This is someone who has blended right back into society. It's like a chameleon."
— Agawam Detective Lt. Robert D. Campbell
It was the 15th of April 1992. A Wednesday. Twenty four year old Lisa Ziegert was working in Brittany's Card and Gift Shoppe on Walnut Street Extension in Agawam, Hampden County, Massachusetts, United States. Nearby were many other businesses including a restaurant and tanning store, it was a really busy part of town.
Lisa worked there part time. During the day, she worked as a teaching assistant at Agawam Middle School. When she finished college she returned home to teach special needs students. She loved her job and the children loved her. That day, the 15th of April, was a typical day routine wise for Lisa. School finished around 4.30pm and she drove directly to the store. She worked there every weekday between the hours of 5pm and 9pm.
That day, her sister called into the store to see Lisa. Lisa was from a tight knit and loving family. She had a great relationship with her parents, George and Dee, and her brother David and sister Lynn. Lynn was in the store talking to Lisa from around 5.30pm to 6pm. Lynn went home after that and when she left she said that Lisa was fine.
The next morning, at 8.45am, Lisa's coworker Sophia pulled up to the store to start her shift for the day. She noticed Lisa's car was outside which was unusual but thought she may have went in early to help with some balloon preparations. When Sophia went into the store, the lights were on and she called out Lisa's name but there was no answer. All of Lisa's belongings were inside and money was still in the register from the day before. Sophia ran across to the restaurant and asked them to call the police.
Lisa did not show up at the school either that day. Her family were deeply concerned.
Police went to the store and found what appeared to be evidence of a struggle in the back storeroom, they found scuff and drag marks on the floor. It looked like someone was dragged from the store and out the back door. There were also traces of blood on some of the balloons. They appealed to the public for information and received a number of tips. Some of the people who had been in the store the day before came forward.
One person was inside the store at 8.20pm and said that at that time, there was nothing unusual and everything seemed fine. A second customer went into the store at 9pm. There was nobody inside serving but they heard noise in the backroom. After a couple of minutes, they left.
A woman who worked near the card store told police that she was on her way home at 9.15pm that night and saw a car. She said that a man and woman seemed to be struggling in the back seat.
Police were able to develop a male DNA profile from evidence recovered at the scene but it didn't match anyone in the database.
Lisa's family and friends were worried about her. She had told her friends and sister in the days leading up to her disappearance that she felt like she was being watched.
Four days after Lisa disappeared, on Easter Sunday, a walker found her body in a wooded area off Route 75, around four miles from the store. She was partially clothed and had been raped and stabbed multiple times, one stab wound to the neck was fatal. Lisa fought for her life and that was evident from the deep defensive wounds on her hands.
People who lived in the area believed that whoever murdered Lisa must have been a local. The field where she was found was so well hidden that most of them didn't even know about it so they believed it must have been someone who was very familiar with the area.
Police had a list of suspects but despite their best efforts, the case went cold. It would be 2016 before there was any real movement in the case. During that time, Lisa's family fought to keep the case in the news. They missed her every day. Lisa's mother, Dee, said:
“Every happy occasion has a tinge of sadness. She is gone. I’ll never hold her, talk with her, laugh with her, or share important occasions with her.”
In September 2016, the District Attorney's Office released a composite sketch of a possible suspect. It was a result of new technology which was known as DNA phenotyping.
The process relies on DNA to predict attributes of the suspect such as face shape, eye color, hair and genetic ancestry.
In 2017, Investigators opened the file again. They wanted to get DNA samples from a number of men who had refused to provide one over the years. They had a list of eleven men that they wanted to focus their investigation on. In September 2017, police went to the home of Gary Schara. He was the second name on their list. They had a Court Order so could compel him to provide his DNA sample. He wasn't home so they left a card asking him to contact them and when he found out about it, he left the area.
House where Gary Schara lived(lived in one unit of the house)
Gary was a name that was on their file since almost the beginning of the investigation. In 1993, he was identified as a person of interest and his estranged wife contacted police that same year to let them know that she believed he was involved.
Gary was arrested on the 16th of September 2017 at Johnson Memorial Medical Center in Stafford Springs, Connecticut. He was in hospital seeking treatment. He had tried to kill himself.
Gary Schara (in white coat)
Police discovered that after they visited his home and before he tried to kill himself, he wrote three notes: a confession; a last will and testament; and a brief letter of apology to the Ziegert family. He left the notes for his long term girlfriend. She found them at her home and gave them to the police. The confession note which was written for his girlfriend was the longest note and included the following:
“I’ve been dreading the day I’d need to write this letter for almost as long as I can remember .First off, I love you. I hope you never doubt that .Now the hard part. You are going to find out some awful things about me today. They will tell you I abducted, (this part was redacted) and murdered a young woman approximately 25 years ago. It is true. All of it. I had no intention of killing her when I grabbed her, but events spun out of my control, and in the eyes of the law, it is all the same. I have never regretted anything so much. I was young and headstrong and foolish, emphasis on the last part.”
He also revealed:
“I’ve never really been or even felt normal. From a very young age I was fascinated by abduction & bondage. I could never keep it too far from my mind for long. On that fateful day, I let myself do something terrible.”
In the note left for the Ziegert family, Gary wrote:
“I hope knowing who & knowing I am gone will bring you some closure & peace. I am so truly sorry."
It was a case that took almost three decades to solve and while police and Lisa's family had some answers, they didn't know everything. But for Lisa's parents it was important that the person responsible for their daughter's murder faced punishment. They had fought non stop since her murder to ensure her case firmly remained in the spotlight and would never be forgotten so that it would one day be solved. And it was.
Gary was charged with first degree murder. The Hampden District Attorney, Anthony Gulluni, said that his office dropped the charges of kidnapping and aggravated rape as the time limit had expired under the statute of limitations.Gary pleaded guilty to first degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Lisa’s father, George, said at the sentencing:
“Today Lisa got the justice she deserved. Emotional closure will never be achieved, every family function will always be one short, every get together with friends will be one short.”
The remarkable thing about this case is that it appears Gary did not murder again after Lisa. He managed to keep jobs, he worked in various customer service roles and even had a long term girlfriend. He fit right back into the community, as if nothing had happened. He lived years as a free man after such a heinous crime and most people in his life thought of him as a normal and good man. Some of his friends described him as the:
“nicest guy in the world.”
Gary knew that one day he would be caught but yet never went to the authorities to confess. He only confessed when he knew they would be able to match his DNA to evidence from the store that day. Even then, after the confession, he tried to kill himself so that he would not be incarcerated. He never wanted to face his punishment, he just wanted to live as long as he could a free man. There was no genuine remorse for Lisa and her family. Otherwise, he would have handed himself in long before he was caught. The only remorse he felt was for himself.
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