Sarah Gonzales-McLinn is a girl who killed her 52-year old ex-boss and sugar daddy Harold Sasko, back in January of 2014, at the age of 19. She is now currently serving a 50-year minimum sentence for first-degree murder.
Following the homicide, Sarah was immediately slandered as a “gold-digger” and “psychopath” by the media and police; while Sasko was turned into a martyred saint. After killing her former manager, Sarah wrote “FREEDOM” on the wall in his blood. What did this signify?
Not many understand the truth of what really happened, and it is time that it be told.
Sarah was born on Jul. 9, 1994, and grew up in Topeka, Kansas. She was naive and sheltered due to being home-schooled for years. Following her parents’ divorce, she was molested by a neighbor.
This traumatized her, and she began sneaking out of her home at odd hours to drink her sorrows away.
Despite all this, Sarah had a kind streak. She always looked out for her disabled younger brother, and once rescued an abused horse.
But fate was not kind to the struggling teen.
At 15, she was brutally assaulted by an older male friend: he pushed her into a coffee table, breaking it in the process; and proceeded to burn her with cigarettes and rape her.
She suffered from PTSD flashbacks and nightmares, and was hospitalized at a mental institution after attempting suicide when she was 16.
Sarah’s parents’ divorce had caused her to feel unwanted and out of place. She no longer felt welcome or comfortable living with family, and desperately searched for a way out.
Escape would present itself in a terrible form. When she was 14, she got a job at CiCi’s Pizza parlor.
Her manager was a well-off yet sleazy individual named Harold Sasko. He was in his 50s, owned two locations of the restaurant chain, and had a creepy reputation.
Terry David managed one of Harold’s restaurants, and claimed that his boss told him “to only hire young, attractive girls.” When Terry warned female employees to watch out for Harold, he was incensed.
Harold presented himself as a devout Christian, but Terry said he was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing… he had ulterior motives, and I know that for a fact.”
Later on, when Terry heard of his boss’ death, he stated that “the first thing I said to my wife was, ‘I wonder which one of those girls’ dads went over there and killed him.”
And it gets even worse.
Ann Tau’s young children worked at CiCi Pizza, under the employment of Harold. During their shifts, she waited for her kids in the parking lot; since they could only work a limited amount of hours due to their age.
In this time, Ann became a sort of confidante for the midlife crisis-having pizza boss. Harold would get into her car and openly rant about his problems.
Ann recounted the disturbing time she spent in Harold’s company:
“He wanted to die… He was Catholic, so he didn’t believe in suicide, but he asked me if I would kill him.
He told me how to kill him, and I’m convinced he told Sarah the same thing. He was a very sick person. I’m an adult woman with five children, high functioning, and he weighed me down.”
This occurred a year before Harold’s death.
Before Sarah’s trial, Ann went to the district attorney and told him everything, but he declined to allow Ann to testify.
She said that “the jury should have heard how he was messed up, and that this was the environment Sarah was part of.”
Alas, it was not so. The saintly picture of Harold that was presented in court went against Ann’s own experiences with the man. The game was rigged.
Anyways, let us return to Sarah. Due to her unstable home situation, Harold asked her to move in with him. She was 16, and he was 50.
And so ring the alarm bells…
At this point, Sarah was not even working at CiCi’s Pizza anymore. Her ex-manager had somehow reconnected with his vulnerable former employee, and found the perfect opportunity to exploit her.
Harold tried to gain her confidence by picking her up from school and taking her to Taco Bell, and asking questions about her life. Once she turned 17 and graduated high school, Sarah finally took the plunge and moved in with Harold.
Sarah explained to her suspicious family how “he said he would show me a better life and pay for me to go to college.”
They didn’t buy it.
Sarah’s mother Michelle Gonzales said that the living arrangement upset her, and caused her and her daughter to have fights when Michelle advised against it.
According to Michelle, Sarah was delusional about Harold’s real intentions:
“She’d say, ‘He’s a Christian man!’ He preyed on that whole Christian thing with her, and wanted to rescue her from her broken home.”
To Sarah, Harold was just a harmless father figure. He initially requested that Sarah refer to him as “dad,” and told inquisitive friends that the girl living with him was his stepdaughter.
Things got weird real fast.
As she neared 18, Harold became more brash and sexual. He gave her weed and alcohol, and discussed the idea of them dating. Sarah tried to refuse, but the implication became clear: no sex, no home.
God had officially left the premises.
