The Murder of Zoe Sarnacki

On May 25, 2009, Zoe Sarnacki was murdered by Chad Gurney. He had strangled her, sexually assaulted her remains, and decapitated her. Gurney turned himself in and received 65 years.

Zoe Sarnacki

Zoe Sarnacki, 18, was born on March 25, 1991, to John and Linda Sarnacki. She had three sisters, a brother, and a large extended family who she loved. Zoe also had 5 cats and loved animals. She was currently working at Bagel Works.

On Zoe’s memorial Facebook page, her friends and family continue to share pictures and tributes, keeping her memory alive.


Zoe Sarnacki, 18, met Chad Gurney, 18, in March 2009 and they began a romantic relationship. In May 2009, Gurney took a weeklong trip to Canada and arrived back in Portland, Maine, on May 20, 2009. Gurney wanted Zoe to take a trip with him to Thailand, but Zoe did not want to go. Gurney made plans to go on the trip by himself. A few days later, around May 23, 2009, Zoe had revealed she had been intimate with another man while Gurney was in Canada.

Zoe Sarnacki Source: Find a Grave


Zoe had apologized to Gurney for her indiscretion and spent the day hanging out at his apartment on May 25, 2009. In the afternoon, Zoe took a nap on Gurney’s bed. While Zoe was sleeping, Gurney grabbed her by her neck, head-butted her, and strangled her to death. After he had killed Zoe, he had sex with her body. He then decapitated her.

Gurney showered, changed his clothes, drove to a nearby gas station, and filled up a container with gas. He brought the gas back to his apartment, and poured it over Zoe, her belongings, and through the lower level of his apartment, leaving a trail to the front door. Before setting his apartment on fire, he grabbed the bag he packed for his trip to Thailand, his laptop, and a shotgun.

Gurney drove to an ATM, withdrew cash, and checked in to a motel.

Authorities Respond

On May 25, 2009, 911 received a call for a fire. Authorities responded and found Zoe’s remains. A neighbor called Gurney to tell him his house was on fire; Gurney told him he was heading to Lewiston and hung up the phone.


On May 26, 2009, Gurney spoke to his best friend, and told him he had murdered Zoe. While explaining what happened, Gurney was “calm and rational”. He told his friend that he was “tired of being hurt and lost it”. While talking on the phone, Gurney was pulled over by a Portland officer. Gurney wanted his friend to explain to the officer that he “might not be all there” referring to a car accident he was in 2005, that may have caused head trauma.

After the phone conversation with his friend and the encounter with the police officer, Gurney turned himself in.  

Police seized Gurney’s belongings. On his computer, computer crimes investigator found a video in space on his hard drive with the caption “Description: woman half-beheaded for suspected cheating. Well, at least if she was cheating she won’t do it again.” This evidence was allowed into trial.

Gurney was charged with one count of murder and one count of arson. He entered a plea of not guilty by reason of mental defect or disease. He had told an officer in the county jail that he had been hearing voices and seeing signs before he had killed Zoe. 


In 2005, Gurney was in a car accident that seriously injured his legs, back, arm, and a mild head injury. He received a large sum of money in a lawsuit as a result of the accident. In 2007, he was treated for anxiety and depression. He was also diagnosed with organic personality disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Chad Grundy Source: New Advance

After the murder, while incarcerate, Gurney met with a psychologist multiple times. The psychologist did not find any evidence that he suffered from delusions or audio hallucinations. Gurney explained in multiple sessions that the hurt he sustained from woman had “deflated him”. Court documents state Gurney said “I was so sick of it—like every [expletive] girlfriend I’d ever had—every [expletive] woman. Part of me was saying, “Why do you do anything nice for her? She slept with someone while you were gone one week.” Court documents also state in one session, “Gurney told the psychologist that his urge to kill the victim became ‘overwhelming’ so he killed her”. Gurney stated to three different psychologists that he engaged in a sexual act with her remains because “he figured he had done one horrible thing already and was just thinking about what is the next more horrible thing to do.”


Gurney was found guilty of murder and arson. He was sentenced to 50 years for murder and 25 years for arson; the sentences are to be served consecutively. The court ordered 10 years to be suspended. Gurney’s lawyers appealed the sentence; the appeal was denied.

A memorial for Zoe Source: Facebook

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