Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Lisa and James Albert

Real Names: James and Lisa Albert
Aliases: None known
Wanted For: Arson, Fraud
Missing Since: November 6, 1993


Details: Lisa Barnhart was one of seven sisters from a wealthy family. After graduating from college, she sold advertising for a newspaper in the Charleston, South Carolina area. When she was twenty-two, she began dating a local businessman named James Albert, fifteen years her senior. Her family liked him and believed that he treated her well. He apparently spared no expense in showing his affection towards her. However, her family could not understand how he made so much money with a company that sold steel storage drums.
Lisa soon became part of James' lavish lifestyle. She traveled with him and hosted parties for his business friends. Eventually, they announced plans for a wedding. However, her family was stunned when she revealed his ideas about the guest list. He felt that they did not fit well with the society and the class of people that he was involved with. She was not comfortable with this; however, she changed her mind when he decided that they would go overseas to get married. On December 22, 1987, they were married at a castle in Edinburgh, Scotland. No family or friends were in attendance.
Nearly two years passed; Lisa saw little of her family. She and James bought land on Kiawah Island, a fashionable retreat just off the coast of Charleston. They began building the house of their dreams. They said that they planned to move in before Christmas 1990. However, the dream house would never be occupied. On December 17, 1990, while they were out of town, it caught on fire. It, which was still under construction, was reduced to ashes in a matter of hours. According to Lisa's family, she was very upset about its loss. She told them that it had caught fire while they were visiting James' sick friend who lived out of town.
After the fire, James and Lisa leased an elegant Charleston townhouse. According to her sisters, over the next few years, the magic seemed to drain from their marriage. He was apparently becoming very dominant and controlling over her. He would even listen in on her conversations with her sisters. Eventually, she told her sister, Nicole, that she was leaving him because she was afraid for her life. She said that he was emotionally and mentally abusive towards her. She feared that he would also become physically abusive.
On July 31, 1993, two-and-a-half years after the fire, Lisa finally left James. While he was away on business, she packed her bags and moved to an apartment of her own. According to her sisters, once she left, she returned to her old self. She was happy and excited about being able to spend more time with her family and friends. However, James soon began stalking and harassing her. He called and told her that he wanted to get back together with her. She told Nicole that she was never going to do so.
Inexplicably, just one week later, Lisa was back living with James. Again, she seemed to withdraw from her family. Two months passed with little contact. Then, on October 27, 1993, it was revealed that the fire was set by arsonists. Incredibly, the perpetrators claimed that they had been hired by James and Lisa to set it. Her family was shocked by the allegations. They were even more shocked to learn that she and James had fled the country on October 22. Her sisters did not believe that she was involved in the arson; they also feared that they would never hear from her again.
However, the FBI believes that Lisa not only fled willingly with James but also covered her getaway with a deceptive phone call. On the day they left, she called her place of employment and told them that she'd be sick and would not be in until the next week. After arriving in Paris, they then traveled to London. Their whereabouts have been unknown since November 6, 1993.
Investigators soon discovered that James had lost his job in June 1990, six months before the fire. Apparently, bank loans earmarked for construction were diverted to pay for living expenses. This left James and Lisa contractors clamoring for payment. The funds were not there to pay for the specific contractors that were working on the house. Later in 1990, James approached one of the workmen and discussed the possibility of flooding the house from the second floor down in order to collect insurance money. The workman informed him that this would not be possible because there was no water hooked up to the house at that time.
The next idea was to burn the house down to collect the insurance money. One of the workmen convicted in the case was interviewed for the broadcast. He claimed that his uncle had negotiated the arson-for-hire deal with James. His uncle told him that they were going to be paid $10,000 to burn the house down. On December 16, 1990, the workman and his uncle first picked up furniture from James and Lisa's apartment. They then drove to a storage facility to collect more of James and Lisa's possessions.
The workman believes that Lisa was fully aware of the arson plot. According to him, she chose what was going to be burned in the fire and what wasn't. She and James apparently kept the expensive items but gave away cheaper items to be used. Lisa also gave the workman her car keys and asked him to park her car in the garage. She told him that they were going to North Carolina and claim that they were visiting friends.
The workman said that he and his uncle drove to Kiawah Island and moved James and Lisa's possessions into the house. Meanwhile, they headed out of town. The workman claimed that after unloading the possessions, he stayed the night at the house. At 4pm the next morning, he woke up and set it on fire. As fire investigators searched through the rubble, they made some curious discoveries. It had no electricity, sewer, or plumbing of any kind. The toilets were sitting on the drain traps and not bolted down. There was no plumbing underneath the sinks or the cabinets.
In spite of the peculiarities, the insurance company agreed to cover most of the losses. Over the next two years, payouts to James and Lisa topped $300,000 in addition to reimbursement of their construction loans. However, they felt that they were entitled to more and they filed suit to get it. On September 26, 1993, a month after they reconciled, James and his attorney attended a formal deposition. There, the workman/arsonist was questioned by an attorney for the insurance company. At the deposition, he admitted to setting the fire at James and Lisa's direction.
On October 22, five days before the story was released to the public, James and Lisa skipped town with roughly $80,000 in cash. They were both indicted on twenty-five counts each. If they're convicted, they both could spend the rest of their lives in prison. However, Lisa's family is still convinced that she is innocent. Investigators believe that she and James may have returned to the United States.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the April 7, 1995 episode.
Results: Captured. In April 1996, James and Lisa traveled to the United States from Europe. She phoned her sister, Linda, from an Atlanta hotel and told her where they would be for the following hour. She also asked her to call the authorities. FBI agents arrested her and James outside of their hotel without incident. Four days later, he committed suicide in his jail cell. She faced charges of arson and fraud in South Carolina. It is not known how much time in prison she received. She has since been released.