Real Name: Monika McKinney Rizzo
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: San Antonio, Texas
Date: May 27, 1997
Details: Forty-four-year-old Monika Rizzo was last seen alive on May 5, 1997, when she left the government office she worked at in San Antonio, Texas without explanation. She left behind her purse but did not return. After eight days of unanswered phone calls, her boss finally reached her at home. She said that she was not feeling well and would be out for the rest of the week. She said she would return the following Monday, May 19. However, she never did. Her husband, Leonard, claimed that a few days later, he woke up and found her gone. He never reported her disappearance to the police.
On June 5, the San Antonio police received an anonymous call from a man who claimed that Monika had been murdered by Leonard and that her bones were in the backyard. Investigators arrived about thirty minutes later, only to find Leonard having an apparent seizure. As he was being taken to the hospital, police questioned his son. He said that he lived across town and had not seen his mother in over a week. Her clothes were still in the closet and her car was still parked in the driveway. In the backyard, the investigators found only animal bones.
On July 5, 1997, the anonymous tipster called the police again, stating that Monika had been buried in the backyard. This time, he specifically stated that her remains were under a pile of tires. The police found a skull, several bone fragments, and a bag containing human flesh. Leonard had no explanation for the bones or Monika's disappearance. He claimed that someone was framing him.
However, evidence inside the Rizzo home disputed Leonard's claim. Police found potential evidence of a violent struggle: several sections of bashed or blood spattered drywall. Leonard claimed that he was emotional about Monika's disappearance and "beat up the house". Investigators discovered that her coworkers had noticed prior to her disappearance that she had been losing weight and had bruises on her arms. In fact, they were so concerned about her, that they had contacted the police, asking to check on her. When an officer met with her, he noticed that she had bruises on her face. However, she claimed that she was fine and that she had just fallen. Leonard claimed that he was not abusive.
Police brought in a team of archaeologists from the University of Texas to excavate the backyard. Any time they found a bone fragment or other type of evidence, they put down a orange pin flag. By the time they were done, the entire yard was covered with them. They believed that the bones had been there for a few weeks. They were found in all parts of the yard, including the barbecue grill. Over eight days, more than 200 were collected. Most of them had been chopped into pieces less than three inches long. A wood chipper or shredder was believed to have been used. Leonard claimed that he had never operated one.
Surprisingly, investigators announced that they believed that the remains in the backyard belonged to four people. Even more surprising was that none of them belonged to Monika. Leonard had no explanation for them. Nobody knows what happened to Monika or whose bones were in the backyard, although some believe that Leonard was involved in her disappearance.
Suspects: Leonard is considered the prime suspect in Monika's disappearance and presumed death. An officer who went to the Rizzo home found evidence that he had abused her. Leonard never reported her missing. Also, investigators found bashed and blood spattered drywall in the home. Finally, investigators did not believe that Leonard wouldn't have noticed the remains that were scattered across his backyard.
Police also believe the anonymous caller may have been involved.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the November 13, 1997 episode.
Although not mentioned in the segment, news reports indicate that Monica's son last saw her in the middle of the night on May 27, 1997.
Results: Unresolved. The anonymous caller was later identified as Robert Hakala, a family friend. He was at the Rizzo home when he noticed a dog playing with a human jawbone. It had overlapping teeth like Monika's. Realizing that the remains were probably hers, he called the police. He is not believed to be a suspect in the case.
DNA testing on the remains revealed that all bone fragments were Monika's, but there have been no arrests in the case. In 1998, a homicide detective stated that Leonard said that if he could get a ten-year probationary sentence for Monika's murder, he would confess. However, investigators were unable to make such a deal, so he refused to confess. He claimed that he never made such a statement. Surprisingly, even after the DNA results, he continued to claim that Monika was still alive.
Subsequently, in May 1999, Leonard arrested for attacking his girlfriend; he was shot and injured by police after a standoff. After his arrest, his girlfriend told the police that he threatened to "kill her, chop her up, put her in a garbage bag, and bury her."
Leonard was convicted on four criminal counts, including assault with a deadly weapon, kidnapping, and drug possession. Authorities believe that he was responsible for Monika's death but they still do not have enough evidence to file charges.
- Monika Rizzo on Unsolved.com
- "The Raw Truth: The Monika Rizzo Case" by William A. McKinney
- Rizzo Bone Mystery (Part 1) Rizzo Bone Mystery (Part 2)
- SA police search for more bones
- Police: Remains at home belonged to at least two people
- Police wrap up back-yard bone investigation
- Questions remain about bone fragments
- Police seek help in yard burial case
- DNA reveals identity of one backyard-bones body
- Police examine tools for clues to body finds
- Husband disputes offer in case of missing wife
- Girlfriend says Rizzo threatened to chop her up
- Rizzo says he only meant to hurt himself
- Slain woman's husband sentenced
- Man releases book about daughter's death
- More than 200 bone fragments found, nobody charged in Monika Rizzo murder
- SitcomsOnline Discussion of Monika's case
- Monika Rizzo on Find a Grave