After three long trials, Ryan Widmer, now 37, was convicted of murdering his wife, Sarah Widmer, 24. She was killed in August 2008, after just 114 days of marriage. During the investigation, police found no motive for the murder—neither was having an affair, and there were no money troubles, no life insurance, no drugs, no gambling, no anger problems. But jurors decided evidence collected at the scene and Ryan’s 911 call pointed to his guilt.
This Ryan Widmer wiki looks at his marriage to Sarah, the night his wife was found dead in the bathtub in their suburban Cincinnati, Ohio home, and the strange circumstances surrounding his three trials.
|About Ryan Widmer|
|Spouse||Sarah Steward Widmer April 2008-August 2008|
|Siblings||Ayran Widmer, Kyle Widmer|
|Parents||Jill Widmer, Gary Widmer|
|Convicted||Murdering his Wife|
When Ryan Met Sarah
Ryan Widmer met Sarah Steward on a blind date. The pair was fixed up by her friend Dana Kist; Ryan had been her husband’s college roommate. What happened over dinner and drinks on that blind date turned into something more.
They were, it seemed, just what each other needed: Ryan was a laid-back college jock and Sarah was super-organized. It wasn’t long before Ryan brought his new girlfriend home to meet his mom Jill.
In early 2008, the couple bought a four-bedroom house in a nice neighborhood and soon after, wedding invitations were in the mail. The wedding that April was a formal affair that went off without a hitch.
The newlyweds went to Costa Rica for their honeymoon. When they got back to Cincinnati, they started to settle into their life as Mr. and Mrs. Widmer.
They had their whole lives ahead of them. They had recently finished building a new deck at the back of their house, they were going to adopt a puppy, and they had a trip planned to Cancun, Mexico.
Ryan’s song for his wife Sarah was “You’re All I Need” by Motley Crue. It might sound romantic…but it’s not. The song is about a man who thinks his girlfriend has cheated on him, so he kills her. The band’s music video for the song opens with police hauling the man away and paramedics moving a body bag. The girlfriend is later seen dead on the bedroom floor.
August 11, 2008 — Sarah Widmer Found Dead in Bathtub
After a long day working as a sports planner for the county, Ryan claims he came home and the couple had dinner: leftover hamburgers, corn on the cob, and cheesy potatoes. After that, Ryan and Sarah watched TV: her shows first, then she let him watch the Cincinnati Bengals’ pre-season opener against the Green Bay Packers.
Sarah gave Ryan a kiss and said she loved him. She was going upstairs to take a hot bath.
Ryan responded, “I told her I love her most.”
Sarah asked Ryan to check the doors before he came upstairs. As she moved toward the stairs, Ryan said she walked “on her tippy toes as she often did.”
Sarah ascended the stairs to draw a bath in the master bedroom. Hot baths helped calm Sarah, a dental hygienist who had suffered from bad headaches all afternoon.
Later that night, Ryan went upstairs only to find his wife non-responsive in the bathtub. He quickly called 911.
The 911 Call
Dispatcher: What’s going on?
Ryan Widmer: My wife…she fell asleep in the bathtub, I think. I was downstairs, I just came up here and she was laying face down in the bathtub.
The EMTs arrived at the home shortly thereafter and performed CPR. They rushed Sarah to the hospital; by then, they’d worked on her for 45 minutes. But to no avail. Sarah was dead.
The newlyweds had been married for just 114 days.
For Paramedics and Police, Ryan’s Story Didn’t Add up
Sarah fell asleep in the tub and drowned. Ryan found her and called 911. End of story. Except it wasn’t. For paramedics, police, and even the 911 dispatcher, the story didn’t add up.
Ryan told paramedics he was pretty sure Sarah had fallen asleep in the bathtub and drowned. But the responding EMTs thought there was something off about the scene; something didn’t look right.
When Lieutenant Jeff Braley arrived at the scene, he was expecting to see signs of a drowning, like froth around the victim’s nose and mouth. Maybe evidence of drugs or an overdose. When he arrived, EMTs had already put Sarah into the back of the ambulance.
