MERCER COUNTY, Ohio (WANE) – The Mercer County Sheriff’s Office Thursday morning announced a major break in a five-and-a-half year old homicide case. A Marion, Indiana woman has been arrested in connection with the dismemberment killing of Ryan Zimmerman back in 2015.
Sheriff Jeff Grey opened the news conference by saying he had some “sad news, good news, and bad news,” before announcing that Sarah Buzzard, 30, was taken into custody Wednesday. Buzzard’s wife, also a suspect shot herself dead when police served an arrest warrant.
The case began to unfold in January 2016, a person walking a dog found what turned out to be human remains in West Bank State Park off U.S. 127.
In June of 2020, the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office announced a forensic anthropologist using DNA positively identified those remains as 21-year old Zimmerman of Columbus, Ohio. Some of his remains have never been found.
Based on forensic evidence, investigators determined Zimmerman was originally from Corbin, Kentucky. They spoke with his parents and learned Zimmerman had moved to Columbus in the months before his death. He had moved in with Sarah Buzzard and her ex-husband who he had met on social media. Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey Mercer said he made a promise to the parents that they would get an answer concerning their son’s death.
Sheriff Grey said in the last 14 months numerous search warrants were served on various tech companies, specifically social media firms, some of which Grey admitted he had never heard of, meaning sites other than Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Based on information gained from those warrants, detectives were able to hone in on where Zimmerman was killed and they contacted the Columbus, Ohio Police Department for assistance in the case. Detectives then established that possible suspects lived in Marion, Indiana. They also learned of a possible witness who lived in North Carolina and they interviewed that person. Earlier this month they were able to find out exactly where the killing and dismemberment took place.
Next, investigators found the car that had been used to transport Zimmerman’s remains from Columbus to Mercer County where they were dumped. It had been sold and detectives made contact with the new owner who willingly cooperated with them.
Then on Tuesday, detectives conducted interviews simultaneously with people in Marion, Columbus and Oak Island North Carolina so no one involved in those conversations could tip off others being interviewed.
Following those interviews, it was determined enough evidence had been gathered to issue arrest warrants.
On Wednesday, Sarah Buzzard was taken into custody and faces four counts of tampering with evidence, one count of grand theft auto and two counts of abuse of a corpse. When detectives served the search warrant on Buzzard’s wife, Naria Jenna Whitaker pulled a handgun from her purse and shot herself dead in front of five police officers.
Sheriff Grey said Buzzard could face additional charges and she is scheduled to appear in Mercer County court on Friday. He also said he couldn’t comment on a motive.
Neighbors spoke to WANE 15’s Briana Brownlee and said that they are shocked about what has come to light over the past 48 hours.
“Yesterday kind of surprised us because we are all kind of old neighbors. We’ve been here for years and years and years,” says Kay Bayley, neighbor of Buzzard and Whitaker. “It was a shock. This was a total shock because I couldn’t believe that Sarah would do something like this, that she has done something like this.”
Bayley said on multiple occasions she would talk to Buzzard and Whitaker who were very friendly to her.
Another neighbor, Jesse Fordyce, said he is in “true disbelief.”
“If we took a hundred ladies and lined them up here, [Buzzard] would be the last one you’d pick. She was a sweet lady,” Fordyce says. “… It’s crazy. It’s absolutely crazy.”