Liam McAtasney could’ve got away with murder. Even though police questioned him several times about the disappearance of his longtime friend, 19-year-old Sarah Stern, since he was the last person known to be seen with her on December 2, 2016, investigators initially had no proof Stern was murdered.
In the early morning hours of December 3, the young woman’s car was found abandoned on a bridge in Belmar, New Jersey. There was no body, and no one claimed to know where she was, so police were looking at the possibility that Stern took her own life, according to the Asbury Park Press.
McAtasney was all too happy to go along with that narrative, even feeding it. The Asbury Park Press reported that McAtasney, who was later convicted of killing Stern, told police that she had been suicidal in the past and Stern had been having problems with her father. She was hoping to move to Canada, soon, McAtasney told police.
But while McAtasney told investigators he’d last seen Stern before going to work on December 2, which was technically true according to his confession, he didn’t mention that it was because he was murdering her.
McAtasney Told His Friend That He Killed Stern & Threw Her Body Over the Side of a Bridge So He Could Steal Her Money
While police had little to go on, there were two other people who knew what really happened.
Preston Taylor was an accomplice in the crime. He ultimately testified against McAtasney and admitted his part. Anthony Curry was an old friend who McAtasney confided in. But Curry went to police with what he’d been told, and from there he worked with police to get McAtasney to tell the real story of what happened to Stern while being secretly taped.
That confession was the linchpin of the case. Without it, it may never have been known what happened to Stern.
The videotaped confession was played in court for jurors, and McAtasney was ultimately sentenced to life in prison for Stern’s murder.
In the taped confession, McAtasney says he planned the crime for half a year so that he could steal money that Stern’s mother, who died of cancer in 2013, left to her.
He described killing Stern, hiding her body while he went to work, and then going back to get Stern’s body and taking it to the bridge to dump it and make it look like a suicide.
McAtasney Said He Didn’t Get as Much Money as He Thought But He Got Enough to Live Comfortably & to Throw Parties
In McAtasney’s confession to Curry, which was taped inside Curry’s car, he starts by complaining that he didn’t get as much money as he thought he would, saying, “The worst part of it is I thought I was walking out [with] $50,000 to $100,000 in my pocket,” but the amount he took from Stern was closer to $10,000.
“She had a lot of money and I didn’t even get a quarter of it,” McAtasney told Curry.
He also said the money looked to have been burned somehow, and the bills were old. “It’s from the eighties, dude. It’s old,” McAtasney said, adding that he hadn’t tried to spend it or put it in a bank because he thought the bills would be conspicuous, so he was going to “lay low for a while.”
McAtasney Said It Took About a Half Hour to Kill Stern & Her Dog Just Watched
In some of the more graphic parts of the confession, McAtasney said that he thought it would only take a couple of minutes to kill Stern, but talked about how he “choked her out” saying, “I pretty much hung her. It took me a half-hour to kill her. I thought it would take a couple of minutes.”
McAtasney went on to say that ultimately he let Stern go and she seemed to be having a seizure so he stuck a shirt in her mouth so she wouldn’t vomit and held her nose. At that point, he set the timer on his phone.
“And it took me like a half an hour after I hit start. There’s so much s*** you don’t account for,” he said.
Another thing McAtasney told Curry is that his biggest concern was Stern’s dog intervening but as it all happened “her dog laid there and watched as I killed her,” he said.
Once Stern had finally succumbed to the 6’2 man’s attack, he moved her body to some bushes in her backyard and went to his job to work, McAtasney told Curry.
When McAtasney got off work he went back to the house to dispose of Stern’s body and to get the safe he killed her for.
McAtasney Said He Strapped Stern’s Body Into the Passenger Seat of Her Own Car & Drove Her to the Bridge to Dump It
According to McAtasney’s confession, he and Taylor met up to steal the safe from Stern’s house and to dispose of her body. McAtasney said he put Stern in the passenger seat of her own car and put the seatbelt on her to make it look like she was sleeping, then drove to the Route 35 bridge in Belmar. Taylor followed in his car.
Once at the bridge, McAtasney said he had a hard time hoisting Stern over the side, again saying that was unexpected. While he was struggling with that, he told Curry that three cars drove by so he found “superhuman strength” and quickly stuck her back in the car at an awkward angle as they passed.
“And three cars go by, and I’m f****** losing my s*** because that easily could’ve been a cop,” McAtasney told Curry.
After the cars passed McAtasney said Taylor helped him throw Stern’s body over the side of the bridge into the icy river where a strong current leads out to sea. Her body has never been found.
The two 19-year-olds then left in Taylor’s car, leaving Stern’s car with the keys still in it sitting on the bridge in an effort to throw police off their trail.
McAtasney Said He Had No Feelings About the Murder
At the end of the taped confession, McAtasney told Curry, “I don’t feel any different and I don’t think about it. You always think you’re going to try to do new things and you’re gonna change. It doesn’t do anything. It’s weird….what, are you going to live some boring-ass life?”
Then he assures Curry he won’t let Taylor do anything “dumb”, saying, “I did something really dumb and I planned it out for a half a year. I have patience. I got it.”
According to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, McAtasney was charged on February 2, 2017, with “first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder, first-degree robbery, second-degree desecration of human remains, second-degree conspiracy (to desecrate human remains) and second-degree hindering apprehension.”
He was found guilty on all counts and will never get out of prison.
Taylor, 19, was also charged with “second-degree desecration of human remains, second-degree conspiracy (to desecrate human remains) and second-degree hindering apprehension” because investigators said he “provided assistance to McAtasney in moving and ultimately disposing of Stern’s body in order to avoid detection,” according to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s office.
Taylor was sentenced to 18 years in prison and is eligible for parole in 2032 according to the New Jersey Department of Corrections.