The arriving police officer told him he had found Sarah in the master bedroom, lying on the carpet from the bathroom. He said he felt for a pulse and helped administer CPR on a dry body with wet hair.
The 911 dispatcher had instructed Ryan Widmer to get Sarah out of the bathtub and put her on the floor. He then went away for a moment and came back to say he’d moved Sarah from the tub to the bedroom.
The dispatcher then told him to attempt CPR.
Braley went into the master bedroom expecting to see water on the floor or towels. All he saw were a couple of droplets around the drain. Even the towel on the floor was perfectly dry.
Braley was left with a drowning victim who wasn’t wet. A drowning victim who had reportedly fallen asleep in the tub and slid face down in the water, but the bathroom was dry. And everything around the tub undisturbed, even though her husband Ryan had pulled her limp body out of the tub and moved her to the bedroom.
For Braley, it appeared as though someone had wiped the tub down.
Crime-scene investigators arrived and began taking photos, cutting out pieces of the bedroom carpet where a mixture of blood and fluid had stained the carpet. These kinds of stains are common in drownings, but Braley wondered if there was another explanation for the stains.
When Braley left the Widmer house at 2:00 a.m., he knew he was looking at a suspicious death. How long had Sarah been out of the tub and had she been on the floor long enough for her body to air dry? Moreover, was it possible for Ryan to drag Sarah out of the tub without knocking anything over?
As for the apparent “Lysol” wipe, did Sarah have a habit of wiping down the tub before she took a bath? And lastly, what happened to Sarah on the bedroom floor?
Friends Can’t Believe Ryan’s a Killer
Police was quick to point a finger at Ryan Widmer, but his friends and family, not so much. Sarah’s friend Dana said it wasn’t possible.
Sarah had called Dana, a nurse, asking for her opinion about the persistent headaches she’d been having.
Dana then recounted how Sarah, since she was a child, had a habit of falling asleep at any given moment in the oddest places.
Did Sarah’s headaches and odd sleeping habits point to a condition that might explain her sudden death?
Even Sarah’s mother-in-law Jill noticed her habit of falling asleep. During the 2007 Christmas holidays, Jill was taking home videos and caught Sarah sound asleep in the living room, surrounded by a noisy group of 15 or 20 people.
Jill also said Sarah fell asleep at the dinner table and while riding in the car. She fell asleep at the beginning of movies.
Dana used to joke that Sarah had narcolepsy, to which Sarah would respond, “Dana, I do not. I’m just tired all the time.”
Had Sarah fallen asleep in the tub and drowned? She must have, Ryan said as much to the 911 dispatcher. Did Dana and Jill’s observations hold up to medical science?
According to the pathologist, there was no evidence of a stroke or a heart attack. But the medical examiner did find something notable: unexplained bruising to Sarah’s scalp and the nape of her neck.
For Lieutenant Braley, the story didn’t add up the way Ryan described it. Sarah had been murdered and police said Ryan did it.
A few days later, Ryan was charged with aggravated murder. By Ryan’s own admission, he was the only other person in the house when she died. Either that or he was covering for someone else.
Sarah Widmer’s Obituary
Sarah Widmer’s obituary was written as follows:
“Widmer, Sarah Ann 24, of Hamilton Township, died Monday, August 11, 2008, at Bethesda Arrow Springs. She was born in Kettering on January 2, 1984 to parents Michael A. and Ruth Ann (Kleine) Steward. Sarah worked as a dental hygienist for Dr. John Becker. She was a member of St. Susanna Catholic Church.
“Sarah is survived by her husband, Ryan K. Widmer; her mother, Ruth Ann Steward; brother, Mike (Jeannie) Steward; and grandparents, Ruth Kleine and Lori Steward. She was preceded in death by her father, Michael A. Steward…
“Private inurnment will be at Butler County Memorial Park at the convenience of the family.”
Friends and family posted messages online, describing how much Sarah was loved and would be missed:
August 13, 2008
“Sarah i love you so much…you will be missed and i will never forget all of our memories from high school, hygiene school, and working at Dr. Warren’s office…We will be talking to you in our prayers….”