In addition, she claimed that Harold also gave her cocaine and ecstasy, and got her extremely drunk to make her more susceptible to his perverted advances.
He wanted her to feel indebted to him. Harold began leaving out a copy of a printed running tab, which listed all the things he had bought for her since she moved in.
He told Sarah she could only leave once she paid him back for everything, and warned against legal retaliation if she did not. She was working at Bed, Bath & Beyond, but only made minimum wage.
Despite this, she was giving Harold most of her pittance of a salary. It was still not enough, and he demanded she pay him back rent. This was ironic coming from the man who once offered her a better life.
Finally, Sarah got drunk, steeled her nerves, and gave in to the older man’s sexual advances. Why? Her mother has a theory: “She told me she thought she couldn’t come home, because he told her no one would want her there.”
Feeling displaced and hopeless, she began having sex with the man who once called himself her second dad. She most likely felt too guilty to return home after these disturbing experiences.
Dr. Marilyn Hutchinson, psychologist for the defense, said that after interviewing Sarah for 17 hours during her trial; she found that “her sense of captivity was pretty intense.”
Sarah said she could only stomach sex with Harold while she was completely inebriated or drugged, and most often she was barely conscious while he had his way with her.
She “would just lay there and check out’’ and was “disgusted” with the encounters and said no repeatedly, but he just held her arms down and ignored her.
The prosecution later argued that all this was consensual. But try and see it from her perspective: if you were a broke and homeless teenager who had to have sex with a man in his 50s in order to survive, would that really be a voluntary situation?
Rumors began to spread in Kansas that Harold and Sarah’s relationship had a sexual bent to it. An anonymous businessman from Lawrence had some inside dirt on the situation:
“He took the girl in and was supposed to be getting her back on track, but… a [CiCi’s] manager told me that they were having a big time affair… that it was pretty torrid… and (Sasko) had kicked her out five or six times and she had worked at CiCi’s and she’d been fired there a number of times.”
Harold arrived late for work, often with hickeys on his neck.
Co-workers at Bed, Bath & Beyond described Sarah as shy, quiet, and fashion-model good looking at a slim 5’8, 120 lbs stature. When they tried to pry into her relationship with Harold, she was quick to assert that he was her stepfather. But everyone suspected something sleazier.
Their living arrangement was basically an open secret, yet nobody intervened to help Sarah.
She later testified that:
“I would leave the house sometimes when he was gone. I would have to sneek (sic) around because he would get mad … I think more than anything he made me feel he owned me. I was a toy to him like his personal barbie doll. That’s what he tried to make me.”
This manifested itself in Harold pressuring Sarah to get butt implants, because he wanted her to be a “curvier Barbie.” Cringe.
Due to pain resulting from the procedure, Sarah took hydrocodone all summer long. The drug is a powerful painkiller derived from codeine, and said to be nearly as addictive as morphine.
He also paid for her to undergo a nose job, and wanted her to get a boob job in the future, telling her that “no man would find her attractive because her breasts were not big enough and her butt was not big enough.”
Okay there, Harold.
The surgeries totaled $16,000, and Harold demanded that she pay him back- or he would sue her if she tried to leave him. She was in his debt, and he warned her that if he took legal action, “she would never be able to own a house or anything.”
She testified that:
“He was very nice at first and called me his daughter. After the relationship turned sexual he was very mean, he would always belittle me.
He owned me at that point, and the surgery just solidified it for him. I was so embarrassed and I hated myself because it had gotten that far. My sister and I used to make fun of girls who did that, and that was something we’d never do.”
Sarah was unraveling mentally. Her previous psychological issues had been exacerbated by living with a weird old guy in his 50s who kept trying to have sex with her.
She was too humiliated to return back to work and face her coworkers’ questions, so she spent her days lying on the sofa drunk and high, wondering how she would escape her financial quandary.
Cyle Ossiander, a CiCi’s Pizza’s manager, went to visit Harold at home and witnessed an incident that disturbed him.
He found that Sarah had killed, skinned, cleaned, and cooked a rabbit for dinner. But it wasn’t just any bunny, it was a domestic one she had bought from Pet World.
Cyle said “It was a household rabbit, not game. I don’t know of many people that would kill a rabbit and eat it.”
Actually people do eat rabbit, Cyle. But usually not pet ones. And this one wasn’t the first: Sarah butchered and ate several of them, and later used the exact same knife and method of execution on Harold.
