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Murder suspect's 5 marriages and romances often ended under grim circumstances

Sarah Hartsfield, who fatally shot her fiancé in 2018, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of her fifth husband.
Photo illustration of Sarah Hartsfield and her then husband, Joseph, on their wedding day; her booking mugshot; David Bragg; wedding rings, and the word "She killed" next to the outline of Texas.
Sarah Hartsfield pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of her husband. Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

After Sarah Hartsfield was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder in the death of her husband in Texas this year, authorities in Minnesota said it would re-examine another death — her 2018 fatal shooting of a former fiancé.

After the indictment, the district attorney's office in Chambers County, Texas, said investigators were seeking information about her previous names — Hartsfield had been married four times before — and the sheriff whose office investigated the case made an ominous claim about the earlier relationships.

"Everybody wants out of it because they fear for their life,” he told NBC affiliate KPRC of Houston last month.

More on Sarah Hartsfield

Hartsfield has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and is being held in lieu of $4.5 million bond. Her lawyer didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment; he has said Hartsfield maintains her innocence “and will assist in the investigation of her husband’s untimely death.”

Here's what we know about Hartsfield's former partners.

Titus Knoernschild

Titus Knoernschild met Hartsfield when he was a junior at a small-town high school in Missouri in 1991. They married two years later, and their divorce was finalized in January 1996, he said.

While they were separating, Knoernschild said, she appeared to threaten him.

“I’m very surprised I got out of the marriage alive,” he said.

Knoernschild's wife, Angela, said Hartsfield remained an unwanted presence in their lives in the decades after her husband's divorce.

Sarah Hartsfield's first ex-husband, Titus Knoernschild. He says that their marriage ended horribly — and that his family has been watching their backs for the last 27 years — as she kept interjecting herself into their lives.
Sarah Hartsfield's first ex-husband, Titus Knoernschild. He says that their marriage ended horribly — and that his family has been watching their backs for the last 27 years — as she kept interjecting herself into their lives.KPRC

"She was like a bad penny — every time you’d turn around, she’d be there," she said. "She doesn’t do it to confront you. She does it to remind you she’s there.”

Michael Traxler

Hartsfield next married Michael Traxler. In a brief interview, Traxler said their relationship was “super short” and in the “rearview mirror.”

“I haven’t spoken to her in 15 years,” he said.

Ryan Donohue

Hartsfield's son, Ryan Donohue, said his father met Hartsfield in Alaska and married her in 1999. They had four children and spent much of their time at Fort Hood, Texas, where they were stationed in the Army, Donohue said.

They remained married until 2017, when Christopher Donohue filed for divorce.

David Bragg

Hartsfield and three of her children moved to Minnesota that year with a new partner, David Bragg, her son said. They were briefly engaged, he said.

David Bragg.
David Bragg.KPRC

On May 9, 2018, Hartsfield fatally shot Bragg in their home northwest of Minneapolis. Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson cleared her in the shooting, saying she had "no reasonable possibility of retreating" from Bragg, who she said had fired at her.

After Hartsfield was indicted this year, Larson said the case was active again. As of Friday, his office was still investigating.

David George

Roughly one year after her fiancé's death, Hartsfield married David George, who worked for a gas company in Minnesota, her son said. They lived together in the home where she fatally shot Bragg, he said.

Hartsfield's ex-husband Christopher Donohue also remarried, and in 2021 he made an alarming claim in court: His ex was plotting to have her new husband kill his new wife, according to an affidavit in support of a request for a restraining order.

The affidavit describes a plot to derail Christopher Donohue’s efforts to get custody of couple's two youngest children.

A judge granted the order on June 7, 2021, and barred Hartsfield from contacting her ex-husband or his family for two years. By the time the order was issued, Hartsfield had already filed to divorce George, her fourth husband, court records show.

Joseph Hartsfield

Hartsfield met her fifth husband, Joseph Hartsfield, online, and they were married Feb. 2, 2022, her son said. By December, the relationship was in trouble: Facebook direct messages obtained by NBC News show her calling him a "nightmare" and telling a friend she had a plan to get out of the relationship.

Joseph Hartsfield.
Joseph Hartsfield.KPRC

On Jan. 7, Joseph Hartsfield was taken to a hospital east of Houston; he died more than a week later. Authorities haven’t released a cause of death. Hospital staff members believed that Joseph Hartsfield, who was diabetic, may have had too much insulin in his system, according to an affidavit in support of a search warrant.

After his death, Sarah Hartsfield said on Facebook that she felt “numb and lost” without him and that she’d listened to old phone messages just to hear his voice.

On Feb. 3, she was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder in his death. She pleaded not guilty.

Her lawyer didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. He previously said in a statement to KPRC, “We are engaged in the discovery process and would remind the public to withhold any judgment until due process has been satisfied."