—Rick and Wendy Allen-Reeves, Hamilton, OH
August 14, 2008
“I am so sorry to hear about Sarah. I remember her as one of the sweetest, cutest young ladies I have ever met. The world will not be the same without her smiling face and sunny personality. She will be missed terribly.”
—Stephanie Cox, Trenton, OH
August 15, 2008
“Sarah was a wonderful friend, I will never forget the fun times we had… sleep overs, swimming, volleyball, UC, too many to name. She will be missed. Ruthann and family you are in my thoughts and prayers.”
—Nicole Anderson, Seven Mile, OH
August 6, 2009
“There is not a day that I don’t think of Sarah. I know that she was very close with my Sister – in – Law. A bunch of us had vacationed together about 2 years ago and we will forever miss her Bright Smiling Face!!!! As the anniversary of her death comes near, I pray that we all take some time to remember those that have passed before us and Thank God for the memories we have of them!!! God Bless you Sarah!!! You are missed EVERY DAY!!”
—Kimberly Benkner, West Chester, OH
August 9, 2009
“Sarah, I miss you so much! Every time I look at my beautiful children I think of how much I wish you were still here to see them. I tell them all the time that they have their own personal guardian angel who watches over them. I love you and will always remember our great times together.
—Dana Kist, Alexandria, KY
Was There Trouble in Paradise?
Sarah and Ryan Widmer had only been married for 114 days before she was found dead. On the surface, the couple had everything.
Plus, Ryan didn’t have a criminal record, and there was no apparent history of conflict or problems in the marriage. With Ryan sitting in jail, everyone wondered, what was his motive for murdering Sarah?
According to police, neither of them was stepping out on the other and there were no money troubles or no anger issues. Police could not find a motive for Sarah’s death.
Initially, even Sarah’s family supported Ryan. Sarah’s brother Mike Steward even asked the presiding judge to lower Ryan’s bond amount so he could attend his late wife’s funeral. Ryan’s family covered his bond and he went to live with his mother.
That said, Ruth Ann Steward, Sarah’s mother, said she noticed the couple fighting a fair bit before they were even married; they weren’t exactly the perfect couple. Prior to their April 2008 wedding, Ruth said Sarah and Ryan argued over minor things like where to hang pictures in their new house.
Ruth said she also noticed Ryan watching Sarah’s spending like a hawk.
“We would be out shopping and as soon as she would buy something, he would call her on her cell phone and ask her why she bought it and did she really need it,” Steward said.
Prosecution Sets the Scene for Murder
The trial of the so-called “Bathtub Murder” began in April 2009, just one year after Sarah and Ryan married. The prosecution’s case was pretty straightforward: for unknown reasons, the couple had a violent fight and Sarah ended up dead.
The emergency dispatcher testified that Ryan gave a lot more information during the 911 call that night than he usually hears. Ryan, he said, seemed rather calm. Usually, the dispatcher can’t get much information out of callers.
Braley said the same thing.
“He started his story with, ‘I was downstairs watching TV. And my wife fell asleep in the tub.’ Well, how does he know that? Why is it important to establish where he’s at and what he’s doing?”
Warren County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Bishop , the first officer on the scene, said he noticed something odd when he began administering CPR: Sarah’s body was dry and her hair was damp.
Then there were Sarah’s fingers and toes. Sarah had apparently been in the water for 20 to 30 minutes and only been out of the tub for a short while before Bishop arrived, yet her fingers and toes weren’t wrinkled.
The bathroom was also dry. If Ryan had dragged Sarah’s wet body out of the tub, as he claimed, the bathtub and tiles should have been wet. It was starting to look more and more like Sarah had never been in the tub in the first place.
Aniesa Marie Das, an expert on sleep, said it would be virtually impossible for someone not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or something external, to fall asleep and not wake up in a bathtub.
“So, first the sensation of water on the face would wake you up. Number two would be the gag reflex entering your airway and number three, if that didn’t, the drop in oxygen would wake you up,” she said.
So perhaps Sarah hadn’t fallen asleep, but suffered a medical emergency instead. Again, there was no evidence of heart problems, brain injury, or a seizure. But, according to the coroner, the bruising to Sarah’s neck and scalp were disturbing…and pointed to homicide.