She was on antidepressants for six months up until Harold’s death, switching from Zoloft to Pristiq a few days before shit hit the fan. She later told detectives that:
“I had violent thoughts for two years and they progressed, I guess. They just became really intense. I’ve not been in a good place. It’s like really hard to explain. Little things make me turn and see red almost.”
She had finally had enough of her perverse living situation.
By all accounts, Sarah was emotionally and psychologically exhausted, plagued by financial and mental issues. She said the period leading up to the killing was hazy and “felt like dreams.”
Five days before, Sarah cemented her plan to murder Harold. Police would go on to find that she had googled “neck vulnerable spots.”
On January 14, 2014, Sarah slit Harold’s throat. She drugged him first so he would not feel pain, but also so he would not be able to fight back.
That fateful day, Harold returned home and started working on a speaker system. He asked Sarah to bring him a beer, and she did.
She brought him three beers- but she laced the fourth one with crushed Ambien she had hidden on top of the microwave, so he would be drunk first and less likely to taste the pills.
After 5 Ambiens masked in a few more beers, Harold passed out cold on the floor. Next, she bound his wrists tightly with zip ties.
He mumbled a few words in his barely conscious state. Feeling guilty, Sarah had second thoughts about the murder. But she had already come too far…
She retrieved her hunting knife (the one she’d used on the bunnies), and touched Harold’s neck to feel for his pulse. Sarah stabbed into his carotid artery, then sliced into his neck horizontally, sawing in a side-to-side motion into his spine.
This nearly decapitated him. Sarah said it was difficult to penetrate his neck with the blade, so she held his head in place with her left hand the whole time.
She initially told detectives that as she killed Harold, she “just didn’t feel anything.” However, she then claimed that as she saw Harold die, “everything was screaming at me.”
Detective M.T. Brown, who interviewed Sarah after the murder, testified that “she said she wanted to see someone die… she wanted to see what it felt like to kill someone.”
She went to the sink to clean off the knife, then wrote the word “FREEDOM” on the wall in Harold’s blood. Sarah then showered and washed off the blood, listening to music while doing so. She called into work, saying she would not be in for a few days due to a relative’s death.
Sarah straightened her hair, packed up her bags (including a photo of her sister Ashley), grabbed her chocolate Labrador dog Oliver, and took off in Harold’s 2008 Nissan Altima. She vanished, leaving a trail of confused cops in her wake.
She left her cellphone and tablet behind, so authorities could not track her.
Police broke into Harold’s home on Jan. 17, three days after the murder, when he did not show up for work and was reported missing. A cop peered through a window after knocking on a door and receiving no answer, and saw Harold lying in a pool of his own blood.
What caused her to snap?
Two days before she killed Harold, Sarah sent the following telling text to her sister:
“I’m starting to realize I don’t want the dream everyone wants for me. I don’t want the American dream. I want real freedom, and I know how to get it and I have to give up a lot. I feel like a caged animal.”
While the media portrayed her as a bloodthirsty monster, the truth was much more complex.
This young and vulnerable Latina, made putty in the hands of an older, more powerful, and financially controlling man; longed for freedom that went beyond subservience to a former manager. She needed to escape the sexual constraints he had placed on her, to be more than just his “Barbie” and pawn.
It was perhaps misguided, and a deranged act of violence; but Sarah had killed out of pure desperation. She killed the authority figure who had sexually abused and confined her to a life of financial and mental slavery.
Sarah was on the lam, and managed to evade capture for 11 days. Police initially put Sarah down as a missing person, but soon realized that she was guilty of Harold’s murder.
Her post-homicide adventure reads like a bizarre crime novel. Knowing her capture was inevitable, Sarah fled boring Kansas for Texas.
Sarah often woke up in shaking cold after sleeping in the car all night, and wanted to go somewhere warm. She then drove on to Florida; because she thought the ocean view would be much nicer there, and she also wanted a certain tattoo from a specific artist. Gotta love her priorities.
En route, she slept in the car, at occasional rest stops, and once even shacked up with a kind pastor and his wife. They fed her dinner and housed her for the night. Other than that, she mainly ate fast food and takeout, paying for everything in cash.
She was tattooed by Florida artist James Baker, and he provided some interesting testimony into Sarah’s mind and personality. He said that the two had a mutual interest in serial killers, which they discussed as he worked on her tattoo.
