Sarah L. Stern

Stern, circa 2016; Liam McAtasney; Preston Taylor

  • Missing Since 12/02/2016
  • Missing From Neptune, New Jersey
  • Classification Endangered Missing
  • Sex Female
  • Race White
  • Date of Birth 03/24/1997 (22)
  • Age 19 years old
  • Height and Weight 5'6, 130 pounds
  • Distinguishing Characteristics Caucasian female. Brown hair, hazel eyes. Stern wears eyeglasses with black frames and silver accents on the sides. Her ears are pierced.

Details of Disappearance

Stern was last seen in Neptune, New Jersey on the afternoon of December 2, 2016. She has never been heard from again. Her vehicle, a silver four-door 1994 Oldsmobile 88, with the New Jersey license plate number WA337S, was found abandoned on the Route 35 Bridge in Belmar, New Jersey at 2:45 a.m. on December 3. It was in working order and the keys were inside it.

In February 2017, Liam McAtasney and Preston Taylor were charged in Stern's case. Photos of them are posted below this case summary. Both of them had known Stern since childhood and were friends with her in high school; in fact, Taylor had been Stern's junior prom date. They both had participated in the search for her.

McAtasney told police that Stern was depressed and had planned to run away to Canada to get away from her father, but others who knew Stern said her relationship with her father was fine and she would not have run away without telling anyone. She did have plans to move to Canada in the future, but not until 2017, and she left behind her passport and a substantial amount of money in both U.S. and Canadian currency.

Authorities stated McAtasney strangled Stern during a robbery attempt. He told an acquaintance, Anthony Curry, about the murder, and Curry told the police. At law enforcement's behest, Curry recorded a conversation with McAtasney where he described Stern's death in graphic detail. He said he choked her until she began convulsing, then he shoved a t-shirt down her throat and set the timer on his cellular phone to see how long it would take her to die.

Taylor confessed his crimes to police on February 1. According to him, McAstney asked him to help him dispose of the body. Taylor reportedly hid it in the bushes in Stern's backyard at first. Eight hours after the killing, Taylor put the body in the front seat of Stern's car and drove it to the Route 35 Bridge, where he met McAtasney. They threw the body over the side into the Shark River. They left her car on the bridge to make her disappearance look like a suicide.

McAtasney was charged with murder, robby, desecration of human remains, conspiracy to desecrate human remains, and hindering apprehension. Taylor was charged with desecration of human remains, conspiracy to desecrate human remains, hindering apprehension, and criminal contempt.

Police learned the two men buried two safes, one of which contained $9,390 in cash, and one of which contained some of Stern's clothing. Taylor lead authorities to where they were hidden. McAtasney had planned the attack for at least six months, after he found out Stern had been given money by her grandmother. He thought he would get $50,000 to $100,000 in the robbery, but most of the money was in a safe deposit box at Stern's bank, and McAtasney found less than $10,000 in old, brittle bills at her home.

In April, Taylor pleaded guilty to robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, evidence tampering and hindering apprehension. He testified against McAtasney at the latter's trial in February 2019.

McAtasney maintained his innocence at trial. His defense suggested Stern was not dead or that she had taken her own life, and that his recorded statement to Curry, a filmmaker, was just an idea for a horror film. He was convicted of all charges against him.

In June 2019, McAtasney was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Taylor faces up to twenty years in prison for his role.

Stern graduated from Neptune High School, where she played softball and was on the swim team. She studied art and TV production at Brookdale Community College for two semesters, and was well known for her YouTube videos. She communicated regularly with well-known social media personalities, and attended digital media conferences.

Her body has never been found, in spite of extensive searches of the Shark River. An ocean engineer who testified at McAtasney's trial believes Stern's body was swept out to sea when the tide went out. Foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.

Investigating Agency

  • Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office 732-431-7160
  • Neptune Police Department 732-775-1615
  • Belmar Police Department 732-681-1700

Updated 3 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated June 22, 2019; details of disappearance updated.