There is one easy explanation as to how Sarah had wet hair and a dry body. Her head could have been pushed over the edge of the tub forward or backward, into either running or full water. Ryan Widmer could have held her head under the water until she drowned.
Ryan Widmer’s Defense Team Takes Charge
The defense argued, as expected, that Ryan had nothing to do with Sarah’s death. The defense couldn’t explain why Sarah had drowned that night, but they hoped to show that Ryan had no reason to murder his wife.
Part of the problem, the defense argued, was that Ryan told the 911 dispatcher that Sarah died when she fell asleep in the bathtub. He told the dispatcher, “She falls asleep in the tub all the time.” That raised alarms.
Saying Sarah was simply unconscious wouldn’t have raised alarms.
The defense team called a doctor who specializes in emergency medicine. Dr. David Smile testified that unexplained deaths are not all that uncommon. Each year, he said, approximately 300,000 people die unexplained, sudden deaths.
Of those, he added, one to two percent occur in people under the age of 35. One-third of those young people who die have normal autopsies, with no evidence of any cardiovascular, respiratory, or central nervous system injury.
As for the damp hair and dry body, the defense argued that it can be explained by the fact that it takes longer for hair to dry than skin. The big question is, could Sarah’s body have dried off in the 6.5 minutes between the time Ryan called 911 and when the paramedics arrived?
As for the alleged violent struggle that left bruising on Sarah’s neck and scalp, if there had been such a struggle, there would be water on the floors, counter, walls, etc. If the scene was staged and Ryan had cleaned up the bathroom, where were the wet towels?
The defense claimed the bruising was a result of the 45 minutes EMT’s spent working on Sarah in the bedroom.
Ryan did not take the stand in his own defense.
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Ryan Widmer Guilty of Murdering Wife Sarah
After 22 hours of deliberation, jurors found Ryan Widmer guilty of murder. Widmer was acquitted of the more serious charge of aggravated murder, which indicates premeditation.
Jurors didn’t think Ryan could have removed Sarah’s limp body from the tub and placed her on the floor in their bedroom in the 29 seconds elapsed on the 911 call.
There was also a mountain of evidence that persuaded them to find Ryan guilty of murdering his wife—namely, the absence of water on Sarah’s body and around the bathroom. In the end, they believed he had faked his 911 call.
Ryan said after the verdict, “I loved my wife. I did not hurt her. I was never given a chance. The day after she passes away, they charge me with murder. I didn’t even… If I had an answer, I would give the answer of what happened to her, but I can’t. I was not in the bathroom with her.”
The judge recommended a sentence of 15 years to life in prison.
First Guilty Verdict Tossed for Jury Misconduct
The guilty verdict didn’t last long. A juror faxed the defense attorney’s office saying two or three of the female jurors had acted inappropriately. They had conducted experiments at home, bathing and timing how long it took their body to air dry.
They then discussed their results with the jurors during deliberations. The panel had been strictly warned by the judge to only consider evidence they had heard in court. In one sworn statement, a juror said that the home experiments had influenced their decision.
The conviction was overturned as a result of jury misconduct. Ryan Widmer got a second trial. The not-guilty count on the aggravated murder charge remained. The prosecution could only retry him on the second count of murder.
Ryan Widmer walked out of jail after his family posted bond.
Prosecutor Says Ryan Widmer Had a Motive to Kill
Rachel Hutzel, a prosecutor in Warren County, Ohio, said Ryan Widmer did have a motive for killing his wife, one that was never presented during trial.
She said Ryan Widmer was a frequent visitor of the adult porn site “Adult Friend Finder,” which billed itself as the world’s largest site for swingers looking for anonymous sex. Hutzel said she thinks Sarah Widmer found out that Ryan was visiting the site and it resulted in a huge fight.
“Ryan was on that web site a number of times, including the weekend before she died. That’s contrary to claims of the defense that this was a happily married couple,” Hutzel said.
Prosecutors could not introduce the theory in court because they could not prove that Sarah actually knew about the site.
Second Trial Ends with a Hung Jury
In June 2010, Ryan Widmer’s second trial ended with a hung jury after jurors said they could not make a decision after four days of deliberating.
