, five months after Vanner was reported missing. 

Police say they revealed Vanner's boyfriend called 911 and later Sinai Grace Hospital. They had reason to believe he was the last person to see her before she disappeared. 

After police did some digging, they learned he had dropped her off at Sinai Grace after she overdosed on May 6. That was just after midnight, and four days before Vanner was reported missing. She was pronounced dead just minutes after getting to the hospital, and the staff wrote her up as a Jane Doe.

"When that happened the detectives then went to the hospital to find out who came in that night and that's what led them to the medical examiner's office and to figure out Jackie Montgomery was, in fact, Sabrina," LeValley said.

It's a mystery that didn't unravel until five months after the fact. Vanner's family says things should have never gotten to this point.

"My mom was seen before she left so we knew who she had left with," said Williams. "And we specifically asked that person, are you sure you haven't seen her? Because we are going to take this to the police now - and he lied to our face."

"The person who took her to the hospital certainly knew who she was and wasn't forthcoming with police or her family. That could've really saved them a lot of grief," LeValley said. 

And save police, too, the time and effort to identify Vanner. But for all the trouble, Vanner's boyfriend may not end up in any of it.

"We were contacted by an attorney who indicated they represented that individual and that he wouldn't be making a statement," LeValley said. "So at this point detectives will communicate with the prosecutors but it's not very likely he'll be charged."

Needless to say, Vanner's family is livid.

"It looks really foul, to be honest, as to how somebody could be getting away with so much when it seems like so much has already surfaced," Williams told us. 

Vanner's family identified their mother at the Wayne County morgue last week. They did so not by viewing her body though, but with a picture on file there. Vanner had been at the morgue for so long that her remains were cremated and sent to a funeral home in Brownstown Township. Her family is now in the process of getting those remains and planning a funeral.

Up Next:


  • Popular

  • Recent

Stories you may be interested in - includes Advertiser Stories