A body was recovered Saturday in the vicinity where an SUV plunged off a Northern California cliff last month, killing a family of eight in what authorities suspect may have been an intentional crash.
In a statement provided to The Associated Press, Alexandra Argyropoulos, a former friend of the Harts, said she "witnessed what I felt to be controlling emotional abuse and cruel punishment" toward the six children.
On Thursday morning, the family members allegedly killed the woman by attacking her with a tool used to cut sugarcane plants, Ingle said. The bodies of Jennifer and Sarah Hart were found March 26 inside their vehicle at the rocky shoreline below a cliff. The bodies of three of their six adopted kids: Markis, 19; Jeremiah, 14; and Abigail, 14, were located near the crash scene.
Investigators have said they believe the missing children - Devonte, 15, Hannah, 16, and Sierra, 12 - were inside the vehicle at the time of crash.
Searchers looking for the missing Hart siblings found the phone and authorities believe that it could belong to one of the family members, the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office told KOIN-TV. Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said one person reported something bobbing in the water almost 40 miles out at sea, but divers didn't find anything, according to Oregon Live.
Sarah Hart pleaded guilty in 2011 to a domestic assault charge in Minnesota over what she said was a spanking given to one of her children.
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"I'm leaning to say that this is more of a crime than it is a crash", Allman told FOX12 Oregon.
The family's history provides vital clues as to why Allman said he is investigating the case as a crime.
A woman said Tuesday that she told OR child welfare officials in 2013 that Jennifer and Sarah Hart - who plunged off a California cliff with their children last month in an SUV - had been depriving the kids of food as punishment.
Three days before the crash, neighbors had called Child Protective Services after two disturbing encounters with the children.
They couldn't make contact with the family after several attempts.