“I just want this to be over. I’m disappointed. I should have been found not guilty,” said Widmer.
At least one piece of incriminating evidence was not permitted in court. Police made a demonstration video that they claimed shows how Ryan could have murdered Sarah, leaving her hair wet and body dry.
In the video, only the victim’s head and arms are held under water. This theory may explain the strange streaks found on the inside of the tub—police claimed Sarah Widmer left the marks while fighting for her life.
Court Documents Reveal Sarah Had a Heart Murmur as a Child
One month after the second trial, attorneys for Ryan Widmer filed a request for acquittal, saying newly disclosed information revealed Sarah Widmer had suffered from a heart murmur as a child.
This information was not presented in the first two trials. There was no explanation as to why the records were never presented to the jurors.
In 2006, Sarah filled out paperwork at her dentist’s office, saying she was diagnosed with a heart murmur as a young girl.
A cardiologist who was consulted during the second trial said the murmur probably didn’t cause Sarah’s death, but there was no way to be 100% certain.
“In this trial prosecutors were able to claim Sarah had no prior heart condition or history… any future jury will be allowed to consider and weigh the evidence,” defense attorneys wrote.
“In light of this information, the prosecution can no longer claim Sarah did not have any prior heart problems or conditions.
“If the state does not know what happened, the state cannot prove what happened beyond a reasonable doubt. Jurors were left to consider multiple, inconsistent, and contradictory theories.”
Ryan Widmer Tried for a Third Time
The third trial to convict Ryan Widmer began on January 26, 2011. One of the first people brought forward by the prosecution was a mystery witness, Jennifer Crew.
She had introduced herself to Widmer after seeing his story on the NBC show Dateline in 2009. Their relationship involved e-mails, instant messages, and eventually phone calls.
Ryan Widmer Admitted to Murdering His Wife?
Crew, then 36, testified that Ryan Widmer had confessed during a phone call on October 26, 2009 that he had killed his wife by punching her in the chest, causing her to fall down and hit her head.
“He was crying at first and I couldn’t understand him.
“I said ‘Ryan, Ryan’… Then he said, ‘I did it, I did it, I killed Sarah,’” Crew testified. “My heart fell, that I had been believing this person for so long.”
Crew said she initially thought Widmer was saying he felt responsible for Sarah’s death, because he couldn’t save her life or didn’t perform CPR long enough.
“No Jenn, listen to me, I did it,” he said, Crew testified.
According to Crew, an inebriated Widmer said that on the night of August 11, 2008, he and Sarah got into an argument after Sarah had found out he cheated on her while she was away for the weekend with her mother. Crew said they also fought about pornography and Ryan’s smoking and drinking.
Sarah told Ryan she was leaving him.
“No one leaves me,” Ryan allegedly said to Sarah.
According to Crew, he then punched Sarah in the chest in the bathroom where she was getting ready to take a bath and hit her head. Ryan then cleaned up the scene, hid the wet towels, and called 911, Crew claimed.
Why didn’t Crew come forward before the third trial? She feared for her life, she said. She testified she told Ryan Widmer she wouldn’t tell anyone about his confession, to which he replied, “I wouldn’t want you to end up where Sarah is.”
He knew where she lived. Ryan had sent her a “Free Ryan Widmer” T-shirt, bracelet, and pen.
Ryan Widmer’s defense team shot Crew’s testimony full of holes, questioning her character and highlighting numerous inconsistencies and contradictions with known facts.
Ryan Widmer Found Guilty in Third Trial
On February 15, 2011, after 13 days of testimony from 44 witnesses and a dozen hours of deliberations, Ryan Widmer was found guilty of murdering his wife, Sarah. Ryan sobbed as the guilty verdict was read.
When asked if he wanted to make a statement to the judge, Ryan said, “I didn’t do this. I don’t know why this has gone on for so long… I loved Sarah. I would never hurt her.”
Outside the courtroom, Ryan’s father Gary told reporters his son is innocent.
Sarah’s mother, Ruth Ann, did not make a statement in court and left without speaking to reporters.
