NBC’s ‘Dateline‘ is a program that truly needs no introduction. Having been a staple of the newsmagazine genre ever since its debut in 1992, it has an extensive archive of in-depth investigative journalism that covers real-life mysteries as well as criminal cases. More importantly, though, it regularly examines new matters with the same tenacity, making viewers come back for more. So, of course, its latest episode, ‘Secrets by the Bay,’ chronicling the 2014 disappearance and murder of Elizabeth Sullivan, is no different. And now, if you’re curious to know the details of the same, we’ve got you covered.
How Did Elizabeth Sullivan Die?
At the age of 32, Elizabeth Ricks Sullivan seemed to live a good life in the Point Loma neighborhood of San Diego, California, with her United States Navy husband, Matthew Scott Sullivan, and their two daughters. Yet, the reality, as it later came to light, was much different. After all, on the night of October 13, 2014, Elizabeth called a friend in Virginia (her hometown) before abruptly hanging up and then vanished, never to be seen or heard from again. One of her other friends, unable to reach her the very next day, soon reported her missing. But the subsequent investigations initially yielded nothing.
In the ensuing months, Elizabeth’s husband, Matthew, suggested that his wife had left their Navy housing at Liberty Station on her own free will and abandoned their family. He continued to add that he only wanted to know if she was okay, even if it meant she had started a new life, but this yielded nothing either. Then, on October 4, 2016, nearly two years to the day she’d vanished from her home, Elizabeth’s decomposing body was found in the San Diego Bay. Her autopsy revealed that she’d been beaten and stabbed to death in 2014 itself. She had broken facial bones and bore at least five stab wounds.
Who Killed Elizabeth Sullivan?
Once Elizabeth Ricks Sullivan was reported missing, the police discovered that her marriage was not as idyllic as it seemed. Not only did Matthew start receiving long deployments overseas, but the couple’s union had also deteriorated to the point they were sleeping on separate floors of their townhouse. Elizabeth had even signed herself up on an online dating site (Tinder) and begun a new relationship, but she had failed to mention that she was a married mother of two. Matthew was understandably upset over this, but there is something to be said about the allegations of domestic abuse levied against him as well.
Moreover, Elizabeth had met with a divorce attorney on October 13, 2014, leaving only upon arranging another appointment for the following morning. But she never showed up for that. Then, as she did not get along with her in-laws either, she planned on getting a restraining order to keep them out of their three-story townhome as well. Apart from this, the first thing that pointed towards Matthew having a hand in his wife’s disappearance was that he’d bought a high-pressure carpet cleaner at Home Depot on the day she was reported missing.
When asked about it, Matthew’s defense was that Elizabeth had a habit of superficial self-mutilation (cutting) for relief. He said that he’d previously found her using a glass shard from a broken bedroom mirror to slice her arm, sleeping in a park near their home, and taking drugs. Detectives searched their said residence even more thoroughly a second time when Elizabeth’s body and cause of death were brought to light, only to find her blood soaked into an old rug and on a knife hidden under insulation in the attic. Yet, Matthew gave the same reasoning.
With that said, the timing of it was also suspicious. On the day Elizabeth’s remains were recovered, professional movers were helping Matthew, who had been discharged from the Navy and had a new baby with a girlfriend, pack and relocate to the East Coast. The investigators later determined that he’d kept his wife in a small home freezer for two years and then dumped her into the bay in a final attempt to hide what he’d done. Ultimately, with ample evidence, Matthew was charged and arrested for Elizabeth’s murder at his new place in Wyoming, Delaware, on January 31, 2018.
Having been a person of interest since 2016, Matthew was extradited to California in early 2018 itself, especially as the sharp knife found in the attic was ascertained to be the murder weapon. It had his DNA all over it as well. When he went on trial for the same in February 2020, the prosecutors claimed that he brutally slew his wife in their home while their two children were in the next room because he’d learned that Elizabeth was not only having an affair but was planning on leaving him for good. There was also the issue of her possibly taking their kids and the money in their joint account.
Matthew’s defense’s arguments actually relied heavily on witness statements and the above-mentioned claims of Elizabeth’s “strange” behavior. Eventually, in March of the same year, after about a day and a half of deliberations, a San Diego Superior Court jury convicted him on a single count of second-degree murder in connection to his wife’s disappearance and homicide. A year later, Matthew Scott Sullivan was sentenced accordingly.
Read More: Where is Matthew Sullivan Now?