Cleveland Scene: “Worth More Dead Than Alive,” cover story on the murder of a Willoughby Hills social worker

Click for link to story on

Click for link to story on


Here is my second cover story for Cleveland Scene Magazine. I go in-depth into the killing of a 41-year-old social worker by her 18-year-old foster daughter and the  arrest of the woman’s husband nine months later.

Last November in Willoughby Hills, a nice suburb of Cleveland, Lisa Knoefel was stabbed to death by her foster daughter, Sabrina Zunich, in front of her two young daughters. Kevin Knoefel, her husband, was out working. He was arrested nine months later, on August 9, accused of planning the murder to collect on insurance money (he paid off his mortgage, bought cars and a boat, took flying lessons, etc.) and because he was having sex with his foster daughter (the killer). Zunich and Kevin Knoefel are now both locked up in the Lake County jail.

Much of the story was focused on the life of Sabrina Zunich. Little was publicly known about her before this piece. Here’s some key bits that had never been reported before:

  • Her biological parents had a history of drug abuse, extensive criminal records, and mental illness. She grew up in Wickliffe with her grandmother and father, Mark Zunich. Mark was a paranoid schizophrenic with a history of domestic violence and dozens of drug and alcohol arrests. He died in 2012, likely from a drug overdose.
  • Sabrina went to Wickliffe High School and then Willoughby South when she moved in with the Knoefels. She was a special education student at both schools.
  • Sabrina Zunich moved in with the Knoefels  a little more than a year before she killed Lisa. Sabrina had been living in Caley Receiving Home in Painesville, the group home for troubled youth in Lake County, for around a year before that.
  • Friends of hers told me she did heroin and methamphetamine, and used craigslist to find men when she ran low. She was doing meth up until around the time of the incident, which one friend thought was the reason why she killed Lisa.
  • It was not a spontaneous attack. Sabrina had told a friend of hers that she was going to kill Lisa weeks before.
  • Sabrina became a cooperating witness in the state’s case against Kevin in May.
  • A lot more. You’ll have to read it.

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction to the story:

Situated on a one-acre lot between a quiet, dead-end gravel road and a peaceful bend of the shallow Chagrin River sits a charming three-bedroom home in the rural suburb of Willoughby Hills. A small trampoline and child’s wooden playset with swings and a small slide sit on the edge of the huge front yard. Parked in the driveway, not far from a tiny white and purple bike affixed with training wheels, is a new blue Chevy Malibu.

If you happened to drive by—perhaps you missed your turn on the hilly Eagle Mills Road and decided to use Chagrin Drive to turn around—you’d likely think a happy young family lives there.

From the outside, you would never be able to tell what happened inside last fall: a brutal, bloody and calculated murder.

Continue reading on Here’s a link to the podcast I did on the story.

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