Judge Neal Bronson sentenced Ryan Widmer to serve 15 years to life in prison. His first parole board hearing is scheduled for July 2025.
Ryan Widmer Finds Love and Fatherhood with a New Sarah
While waiting for his second murder trial, Ryan Widmer found love with another blonde woman named Sarah. The couple also started a family. Their son, Ryan, was born in August 2010.
His girlfriend, Sarah Manherz, was not in court during testimony in the third trial, but she was there when the verdict was read.
Michele Berry-Godsey, one of the attorneys working on Ryan Widmer’s appeal, said the relationship just evolved when Ryan was “desperate for support to get by day to day knowing he was innocent.
She went on to say that Manherz was just one of hundreds of people to contract Widmer and show their support after Dateline featured his story following the first trial. They clicked and a relationship followed.
Is this new relationship a sign of foul play? Mark Krumbein, an attorney following the case, said that while many will criticize Ryan Widmer, it doesn’t have any bearing on the case—which is why it probably wasn’t brought up in the third trial.
“If someone is accused of murdering their wife and went out with someone the next night, that would be very relevant,” said Krumbein. “If it’s a year or two later, I think we’d all consider it irrelevant and meaningless.”
Ryan Widmer Loses Appeal for Fourth Trial
In February 2017, it was announced that U.S. District Magistrate Judge Michael R. Merz in Cincinnati had rejected Ryan Widmer’s 2015 appeal for a fourth trial, saying it would be “frivolous” to proceed.
In the 160-page ruling, Merz said, “Reasonable jurists would not disagree with this conclusion.”
Ryan Widmer’s Lawyer Argues for Appeal
Never one to give up, Ryan Widmer’s attorney, Michele Berry-Godsey, filed 17 objections to Merz’s findings and recommendations and asked the court to either free her client or allow the case to proceed to the appellate level.
“Even if this court disagrees with Widmer on any of the procedural or substantive issues, it cannot be said that Widmer’s claims are objectively unreasonable and/or frivolous,” she wrote in the 92-page document.
“We have strong issues, and we are confident that the courts will eventually side with us. Until then, we’re not giving up. When an innocent person is in prison, you never give up.”
The main arguments made by Ryan Widmer’s appeals attorney are as follows:
- The home’s bathtub was illegally seized.
- Testimony regarding “prints” on the tub was based on “junk science.”
- Ryan’s defense team should have been allowed to test Sarah’s DNA for a rare genetic disorder.
- Juries should have been told about lead detective Jeff Braley’s alleged misrepresentations of his qualifications.
Surprising Revelation about Sarah Never Explored
A new book, Submerged: Ryan Widmer, His Drowned Bride and the Justice System, by author Janice (Morse) Hisle, includes a new revelation about Sarah that was never broached during the three trials in Warren County.
Hisle, who covered the case during her 15 years as a reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer, uncovered long-forgotten notes written by Ryan for his lawyers. In them, Ryan said that Sarah exhibited odd behavior, including on the night she drowned: she walked on her tippy toes.
“She walks on her tippy toes as she often did,” he wrote.
Widmer’s notes were never mentioned during the trials, even when Sarah’s health became a topic of debate. Ryan’s observations, if accurate, suggest Sarah might have suffered from a neurological disorder or other condition.
Unfortunately, Warren County prosecutors have declined to release Sarah’s DNA for additional testing.
“I was a reporter for many many years and this was the murder case that had more unanswered questions than anything I ever covered,” Hisle said.
“For example, there was no testing done whether she suffered from narcolepsy. There was no testing done she suffered from something called Long QT Syndrome, which can actually cause partial paralysis of the legs.”
Despite convicting Ryan of murder in his third trial in 2011, jurors were never able to agree on a scenario that accounts for all of the evidence. They also failed to find a motive for why Ryan Widmer killed Sarah.
“I felt that the jury was having a hard time without having any kind of medical condition, known medical condition, that Sarah might have had that would have contributed to a drowning,” said Charlie H. Rittgers, one of Ryan Widmer’s lawyers.
And it seems no one will ever know. Ryan Widmer will have to wait until July 2025 for his first parole hearing.