Last week’s case of Soapy Smith, con man and all-around criminal had some entertaining elements to it. Not this week’s case, the 1992 murder of Lisa Ziegert in Massachusetts.
Lisa Marie Ziegert lived in Agawam, Massachusetts, a suburb south of Springfield. Recently graduated from Westfield State College (now University), she worked as a teacher’s aide at Agawam Middle School. Pay for starting educators being what it is, she also worked a second job at Brittany’s Card and Gift Shop in Agawam. In the summer of 1992, Lisa was 24 years old.
On April 15, 1992, Lisa worked the closing shift at Brittany’s. The next morning, store clerk Sophia Maynard found the store’s doors unlocked, the lights on, and the Muzak playing. Lisa’s car was parked out front and her coat and purse were in the store. One of the back rooms had been trashed. But there was no sign of Lisa herself. Lisa also failed to show up for her job at the middle school, which was entirely out of character for her. Authorities declared her a missing person and the hunt for her began.
Four days later, on Easter Sunday, searchers found Lisa’s partially unclothed body in a wooded area. She had been sexually assaulted and murdered.
A Frustrating Manhunt
At first, police considered Lisa’s boyfriend, Blair Massoia as a possible suspect. But Massoia had an alibi, and his DNA didn’t match the DNA found under Lisa’s fingernails. Massoia shared a house with a man named Ed Borgatti. Borgatti also had an alibi, and his DNA didn’t match, either. Nevertheless, rumors floated around that Borgatti was the killer. Those rumors circulated for decades.
Police took DNA samples from several men that knew Lisa (she had a lot of friends). But none of those samples matched the DNA recovered from Lisa’s body. But despite a massive investigative effort, there was no real progress in identifying Lisa’s killer.
Then, in 2015, a new district attorney, Anthony Gulluni, took office. Gulluni was 12 at the time of Lisa’s murder and remembered the case clearly. The new investigators he assigned to the case decided to try a technique called DNA phenoytyping. This process “reverse engineers” DNA to produce images of what a person might look like based on their genetic makeup. Parabon Labs was able to produce a pseudo-sketch from the DNA, but no one recognized it.
Who Killed Lisa Ziegert
Of all the men interviewed by police, eleven who fit the DNA profile had refused to give a DNA sample. In August 2017, a grand jury decided to compel these eleven to turn over their DNA. One of these was a man named Gary Schara.
Schara had come to the authorities’ attention in 1993. Schara’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Joyce, told her attorney she thought he had something to do with Lisa’s death. She said he showed an unusual interest in the case and paid particular attention to news reports about it. However, Schara’s attorney told detectives that Joyce was unstable and not credible. Nevertheless, Schara did come in for an interview but refused to give a DNA sample. He said he was afraid of cloning.
Now, in 2017, Gary Schara wasn’t home when state troopers visited. One of them left a card with a message that he had papers to serve and asked Schara to call him. The next evening, though, his girlfriend came to a state trooper barracks. With her she had three handwritten letters from Schara in which he confessed to killing Lisa Ziegert.
Investigators soon found Gary Schara in an emergency room in Connecticut. Although he had left a suicide note on his dashboard, he was in the ER. Apparently having second thoughts, he had checked in for treatment for an overdose of over-the-counter pills. DNA tests proved that Schara’s DNA matched the DNA recovered from Lisa’s body.
Despite the handwritten confession and the DNA evidence, Gary Schara pleaded not guilty to Lisa’s murder. Two years later, in September 2019, he changed his mind and pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. He is currently serving life in prison. As of 2022, he resides at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution – Norfolk.
In January 2020, NBC’s Dateline aired an episode about the Lisa Ziegert case titled The Music Box.
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