San Diego

Former Navy Service Member Arrested for San Diego Wife's Murder

Elizabeth Sullivan, 32, disappeared in October 2014; two years later, her body was found in the San Diego Bay

Police have arrested a former U.S. Navy service member for the killing of his wife, whose body was found in the San Diego Bay in 2016 after she had been missing for two years.

Matthew Sullivan, 32, was arrested Wednesday morning by police outside his home in Wyoming, Delaware, for the murder of Elizabeth Sullivan, 31. 

San Diego Police Department (SDPD) Lt. Mike Holden said San Diego detectives were present during Matthew’s arrest. The lieutenant said the department has been committed to the case since it began more than three years ago.

Delaware Department of Correction
Matthew Sullivan.

“We have the right person,” Holden told NBC 7. “We’re happy to bring someone into custody and get the judicial process going. Hopefully we’ll be able to bring justice to Elizabeth and her family.”

The SDPD said the suspect will eventually be extradited to San Diego.

Elizabeth was reported missing on Oct. 14, 2014. She was last seen one day earlier near San Diego’s Liberty Station, the area where she lived. A text message sent on Oct. 13, 2014, was the last contact Elizabeth had with loved ones. Her phone was then turned off. Detectives found her car at home, but no trace of Elizabeth.

Public records obtained by NBC 7 show that Elizabeth Sullivan’s husband called 911 the night she went missing, telling dispatchers that his wife was trying to frame him. Hear the latest from NBC 7’s Wendy Fry.

A few days later, Elizabeth was reportedly spotted near soccer fields at Liberty Station and again near the San Diego International Airport. Those leads, however, were nothing more than reported sightings and never panned out for detectives.

Police searched for the missing Navy wife and mother of two for two years, to no avail. The mysterious case grew cold as her family pleaded for her safe return.

On Oct. 6, 2016, the case experienced a major break when Elizabeth’s decomposed body was found floating in the San Diego Bay near Farragut Road, about a half-mile from where she had last been seen alive years earlier.

The SDPD determined she had been a victim of a homicide.

On Wednesday, Holden said investigators believe Elizabeth was murdered around the time of her disappearance in 2014. When Elizabeth’s body was discovered, it was in an advanced stage of decomposition but investigators believe it had not been in the bay since her death.

Two years after the mysterious disappearance of a San Diego woman and Navy wife, Elizabeth Sullivan, her body was pulled from the bay near Liberty Station. Sullivan was found less than a mile away from the place she was last seen. NBC 7’s Candice Nguyen reports.

At this point, it is unclear where her body was from the time she was killed until the time she was found in the bay.

In February 2017, police reports obtained by NBC 7 showed that Matthew, a Navy service member at the time, had called 911 on the same day Elizabeth vanished. He reported his wife was “going to frame him and have him arrested,” and also claimed she had made a mess at their home.

NBC 7 also discovered records from another 911 call made by Elizabeth in March 2014. In that call, she told authorities there was a history of domestic violence in her marriage and that she and Matthew had been arguing over custody of their two young daughters and child support.

Per that police report, Elizabeth told officers she was concerned that their fighting might escalate. At that time, Matthew told the SDPD that his wife had drained their shared bank account.

A final call to 911 was made on Oct. 14, 2014, from the Sullivans’ home by a friend concerned over Elizabeth’s whereabouts. The friend told police Sullivan was “very afraid” of her husband.

A Virginia man is begging San Diegans to help find his missing daughter, 31-year-old Elizabeth Sullivan. The Navy wife and mother of two vanished Oct. 13. But as NBC 7’s Danya Bacchus reports, this man says he’s not stopping until he brings her home.

Following the release of those police reports, the SDPD said Matthew, at that point, was not yet considered a suspect in his wife’s murder. A lieutenant said investigators on the case still had “more questions than answers.”

Over the course of the investigation, however, detectives ultimately identified Matthew as the suspect in his wife's slaying.

Last week, detectives obtained a homicide warrant for Matthew's arrest. Matthew is currently jailed in Delaware but will return to San Diego to face charges, San Diego police said. His extradition will likely happen next week.

NBC 7 spoke with Elizabeth’s friend, Nathan Caracter, who said he was overwhelmed with emotion when he heard Matthew had been taken into custody.

“I was shocked; I’m still in shock a little bit because I knew Matt really well,” Caracter said.

NBC 7 also spoke with Elizabeth’s father, Edward Ricks, over the phone Wednesday. He lives in Virginia and said he’s grateful to police staying on top of his daughter’s case and to the media for covering it over the years.

“Now I’m going to wait and see what happens,” Ricks added.

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