September 25, 2019 -Springfield – Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni announced today the First Degree Murder guilty plea by Gary Schara, 50, of West Springfield, for the murder of Ms. Lisa Ziegert.
Schara was indicted by a Hampden Superior Court Grand Jury on December 8, 2017 on charges of First Degree Murder, Aggravated Kidnapping, and Aggravated Rape. The indictments of kidnapping and rape were the subject of nolle prosequi motions by the prosecution due to his arrest occurring well beyond the statutes of limitations.
In 2017, investigators returned to various lists of persons of interest that were developed over the years, which totaled well over 300. In this review, a list was formed of notable individuals who previously refused to voluntarily provide samples for DNA testing. Gary E. Schara was one of these individuals. Upon the completion of this list, Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni convened a Grand Jury to begin an investigation. This investigation ultimately leads to troopers attempting to provide notice of a hearing to Schara. This contact lead to Schara penning a number of documents that amounted to admissions to the crimes committed against Lisa Ziegert. These documents were provided to law enforcement, which lead to investigators of the Massachusetts State Police and Agawam Police Department encountering Schara in Connecticut and his eventual arrest on September 16, 2017.
Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni stated, “It remains tragically true that Lisa will never return to her loving family, but the search for criminal justice ended today with the beginning of Gary E. Schara’s life sentence in prison. The Ziegert family’s unbroken faith, strength, and grace over these many years encouraged and inspired me, the many investigators who worked this case, and the public to relentlessly search for the truth. To those many investigators from the Massachusetts State Police, Agawam Police Department, prosecutors from the Hampden District Attorney’s Office, and those in the public who never forgot Lisa and believed that justice would someday result, thank you.”
On April 15, 1992, Lisa Ziegert, of Agawam, who worked at a local middle school, was abducted during the early evening hours while at her night job at a card shop in Agawam. The following morning she was reported missing by the store’s day clerk. Upon arriving in the morning, the clerk found the store open, the lights on, and Lisa’s car parked where it was the previous evening. The money in the store’s cash register as well as the victim’s purse and school materials appeared undisturbed.
On April 19, 1992, four days after her disappearance, Lisa’s body was discovered in a wooded area approximately four miles from where she was abducted. Upon investigation, her death was ruled a homicide. For over twenty-five years the Hampden District Attorney’s Office along with the Massachusetts State Police and the Agawam Police Department maintained an active investigation into the murder of Lisa Ziegert.
Schara’s name surfaced several times through the course of the investigation. Schara’s ex-wife, Joyce Schara, had provided his name to investigators in March 1993 while they were engaged in court proceedings that concerned the disputed custody of their son in Seattle, Washington.
In September 2016, a detailed DNA phenotyping report and composite profile of a suspect were produced that included statistical predictions for eye color, skin color, hair color, face morphology, and bio-geographic ancestry. With information provided by Parabon, a list of individuals was developed by the District Attorney’s team. This list included names of persons of interest in the investigation from whom a DNA sample had not been obtained.
In August 2017, Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni presented evidence to the Hampden County Grand Jury seeking court authority to obtain DNA samples from this list of individuals. The Hampden County Grand Jury then petitioned the Hampden Superior Court to allow investigators to obtain a DNA sample from Gary Schara, for comparison with the unknown single source male DNA profile previously developed.
On Wednesday, September 13, 2017, Massachusetts State Police detectives assigned to the Hampden District Attorney’s Office went to Schara’s West Springfield home. Schara was not home at the time, but Trooper Noah Pack informed Schara’s roommate that he had paperwork to serve him. His roommate indicated that he would relay the message to him.
On Thursday, September 14, 2017, at approximately 6:15 p.m., Schara’s girlfriend arrived unexpectedly at the Massachusetts State Police Barracks in Westfield. She told the desk officer that after she had left for work that morning, Schara left notes for her at her house. She brought the documents with her and provided them to police.
The documents consisted of four pages of handwritten notes, which constituted three separate documents. The first two pages were addressed to Schara’s girlfriend and signed in a single large “G”. In this note, Schara wrote that he had abducted, rape, and murdered a young woman 25 years ago. He went on to say that he received a message from his roommate the previous evening informing him the State Police were at his residence with paperwork to serve him. Schara wrote that the paperwork would be a warrant for his DNA, and that it would send him away for life. Schara indicated that “it” would all end, and he would either take his own life or “face the music”.
Another document was a letter addressed to “The Ziegert Family”. In this letter, Schara wrote that he could never apologize enough for taking their daughter and sibling. Schara further wrote that he regretted it and hated himself for doing it and that he was sorry. The letter was signed with what appeared to be the initials “GES”.
On September 14, 2017, at approximately 9:50 PM, Schara’s car was located in the parking lot of the emergency department at Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford Springs, Connecticut. Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni and Massachusetts State Police Detective Captain Christopher Wilcox traveled to the hospital and met with members of the Connecticut State Police Major Crimes Unit who had observed, in plain view through the front windshield, a folded piece of paper on the dashboard with handwriting on it. The note stated the following: “To whomever finds my body, I apologize for any psychological trauma incurred. Call Mass State Police. Thank you. GES”
On September 15, 2017, search warrants for Schara’s West Springfield home and his girlfriend’s home were obtained from the Westfield District Court. Upon execution of the warrants, several items that were likely to contain Shara’s biological material, including a toothbrush, were seized and transported the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory for testing and analysis.
On Saturday, September 16, 2017, the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory informed Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni and Agawam and State Police detectives that biological material extracted from a toothbrush, identified as Schara’s, produced a DNA profile that matched the unknown single source male DNA profile that was previously developed from evidence tested in this case.