SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A West Springfield man pleaded guilty to killing a teacher from Agawam in 1992, bringing an end to a 27-year cold case Wednesday.
According to the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office, 50-year-old Gary Schara pleaded guilty in Hampden County Superior Court to first-degree murder to the murder of Lisa Ziegert. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Gary Schara pleads guilty to the murder of Lisa Ziegert
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.Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni
On the evening of April 15, 1992, Ziegert, a teacher at the Agawam Middle School, was kidnapped while at her night job at Brittany’s Card & Gift Shoppe on Walnut Street. The store’s day clerk reported her missing after arriving in the morning and realizing the store was open, lights were on and Ziegert’s car was still parked in the same spot as the night before. The money in the cash register and Ziegert’s purse and other belongs were also untouched.
Ziegert’s body was found in a wooded area on April 19, 1992, four days after she disappeared and four miles away from where she was kidnapped. Investigators ruled her death a homicide and for over 20-years, the Hampden County DA’s office along with the Massachusetts State Police and Agawam Police Department worked on what was then a case.
The DA said throughout their investigation, Schara’s name came up several times. In March 1993, Schara’s ex-wife, Joyce Schara, gave his name to detectives during court proceedings about the custody of their son in Seattle, Washington, while they were engaged.
In September 2016, DNA technology provided investigators with names of persons of interest who they didn’t have DNA samples of in connection with the investigation. In August 2017, the DA presented evidence to the Hampden County Grand Jury seeking permission to obtain DNA samples from those individuals, including Schara.
On September 13, 2017, State Police detectives went to Schara’s home in West Springfield, but he was not home. A trooper informed Schara’s roommate he had paperwork to serve him and the roommate told the trooper he would deliver the message to him.
The following evening, Schara’s girlfriend went to the State Police Barracks in Westfield with documents she said Schara left for her at her house after she left for work that morning.
According to the DA’s Office, those documents consisted four pages of handwritten notes containing three separate documents signed in a single large “G” and addressed to Schara’s girlfriend. In one of the documents, Schara wrote that he had abducted, raped and murdered a young woman 25-years-ago and that he received a message from his roommate the night before informing him that State Police were at his home to serve him. He added in the note that the warrant would be for his DNA, which if obtained by police, would send him away for life.
Handwriting, buccal swab samples sought in Lisa Ziegert murder case
Schara wrote “it” would be the end and he would either take his own life or “face the music.”
In another document addressed to “The Ziegert Family,” Schara said he could never apologize enough for taking their daughter and sibling. He added that he regretted it and hated himself for killing Lisa and he was sorry. That letter was signed with the initials “GES.”
In a news conference on Wednesday, Hampden County DA Anthony Gulluni said before Schara was arrested, his car was found in the parking lot of Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, on September 14, 2017 around 9:50 p.m. Massachusetts State Police and DA Gulluni traveled to the hospital to meet with Connecticut State Police where they saw through the windshield of the car, a folded piece of paper with writing on it on the dashboard.
The note stated:
“Whomever finds my body I apologize for any psychological trauma incurred. Call Mass State Police. Thank you G.E.S.”
On September 15, 2017, a Westfield District Court judge granted search warrants for Schara and his girlfriend’s West Springfield home. During the search, authorities obtained several items with Schara’s DNA, including a toothbrush, and turned it into the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory for testing and analysis.
The following day, the DA’s office was informed that the DNA sample collected from Schara’s home matched the unknown single-source DNA profile connected to Ziegert’s murder.
A Hampden County Grand Jury indicted Schara on charges including first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape on December 8, 2017. The rape and kidnapping charges were dropped because of the statute of limitations surrounding those charges.
Till today, Schara has not given a reason to why he killed Ziegert.