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NBC Dateline: How was the Lisa Ziegert case cracked?

NBC Dateline: The Music Box aired on July 9, 2022, at 9 pm ET (Image via NBC)
NBC Dateline: The Music Box aired on July 9, 2022, at 9 pm ET (Image via NBC)
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Deeksha Parthsarthy

NBC Dateline's upcoming episode, titled The Music Box, delved into the details of the horrifying abduction and murder of Lisa Ziegert in 1992. The episode aired on July 9, 2022 at 9 pm ET and featured a journalistic exploration of the grisly murder and its aftermath.

Through interviews with family, friends, community members, and authorities involved in the case, NBC Dateline provides an emotional touch to investigations that are often forgotten over time.

In September 2017, then 50-year-old Gary Schara confessed to the abduction and murder of Lisa Ziegert and was charged with first-degree murder. The case came to a conclusion, but Schara never revealed why he killed Lisa.

Continue reading for a break down of how it took 25 years to solve the 1992 murder case that aired on Saturday's episode of NBC Dateline.


NBC Dateline: A refresher on the 1992 murder case that took Agawam, Massachusetts by storm

Agawam, Massachusetts was in the spotlight โ€“ for all the wrong reasons.All-new 2-hour #Dateline Friday at 9/8c. https://t.co/pklz4RjVk8

Last week's episode of NBC Dateline was about Agawam, Massachusetts resident Lisa Ziegert, a 24-year-old teacher's assistant fresh out of college, who was abducted from her night job at Brittany's Card and Gift Shoppe on April 15, 1992. Four days later, her partially clothed body was discovered by a man hiking with his dog in the woods.

An autopsy revealed that Ziegert was s*xually assaulted and stabbed seven times in the neck, shoulders, and her left leg. She put up a fight, but eventually succumbed to her injuries. For months and years thereafter, investigators had no leads on the killer and the case remained cold for 25 years.

In 2016, with the resurgence of interest in cold cases due to advancements in DNA technology, investigators once again began probing Lisa's murder case. Finally, in 2017, Gary Schara confessed to abducting and murdering her and was charged with first-degree murder by a Hampden County Grand Jury.


NBC Dateline: How did the investigators finally solve Lisa Ziegert's murder case?

In 1993, Joyce McDonald Schara, the estranged wife of Gary Schara, had alleged that her husband had killed Lisa Ziegert. She revealed that he had an unusual obsession with the case.

However, investigators were quick to dismiss the claim as Schara had no criminal record and back then many angry wives and girlfriends had been pinning Ziegert's murder on their significant others who had wronged them.

In 2001, detective sergeant Mark Pfau took the reins of the case and looked into Joyce Schara's claim. He asked to interview Gary, who initially declined but showed up at the Agawam police station a few months later in 2002. There was nothing suspicious about him until he was asked to submit a DNA sample to clear his name and he refused, citing the fear of being secretly cloned.


Advancements in DNA technologies like digital compositing prompted authorities to open cold cases in 2016, which is when State Police Trooper Noah Pack and Detective Sergeant Mark Pfau, who were involved in Lisa's case from the beginning, began going through piling case files once again.

.@HampdenDA - "DNA profile developed of #LisaZiegert assailant, single source male DNA" https://t.co/zyB3YuEXnF

According to the episode on NBC Dateline, the two narrowed down their search to 11 suspects who matched the digital composite image that had been generated using specimens found on Lisa's body. District Attorney Anthony Gulluni sought a court order permitting him to force any unwilling suspect to provide a DNA sample.

On September 13, 2017, Noah Pack knocked on Gary Schara's apartment door, which was answered by his roommate in his absence. Back then, Schara was staying with his then girlfriend Noelle DesLauriers, who returned from her nursing shift the following day to find her beau gone, leaving behind a letter addressed to her.

In the letter, Gary had confessed to his 25-year-old crime and explained that he had no intention of killing Ziegert but he let himself do something terrible on that fateful day. He also confessed to having been fascinated by bondage and abduction from a very young age. The next two pages of the letter included his last will and testament along with an apology to Ziegert's family. He signed the letter as GES (Gary Edward Schara).

DesLauriers handed over the letter to the cops and also revealed that Gary may have killed himself. Mark Pfau realized that the letter was Schara's way of clearing his conscience now that he knew that his DNA sample would match the killer's.

Detectives found Schara in the emergency room after he had swallowed a fistful of ibuprofen.

Pfau also recalled being told by Joyce Schara that she had received a music box from Gary that resembled the ones sold at Brittany's Card and Gift Shoppe on the night of Ziegert's murder.

Police gathered Schara's saliva sample from his toothbrush at DesLauriers' place and ran DNA tests. The results were conclusive and tied Schara to the decades-old crime, which was the topic of Saturday's NBC Dateline episode.


Edited by Upasya Bhowal
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