I'm a Tennessee-based freelance writer with a passion for true crime, a thirst for knowledge, and an obsession with lists.
Sara Ambrusko was born into a lively family of seven girls. The Amherst, New York, clan had a strong sense of family and understood the importance of hard work. Their physician father and homemaker Mom were immigrants to the U.S., who worked hard to provide their daughters with all of the things they needed and some of luxuries they wanted.
Even as the girls grew up and began establishing their own families in cities scattered from coast to coast, they remained close to their parents and to one another.
Love and Marriage
Sara loved life. Beautiful and outgoing, Sara was often the life of the parties she attended as a single gal, yet she wanted more. Sara wanted a husband, a home, and children, just as many of her sisters already had.
Her first attempt at marriage didn’t turn out as she planned. Not because Sara didn’t try, but it’s difficult to make a marriage work with someone who can’t remain faithful. Sara was heartbroken but determined to move on. She wasn’t ready to give up on love – not just yet.
Life could be a little lonely for a girl in the big city of Atlanta, a place about as far from her childhood home in New York as one could get but, admittedly, it wasn’t too bad. After all, her parents had retired to a Florida city just nine hours South and she had her job as a club promoter for some of Atlanta’s hottest clubs.
Still, the void remained.
One afternoon, however, as Sara was watching a television news conference, she spotted a familiar face. The Assistant District Attorney making a statement about a local trial was none other than Fredic “Fred” Tokars, a guy she knew from her old neighborhood. Truthfully, Sara had never known Fred very well. She’d had more interaction with his brother who had dated her sister, but he was a familiar face in a town where she knew so few. She decided to give him a call.
Fred remembered Sara and was glad to hear from her. In that same first phone call, he asked her on a date and Sara readily said yes. Sara had no idea the hell she had entered with that one little word.
After a whirlwind courtship, Fred and Sara were married. She believed all of her dreams had come true. She had a successful husband, a beautiful home, and a great job. The only thing left on Sara’s wish list was children but by the time their first son was born, Sara was becoming disillusioned with the marriage.
Just before their son was to arrive, Fred suddenly quit his job as an Assistant District Attorney to pursue private practice. Fred knew Sara had dreamed of being a stay-at-home Mom and the couple was too far in debt for her to do so while Fred built up his practice. So Sara begrudgingly returned to work as soon as she was able as Fred tried to establish himself as a private criminal defense attorney by accepting almost any case which came through his office door; which was mostly made-up of the city’s drug dealers who peddled their products in Atlanta’s housing projects and night clubs.
Even though Sara worked all day and had an infant to take care of at night, Fred was seldom home. Using his practice as an excuse, he prowled Atlanta’s nightclubs and bars and didn’t come home until the wee hours of the morning – if he came home at all. He swore he’d have a lucrative practice soon, certain to pull the couple out of their financial straits.
Fred became even more excessively controlling of the couple’s money. Sara was required to turn her paychecks over to Fred, who then gave Sara a small stipend from which she was to use for household bills, medical expenses, groceries, and things for the children. In a metropolis such as Atlanta with a high cost of living, six hundred dollars per week doesn’t go very far.
Strangely, Fred was insistent Sara pay their bills only in cash. He reasoning was to dupe the IRS should they ever invoke an audit. He wanted no trace whatsoever of their income, other than that which he claimed on taxes each year.
As if to add insult to injury, Fred also prepared a will wherein he left his brother as guardian of the boys and controller of the financial aspects of his estate, even should Sara still be alive. Even in death, Fred intended to control her.
Between the late nights, wills intended to control her from the grave, and her prison-like home life, Sara was fed up. This wasn’t what she had envisioned for herself or her children. She wanted a divorce.
A Deadly Divorce
Sara was all to aware Fred hid his money and she was certain when she filed for divorce, he would swear the couple had little of nothing to divide. After all she’d endured, Sara refused to be denied her fair share.
She began her efforts by hiring a private investigator. Having no money for which Fred wouldn’t ask for an accounting, Sara gave the private eye a pearl necklace as collateral. Living on the meager salary of a paid gumshoe, he was none too happy and admits he didn’t give Sara the credibility he now knows she deserved. As a matter of fact, he believed Sara was an over-dramatic suburban housewife making wild claims to win what was sure to be a nasty divorce over money and children.
Risking Fred’s wrath if she were to be discovered, Sara sneaked into Fred’s basement office safe where she discovered papers she believed to be very important. No one realized it at the time, but these documents were proof of a money laundering scheme Fred had developed by creating offshore shell bank accounts used by his drug dealing clients. In turn, the laundered funds were used as start-up funding for some of Atlanta’s nightclubs that were a hotbed for illegal drugs.
One of Fred’s money laundering clients was Eddie Charles Lawrence, an black man with dreams of being a big shot drug dealer. In the interim, however, Eddie worked at small, sporadic jobs as a handyman. It was with this in mind Fred talked Eddie into laundering his money through a shell bank.
Fred sensed Sara was planning to divorce him and he refused to give up half of what he felt he alone had earned. Forget the children, Fred was focused on the cash.
Eddie wasn’t smart enough to realize once he signed on with Fred Tokars, he was forever at the lawyer’s mercy, but Fred knew and it was time to put a plan he’d had in mind for a while into play. Fred approached Eddie with a plan. He wanted Eddie to go to his and Sara's home while she was away then lay in wait until she got home. When she returned, Eddie was to kill Sara and make it appear it was burglary gone bad.
