CHESTER - The distinctive smell of natural gas coming from a rental home on Phaeton Avenue in Chester was one of the first things that alerted Sara Jean Williams' colleague that something was wrong on a cold day in January two years ago.
The worried co-worker from Allison Elementary School flagged down Chester Police Lt. James Bryan and told him that Williams, a special education aide at the school, had failed to show up for work that Thursday morning - Jan. 26, 2012.
Colleagues had noted Williams' absence because she normally parked her car in New Manchester and accompanied a special-needs child to Allison on a school bus, family members said. When Williams didn't arrive, then-Allison Principal Linda Robinson asked a school employee to check on her.
Bryan also smelled gas, and he alerted the Chester Volunteer Fire Department. Upon entering the home, firefighters found all four stove burners on but not lit.
In the basement, they found Williams' lifeless body, already in a state of rigor mortis. She had a pillow under her head, blankets over her body and black cotton gloves on her hands, which also were tied to a support post, police reports said.
Next to her was the semiconscious body of her boyfriend, Adam McCloud, lying in a fetal position. First-responders were able to revive him and took him to East Liverpool City Hospital, where he spent the next month.
Upon McCloud's release from the hospital, he was charged with murder and attempted arson for the death of Williams, a 37-year-old mother of two. A Hancock County grand jury indicted him on those charges in April 2012, but since then, the 35-year-old man has been sitting in the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville awaiting trial.
McCloud's case has languished in the courts for two years - partly because of defense motions - and Williams' family is growing frustrated with the delays.
"I've been to the (Hancock County) courthouse 11 times," said Craig Williams, 39, of Wellsville, Sara's ex-husband. "It's to the point that I get sick to my stomach every time I go there."
Every time a new hearing is scheduled, even as recently as late last month, Craig Williams and his parents, Bill and Karen Williams, make the trip from Wellsville to New Cumberland. Invariably, they're disappointed - at least two trial dates have been postponed. They said the pain of losing Sara Williams has only been compounded by the slow pace of justice in the McCloud case.
"Sara was our daughter-in-law for 16 years. We treated her like a daughter," Karen Williams said. "I just feel somebody needs to be there at the court for her."
At a hearing in March 2013, visiting Judge Larry Starcher of Monongalia County, sitting in for Judge Martin J. Gaughan, listened to the delay complaints and said, "We're sensitive to your concerns."
Hancock County Prosecutor Jim Davis said it's not unusual for a murder case to drag on as the McCloud case has, partly because of a defense motion to test McCloud's mental competency and a motion to suppress evidence.
"I've had cases go this long before. Any time (defense lawyers) raise an issue, it's going to delay things," he said.
Davis said he, too, is sensitive to family members' concerns.
"You always want to get a case taken care of as quickly as possible, but we have to do it properly," he said.
Prosecutors currently are awaiting a new hearing date on a motion to suppress evidence. McCloud has been deemed competent to stand trial.
Craig Williams said he would like to see the case resolved so the family, especially the two children he had with Sara, can move on.
Williams met McCloud, formerly of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, in late 2010 or early 2011 at an in-patient treatment center in Cleveland, Craig Williams said. By July 2011, the two were living together on Phaeton Avenue.
According to Chester police reports, Williams and McCloud attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings together and McCloud also was a member of Narcotics Anonymous. McCloud reportedly told several people, including his NA sponsor, the two were engaged, but Williams was less enthusiastic when talking with friends.
Williams' AA sponsor told police she had discouraged the relationship because such romantic entanglements, especially between two addicts, can be a threat to sobriety. The sponsor also told police that McCloud had said in meetings that he was "cross-addicted," an apparent reference to drugs and alcohol.
In a hospital bed interview with police shortly after Williams' death, McCloud said he got home shortly after she arrived from work. He was there to get more of his things, but they ended up talking about the relationship. He was sitting in the living room and petting the dog, but told police he remembered nothing after that.
An autopsy determined Williams died as a result of strangulation and blunt force injuries to the head. Despite the presence of natural gas in the house, no carbon monoxide or methane were detected in her blood.