PORTSMOUTH, Oh. — Weeks after the death of another young mother, the family has spoken.
On Aug. 21, Spike TV aired an episode of “Gone: The Forgotten Women of Ohio.” Unlike previous episodes, this time the show focused on Megan Lancaster who went missing from Scioto County on April 3, 2013. Her car was found in the parking lot of the Portsmouth Rally’s.
The day the show aired, Sarah Woods, 33, of Portsmouth, left her home in the East End (Portsmouth) where she lived with her mother Debra Rawlins and minor daughter. The following evening police notified the family that Woods’ body had been found dead yards from where Lancaster’s car had been found more than four years prior.
Wood’s death was quickly a popular topic on social media. The Daily Times reached out to Portsmouth Police Department (PPD) dispatch asking if a body had recently been found in the Rally’s area.
“I don’t have any idea what that’s about. I got a call from WSAZ (News Channel 3), too. Somebody started a rumor or something,” PPD dispatch stated on Aug. 31.
That same day, the Daily Times reached out to Woods’ family, who were not prepared to comment; however, just days before Woods’ funeral, the family decided they were ready to talk. The Daily Times met with Woods’ mother and daughter as well as her aunt Bonnie Sagraves and step-father Donnie Fowler, father of Angela Fowler whose body was found in 2006. Angela Fowler’s murder remains unsolved.
The family revealed that Woods had a long history of drug abuse and prostitution. She had also lost many of those closest to her to drug abuse. Woods’ son had died of an overdose at the age of 15. The father of both her son and daughter had also died of an overdose. Though she had a history of heroin abuse, Rawlins and Woods’ daughter says Woods was no longer using heroin and had not been in several months. In fact, her family says she was on the Vivitrol shot, which blocks opiate receptor so that a user can’t get high. The family did state that Woods was still actively prostituting and using crack cocaine.
Rawlins, Woods’ daughter, and Sagraves confirmed that they saw Woods leave in the early afternoon of Aug. 21. Both, Rawlins and Woods’ daughter, said they saw Woods leave with an unidentified man that had helped set up clients (commonly referred to as “johns”) for Woods.
When she didn’t return that night, they were immediately concerned. Woods’ daughter explained that she sent several texts, asking her mom where she was and why she had not come home. She showed the messaged to the Daily Times, messages that reveal the frustration of a young girl who just wanted to know her mom was safe. She stated that she got upset and said things that she now regrets.
“I was worried all night,” Woods’ young daughter commented.
According to Woods’ daughter, her mother’s body was found the next day in a yard just feet from the alley that runs between Rally’s and Burger King (on Ohio 52 in Portsmouth). At approximately 9 p.m., on the Aug. 22, Rawlins and Woods’ daughter stated that Portsmouth Police Officer Jake Newman arrived at their home, reported (to report) that Woods had been found dead.
“They think it was a murder,” Rawlins stated as she explained that Newman had informed the family that foul play was suspected.
According to Rawlins, when she heard the news, she started to hyperventilate. As a result, both Woods’ teenage daughter and Rawlins were transported to Southern Ohio Medical Center (SOMC) to identify the body.
“Whenever I saw her, one eye was swelled shut like somebody had hit her,” Rawlins confirmed.
She added that her daughter wore an owl necklace and a ring, which were both missing from the body.
“I wasn’t allowed to touch her,” Rawlins stated. “I wasn’t allowed to hug her. They didn’t want none of my DNA on her.”
The mother added that her daughter’s body was covered up to the neck. Oddly, when she arrived at the hospital, Rawlins says that the man who she saw her daughter leave with also arrived at the hospital to identify the body, claiming he was her fiancé.
“He is not her fiancé,” Sagraves stressed.
Family added that Woods’ body was sent for autopsy, which was later confirmed by the Scioto County Coroner’s Office.
Like Lancaster, who left behind a black book, Woods left behind her entire phone, which is still active and receiving calls and texts. Rawlins says her daughter’s phone was returned to her by Newman. Rawlins provided the Daily Times access to the phone. The contacts, call history, text messages and backed up information saved to the deceased’s Google account provides information about Wood’s various johns and drug dealers as well as conversations she had days leading up to her disappearance. Also, like Lancaster, Woods had some of the same contacts including local attorney and former City Councilman Mike Mearan (information that was revealed on the Spike TV show).
Even weeks after the death of Woods, little information had been made public. Not even an obituary had been released.
“Her story needs to come to help others, to stop this and maybe save more lives,” Sagraves stated.
During the visitation for Woods on Sept. 1, Owner and Director of Mayhew-Brown Funeral Home in Jackson Jason Brown explained that Woods’ father had been handling arrangements and did not want any public notice.
“It has been weird. They’ve just been kind of private,” Brown commented.
The funeral home later released an obituary at the request of Rawlins and Woods’ maternal family.
During the visitation at the funeral home, family also pointed out bruising and other injuries on Woods’ body.
Brown further stated that bruising seen on the body during the viewing could have come about as a result of the autopsy.
On Sept. 5, the Daily Times reached out to PPD dispatch again about any knowledge of Woods’ death.
The Daily Times asked dispatch if there had been any bodies found within the City in recent weeks.
“I think that came from (where), they are doing a thing on the missing women of Chillicothe and they came to town and were talking about Megan Lancaster. Her car was found at Rally’s after she went missing. Then, I started getting questions the next day (after the show aired), and I think that’s where that came from,” PPD dispatcher Cathy (who did not provide her last name) stated.
She again added that there had been no bodies found in Portsmouth in recent weeks.
However, Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware issued a statement to the Daily Times on Sept. 6 stating, “Her death is being treated as an overdose based upon evidence at the scene. There were no indications of foul play nor were there any suspicions noted. I realize there are social media rumors circulating that it was something other than an overdose.”
In response to claims that Newman had told family the death was being investigated as a murder and in response to statements from family stating that they saw trauma to Woods head when identifying the body, Ware stated, “[N]one of those statements are true according to first responders.”
Ware also provided the Daily Times with the 911 calls reporting Woods’ body. There were two calls. The first call was received at 8:40 p.m., Aug. 22 from a man
“I just gave Portsmouth Ambulance an overdose call, and the guy said that she’s dead,” the man reported.
He (the caller) gave the location as “2207 Robinson, right across from Rally’s.” He was not able to provide a name of the deceased.
The second call came in just a minute later from a female.
“Hello, I was walking down from Robinson, 2207 Robinson across from Rally’s, and a guy came out and said this girl was using the bathroom, come in the house and she’s dead,” the woman reported. “I don’t know if she did dope or whatever, but he told me to call because he doesn’t have a phone.”
Within days of the death, occupants of the home removed several pieces of furniture from the house, putting it out the porch and sidewalk.
Amy Cox with the Scioto County Coroner’s Office stated that Woods was sent for autopsy to determine cause of death. She added that it takes eight to 10 weeks from the time of death to get the results back.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.