Lisa Ziegert, 24, grew up in Agawam, MA and worked as a special needs teacher when she was murdered on April 15, 1992. The day began normally for Lisa; she went to work at the school and at 4:30 PM she headed to her second job at Brittany’s Card & Gift Shoppe. Her sister, Lynne, stopped in around 5:30 PM and, according to her, left shortly after 6 PM. When a coworker arrived just before 9 AM the next morning to open the shop, she found Lisa’s car and other belongings in the shop but no sign of Lisa herself.
A customer who had been in around 9 PM the night before called in a tip later that they had been in, but no one had seemed to be around. They claimed to have heard movement of some kind in the back room, but left the store when no one came out. Investigators found blood traces and signs of a struggle in the back room, including foot prints on the door that suggested to them that Lisa had been lying on the ground and kicking it.
A search was launched on April 16, 1992, and Lisa’s body was found on April 19, on Easter Sunday, four days after she was last seen. She was found in a wooded area off Route 75 and it is reported that she had multiple stab wounds around her shoulders and neck; the autopsy report would show that a single stab wound to her neck was the cause of her death. Her wake was attended by more than a thousand people.
In the days following her murder, tips that were called in helped investigators build a timeline of events leading up to her death. There was the tip mentioned previously, from the customer who came in at 9 PM, along with two other important tips. A customer with a time stamped receipt from the shop at 8:20 PM also called in, as well as someone who worked near the gift shop. The final caller was on their way home around 9:15 PM and may have seen the killer’s car, as well as thought they saw a man and a woman struggling in the back seat of the car. They claimed to have seen the car pull off the road and head toward where Lisa’s body was later found.
In 2016, a possible image of the suspect was generated using DNA phenotyping, which was a contributing factor in Gary Schara being put on the suspect list. Schara had been a person of interest since his estranged wife, Joyce McDonald Schara, contacted police claiming she believed he could have a connection to the case in 1993. He was arrested in September 2017 and charged in connection with her murder, kidnapping, and aggravated sexual assault. He plead guilty to the charges in September 2019, more than 20 years after the murder.
The true endgame began when police got warrants for the DNA of suspects that had not given DNA previously, including Gary Schara of West Springfield, MA. Schara fled when he learned an officer had shown up at his residence while he was out looking to take a DNA sample and left his girlfriend three letters that she turned over to police. The letters included an apology letter to the Ziegert family, a written confession, and a last will and testament. Schara was arrested on September 16, 2017 at the Johnson Memorial Medical Center in Stafford Springs, CT, after seeking out treatment after an attempted suicide. Schara plead guilty to first degree murder; the charges of kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault were dropped due to the statute of limitations expiring. He has been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
The Ziegert family believed from the beginning that DNA would be the key to the murder of Lisa, and it was the DNA that lead to the arrest more than 25 years after her death. In 1995, Lisa’s parents, Diane and George, donated $1,100 to Agawam High School’s science department to teach classes on the then new science of DNA analysis.