Sarah was a fan of the 1992 murder mystery novel “I” Is For Innocent, by Sue Grafton. She paid James $200 for a rib cage tattoo that took two hours to complete. It was of her favorite quote from the book:
“Beware the dark pool at the bottom of our hearts. In its icy, black depths dwell strange and twisted creatures it is best not to disturb.”
She also had roses tattooed onto her shoulder.
Sarah was finally captured at the Everglades National Park on Jan. 25 at 10:30 PM, after an officer found her sleeping in the stolen car. They rudely woke her up, and found she was lying right next to a loaded gun.
Inside the vehicle, police discovered $2,399 in cash, two knives (one of them was the blood-stained murder weapon, hidden in the map pocket of the driver’s door), two guns, an ax and hashish.
This spelled the end for her short and violent burst of freedom.
The trial was an utter disaster for Sarah, and so was her initial interrogation. Sarah admitted to the police that she had “wanted to see someone die,” and the media and prosecution ran wild with this quote.
Suddenly, all the evidence proving that Harold had kept her as a virtual sex slave was brushed aside, and Sarah was depicted as a psychotic individual; a femme fatale who had lured Harold to his demise- despite the fact that she was a mere teenager suffering from years of mental issues, exploited by a man 33 years her senior.
The media kept pushing the narrative that Harold and Sarah were “roommates”– perhaps wishing to not disgrace the dead man, but willfully ignoring the truth and spreading outright lies by doing so.
Police even found a questionable text from Harold; in which he apologized to Sarah a few days before the murder, for trying to force her to have sex once again.
This too was ignored, among all the other enlightening testimony from people who knew the darker side of Harold.
Sarah also said that Harold was suicidal due to business and personal issues, and often talked to her about killing himself. This is backed up by Ann Tau’s testimony, with whom he also discussed such subject matter.
The court instead chose to focus on the grim physical evidence against Sarah: which included a stick-figure target she had created at home to throw knives at; with major organs, blood vessels, and even the groin marked out especially.
The conservative Kansas elite gathered in droves to condemn Sarah yet were quick to defend Harold, as she was turned into a villain and a cold-blooded killer in the eyes of her community.
At her February 2014 hearing, Sarah was upset to see her family appear in court, gathering to support the once-abandoned teen. Her defense attorney Carl Cornwell said that “she was embarrassed. She didn’t want to see her family there. She was embarrassed.”
In 2015, after only four hours of jury deliberation; Sarah received a Hard 50 Penalty- a life sentence, with a chance of parole only after 50 years.
The District Attorney Charles Branson ridiculed and doubted Sarah’s claims that she was raped as a child, despite the fact that Sarah cried while showing the court her cigarette burn scars.
Her mother Michelle was dismayed at her daughter’s harsh sentencing, and the court’s unwillingness to acknowledge that Harold kept Sarah in sexual slavery and financial bondage.
Michelle admitted her daughter would have to go to jail for the crime, “but not the rest of her life, because he had no business doing what he did to her.”
Despite the fact that Sarah’s family paid defense lawyer Carl Cornwell $40k in legal fees and they had a legitimate case, Carl used an extremely idiotic defense. He argued to the court that Sarah had Multiple Personality Disorder, informing her they could win if they used that defense.
And so, Carl preached to the court about how Sarah had many different, violent personalities named Alyssa, Vanessa, and Myla- is it any wondered the jury condemned her to life in prison?
Even the prosecution’s psychiatrist, Dr. William Logan, admitted that Sarah showed symptoms of PTSD, major depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Yet Carl did not use this evidence to his client’s advantage.
The trial was totally botched, and her ship sank immediately.
Sarah currently resides in the women’s prison in Topeka, Kansas. Her mother Michelle tries to stay in contact with her, and has even set up a site in her daughter’s defense.
Michelle does not ask her daughter to contemplate her crime, as Sarah is not receiving any psychiatric therapy in jail. She says “I don’t encourage her, because if I open that box, who’s going to help her with what falls out?”
Her prison is infamous for rape and violence, yet Michelle says “what’s saddened me the most about her being there is she told me she’s safe now.”
Even the confines of jail seem less disturbing than her life outside- one in which Sarah had to be sexually subservient to an old man just to keep a roof over her head.
Such is the tragedy of Sarah’s life: she killed the man who sexually abused in her a pathetic bid for freedom, but only doomed herself to a lifetime of imprisonment.
As of 2020, Kansas Department of Corrections facility in Topeka lists her earliest possible release date as Feb. 1, 2064. The American prison system is harsh and unforgiving; merciless towards those who need justice the most.