A few days after the Thanksgiving holiday 20 years ago, a mother was shot and killed in front of her young sons in a vehicle on an East Cobb residential street.
Sara Tokars, who was 39, and her boys, then 6 and 4 years old, were returning from a trip visiting her family in Florida when she entered their home through the garage.
But a gunman intervened, forcing her back into her Toyota 4 Runner and onto the residential streets near her Kings Cove neighborhood. After pulling to the side of the road, she screamed, and then was shot in the head. The gunman fled the scene and the boys, unharmed, ran for help.
Sara Tokars' life ended that night, Nov. 29, 1992, plunging her family into years in the public spotlight in one of the most horrific crimes ever to take place in East Cobb.
The gunman, Curtis Rower, and another man arrested in the case, real estate developer Eddie Lawrence, eventually fingered Fred Tokars, a noted defense attorney and Sara Tokars' husband, as the mastermind behind the murder.
He was arrested in 1993, but the bizarre story surrounding her murder had only just begun to be told. Atlanta magazine was hardly the only publication digging into the Tokars family saga. People magazine, known for brief celebrity stories, recounted the story in depth when Fred Tokars was considered the prime suspect.
In Fred Tokars' 1997 murder trial, which was moved to Lafayette, Ga., because of pretrial publicity, it was revealed that Sara Tokars knew about her husband's unsavory business dealings, including laundering drug money and racketeering.
He was convicted of those crimes, as well as ordering the hit on his wife that resulted in four life sentences without parole.
National media fascination with the Tokars murder continued to grow. "Secrets Never Lie," written by Robin McDonald, a former reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, was published in 1998.
Fred Tokars has been in witness protection while he's been incarcerated. In an article in the AJC on Sunday, a friend said he's become a witness for the prosecution inside the federal prison system, helping to solve six murders, including one that resulted in a death row conviction.
For Sara Tokars' family, the years have been mixed with sorrow and the joy of seeing her sons grow up. Rick, 26, lives in California. Mike, 24, is in New York.
"It's been a nightmare for 20 years," Sara Tokars' sister Krissy Pennington told Fox5 Atlanta in a recent interview.
In a piece that also appeared in the AJC on Sunday, Mike Tokars thanked his mother's six sisters and his maternal grandfather who helped raise him and his brother, and for keeping alive the memories of Sara Tokars:
"I have observed the spirit does not come from an individual source, but from all of their efforts combined. It feels safe, and warm — like Mass on Christmas morning."