Eddie might have been an addict, but he was no killer yet he knew Fred had him between a rock and a hard place, so he had to do something. That’s when Eddie approached Fred’s secretary and asked if her meth-adled brother, Curtis Rower, might be interested in a murder for hire deal.
Curtis would do anything for his next fix and he readily agreed to kill Sara.
The Best Laid Plans… or Not
On the night of November 29, 1992, Sara and her two sons, Rick, 6, and Mike, 4, were returning home from a fabulous Thanksgiving with her parents in Florida. When Sara pulled into the driveway of the Tokar home, she was relieved to be done with the long drive. Trying not to disturb her sleeping sons, Sara left the engine running and ran to unlock the door . Fidgety and anxious, Curtis Rower went against the plan to attack inside the home and startled Sara as she went to the door.
Sara screamed and ran toward the car. Curtis managed to get a hold on Sara and forced her back into the car, demanding she drive. As Sara drove, she pleaded with Curtis not to harm her children. Sara insisted he take her purse and her car but begged him to leave her and the children unharmed. Her pleas fell on deaf ears, however, as the crackhead directed her to drive down the street on which Eddie was supposed to be waiting with the get-away car. When he didn't see Eddie anywhere, Curtis panicked. He later told police it was in this state, he accidentally shot Sara.
The six year-old witness who had been in the rear seat told an entirely different story.
According to little Ricky Tokar “the bad man” suddenly shot his mother and jumped from the moving vehicle. He said just before the shot, his mother had anticipated danger and tried to protect him by pushing him toward the floor of the car. His younger brother remained sleeping in the backseat. After the now unmanned vehicle veered into a ditch and came to an abrupt stop, Ricky jumped from the vehicle, woke the sleeping Mike, and ran across a field toward the lights of a church to get help. For the next several years, during interrogations and trials, Ricky would never waver in his story.
Fred didn’t seem too upset Sara was dead. While her family and police sought answers, Fred seemed intent on dodging them all, refusing to answer the important questions. He felt there wasn’t much he could say; after all, according to him in one of his few statements, it was simply a random act of violence not uncommon in the Atlanta area.
Shortly before Sara was murdered, Fred had learned he was under investigation by the U.S. Attorney for his money laundering practices. One client’s wife had been called to testify. Fred didn’t know how much Sara knew, but he feared she had known too much and would reveal it under oath if called to testify. With Sara dead, Fred was arrogant enough to believe he was scot-free.
How humbling it must have been for Fred to learn, in trying to insure a fair divorce settlement, Sara had discovered key evidence that would send investigators down a twisted trail of drugs, money laundering, and murder; her discover would ignite race debates and eventually put an arrogant attorney in prison for life.
Without warning, however, Fred had fled with his sons to Canada amid a bitter custody battle with his wife’s family. It was there he attempted suicide.
When All Was Said And Done
Fred's suicide attempt was a failure and he was soon returned to the US for trial. Despite hiring one of Georgia’s best defense attorneys, Fred Tokar was convicted on the Federal charges of money laundering and for state charges of murdering his wife.
Even in prison, Fred Tokars continued to be a whining, sniveling excuse for a human being still looking out for number one by becoming a jailhouse snitch. Prosecutors claim the former member of the Georgia Bar has helped solve six murders.
Fred’s best efforts to have his brother declared legal guardian of his sons was fruitless. Eventually one of Sara’s sisters was awarded custody and Mike and Rick have both grown into handsome, productive young men. Rick lives in New York and Mike lives in Florida.
Eddie Lawrence may never breathe fresh air again, but it hasn’t kept him from finding true love. He married while in prison and in 2008 his wife self-published a book based on Eddie’s story. Considering the book can not be found even at Amazon, one must assume it was a complete waste of time on her part.
The meth-head who actually pulled the trigger, Carl Rower, will never be released from prison. He’s currently housed in the Jackson, Georgia prison.
Read More About Fred Tokars
Robin McDonald's 1998 book Secrets Never Lie: The Death of Sara Tokars--A Southern Tragedy of Money, Murder, and Innocence Betrayed is the best resource for those interesting in learning more about Fred and Sara Tokars.
© 2016 Kim Bryan
michabelle on June 01, 2017:
In an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, March 15, 1994, journalist Bill Rankin wrote regarding attorney Murray Silver's testimony in the Tokars trial:
"Tokars later told him [Silver] he was helping hide $300,000 in a Bahamas offshore account for a man getting a divorce, he said. On another occasion, Silver said, Tokars told him he had deposited $1 million in offshore accounts and that "the deal was still open." But Silver said he declined the invitation."
That Tokars was hiding money for wealthy men divorcing their wives wasn't sensationalized. Murray Silver is also mentioned in the book, "Secrets Never Lie."
I've never felt the entire truth was told in the Tokars story. Sarah found information–– names, dates, etc. in Fred's filing cabinets and I've always wondered whether that information may have contributed to her death.
That a brilliant, politically connected attorney would hire a street crack addict to kill his wife in this manner indicates a red flag. That police were offered movie contracts in the midst of the investigation is yet another.
You may also be interested in the current, ongoing story of affluent Atlanta area attorney, Tex McIver––currently charged with the murder of his wife.
I was once a married, affluent wife in the Atlanta area and experienced the incredible corruption that exists in the legal system there. The truth and what you perceive as truth are often two very different things.