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Monika Rizzo

Monika Rizzo and Leonard Rizzo

Monika Rizzo and Leonard Rizzo

The bones of a San Antonio woman are found buried in her backyard.

On May 5, 1997, Monika Rizzo left her job at the San Antonio Department of Human Resources.  She never told anyone where she was going and never said goodbye.

Leonard Rizzo, Monika’s husband, claims his wife came home that afternoon but disappeared a few days later.  He never reported her disappearance to the police:

“I was very confused… it made no sense.  My wife and I were very close.  There was no reason for me to believe she wouldn’t be coming back, wherever she’d gone.  I just… I have faith in her.  I just chose to wait.”

On June 5th, a few weeks after Monika’s disappearance, San Antonio police received an anonymous phone call claiming Monika had been murdered by her husband and that her bones were buried in her backyard. The San Antonio police arrived at the Rizzo’s house shortly after. Monika’s oldest son answered the door. He told the police that he was just visiting and hadn’t seen his mother in a week. Inside the house, police found nothing out of the ordinary. Monika’s clothes were still hanging in the closet and her car was parked in the driveway. Nothing seemed to be missing except Monika Rizzo. While searching the backyard, the detectives did find bones.  But they clearly belonged to some kind of animal. The anonymous caller appeared to be wrong.

Five weeks later, on July 5th, police received another anonymous tip.  This time the caller gave detectives an exact location in the backyard.  According to the anonymous tipster, Monika’s bones were buried under a pile of tires by the fence.

Again, the police quickly responded.  After searching the Rizzo’s backyard, detectives collected a skull, a number of bone fragments, and even a bag filled with what appeared to be human flesh.

Bones were found in the yard

Bones were found in the yard

Leonard Rizzo claimed he had no idea how the bones got there:

“These bone fragments that are in my yard are an absolute mystery to me… as big a mystery as my wife’s disappearance… To me, someone is trying to draw attention from themselves.  Someone is doing this to me.”

Detectives also learned that Monika’s co-workers were concerned for her safety.  On one occasion, they had even asked police to check on her at home, but Leonard claimed he had never hurt his wife:

“There was no domestic abuse.  There was no domestic violence. My wife and I were deeply in love.  We are deeply in love.”

Initial DNA tests on the bones proved they were human.  But whose were they?

Dr. Robert Hard was part of a team of archaeologists from the University of Texas brought in to excavate the site:

“We literally crawled across this area, using our trowels and moving the roots and moving the grass blades and looking down beneath the grass.  And every time we found a bone fragment or something the police department considered might be evidence, we’d put an orange pin flag out.”

Before they were done, the yard was dotted with dozens of orange flags:

“When you find bone in an old archaeological site, the bone is very dry.  This bone still had a greasy feel to it.  So we knew it had not been there very long, but at the same time, it had been there more than a week or a couple weeks. There was no soft tissue still attached to it.”

For eight days, Dr. Hard and his team collected a total of 200 bone fragments.  Most had been chopped into pieces less than 3 inches long.  Dr. Hard formulated a theory:

“We felt it was some kind of machine.  Some type of chipper/ shredder has been discussed quite a bit.  It’s the only machine that that we can come up with that could possibly account for this type of breakage.  You wouldn’t get it with a saw, you wouldn’t get it with a knife.  You wouldn’t get it with a lawn mower.  We can’t think of anything else that would break up bone like this.”

Once again, police questioned Leonard Rizzo:

“I’ve never even operated a wood chipper.  I’ve never rented… anything in a rental store other than a car dolly… maybe a trailer.”

Leonard Rizzo continued to insist that he had nothing to do with his wife’s disappearance or the bones in his backyard:

“Those bone fragments and such, where they came from, I don’t know how they got there.  I don’t know, and I adamantly did not kill them or anyone else.”

DNA testing recently revealed that all the bone fragments were, in fact, those of Monika Rizzo.  However, the San Antonio District Attorney still lacks enough evidence to file charges.

UPDATE:

After two years of no new developments, Leonard Rizzo was arrested for attacking his girlfriend.  He was convicted on four criminal counts including assault with a deadly weapon and kidnapping.