The bones of a San Antonio woman are found buried in her backyard.

Monika Rizzo and Leonard Rizzo

Bones were found in the yard

CASE DETAILS

A bag was filled with human flesh

On May 5, 1997, Monika Rizzo left her job at the San Antonio Department of Human Resources.  She never told anyone where she was going and never said goodbye.

Leonard Rizzo, Monika’s husband, claims his wife came home that afternoon but disappeared a few days later.  He never reported her disappearance to the police:

“I was very confused… it made no sense.  My wife and I were very close.  There was no reason for me to believe she wouldn’t be coming back, wherever she’d gone.  I just… I have faith in her.  I just chose to wait.”

On June 5th, a few weeks after Monika’s disappearance, San Antonio police received an anonymous phone call claiming Monika had been murdered by her husband and that her bones were buried in her backyard. The San Antonio police arrived at the Rizzo’s house shortly after. Monika’s oldest son answered the door. He told the police that he was just visiting and hadn’t seen his mother in a week. Inside the house, police found nothing out of the ordinary. Monika’s clothes were still hanging in the closet and her car was parked in the driveway. Nothing seemed to be missing except Monika Rizzo. While searching the backyard, the detectives did find bones.  But they clearly belonged to some kind of animal. The anonymous caller appeared to be wrong.

Five weeks later, on July 5th, police received another anonymous tip.  This time the caller gave detectives an exact location in the backyard.  According to the anonymous tipster, Monika’s bones were buried under a pile of tires by the fence.

Archeologists excavated the site

Again, the police quickly responded.  After searching the Rizzo’s backyard, detectives collected a skull, a number of bone fragments, and even a bag filled with what appeared to be human flesh.

Leonard Rizzo claimed he had no idea how the bones got there:

“These bone fragments that are in my yard are an absolute mystery to me… as big a mystery as my wife’s disappearance… To me, someone is trying to draw attention from themselves.  Someone is doing this to me.”

Detectives also learned that Monika’s co-workers were concerned for her safety.  On one occasion, they had even asked police to check on her at home, but Leonard claimed he had never hurt his wife:

“There was no domestic abuse.  There was no domestic violence. My wife and I were deeply in love.  We are deeply in love.”

Initial DNA tests on the bones proved they were human.  But whose were they?

Bones were even in the barbeque

Dr. Robert Hard was part of a team of archaeologists from the University of Texas brought in to excavate the site:

“We literally crawled across this area, using our trowels and moving the roots and moving the grass blades and looking down beneath the grass.  And every time we found a bone fragment or something the police department considered might be evidence, we’d put an orange pin flag out.”

Before they were done, the yard was dotted with dozens of orange flags:

“When you find bone in an old archaeological site, the bone is very dry.  This bone still had a greasy feel to it.  So we knew it had not been there very long, but at the same time, it had been there more than a week or a couple weeks. There was no soft tissue still attached to it.”

For eight days, Dr. Hard and his team collected a total of 200 bone fragments.  Most had been chopped into pieces less than 3 inches long.  Dr. Hard formulated a theory:

“We felt it was some kind of machine.  Some type of chipper/ shredder has been discussed quite a bit.  It’s the only machine that that we can come up with that could possibly account for this type of breakage.  You wouldn’t get it with a saw, you wouldn’t get it with a knife.  You wouldn’t get it with a lawn mower.  We can’t think of anything else that would break up bone like this.”

Once again, police questioned Leonard Rizzo:

“I’ve never even operated a wood chipper.  I’ve never rented… anything in a rental store other than a car dolly… maybe a trailer.”

Leonard Rizzo continued to insist that he had nothing to do with his wife’s disappearance or the bones in his backyard:

“Those bone fragments and such, where they came from, I don’t know how they got there.  I don’t know, and I adamantly did not kill them or anyone else.”

DNA testing recently revealed that all the bone fragments were, in fact, those of Monika Rizzo.  However, the San Antonio District Attorney still lacks enough evidence to file charges.

UPDATE:

After two years of no new developments, Leonard Rizzo was arrested for attacking his girlfriend.  He was convicted on four criminal counts including assault with a deadly weapon and kidnapping.


 

Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season ten with Robert Stack and in season one with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis FarinaVarious seasons available now on Hulu.

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34 Comments

  1. divilish

    I knew Leonard before this happened, and I remember the HUGE amount of pills he took. It was always an unknown what state he would be in when I called or stopped by.

    I knew him from his computer business, from the trailer in his back yard that he ran it out of. I remember joking with him about the stack of “DOS for dummies” had was selling, that was a long time ago….

    Thankfully I was out of the area when this happened, so I was not part of the investigation….but I remember a hole in the wall in his house that was an “accident”……

    He was a decent guy, but I always wonder about the amount of medication he took..

    Reply

  2. thinkingoutloud

    her husband definitely had something to do with her murder and/or disappearance. throughout this interview he plays victim and claims he wasn’t abusive. a witness even called the police with the exact information of him burying his wife’s bones in the exact spot the witness claimed. even if he didn’t have anything to do with her ‘murder’ he definitely had something to do with it, i mean her bones were buried in his own backyard! how do you not know someone is burying something in your backyard? how do you not realize the dirt and grass was tampered with? seems like this guy had anger issues and maybe he hurt her or even killed her by accident and tried covering it up.

    just by the way he answers questions about his wife seems phony, that they were so in love and stuff. seems too exaggerated and fake.

    Reply

    • Vincent Rizzo

      Your thinking of your normal life. Our life wasn’t the normal life. We had a large yard with a back gate that had a lot of my parents friends coming and going often. Many had access. Also, the bones were not found in site. They were covered. Even the police missed them the first times they came looking. Just to say it impossible to not know what happens in your yard is not a good view to base judgment on.

      Reply

  3. Anonomous

    Where is her husband now? Did he get remarried?

    Reply

    • Rick_James

      In 1999, he was arrested for assaulting his new gf over an argument; yelling “I’ll cut you into pieces like I did my wife.” He was shot by SWAT, but survived.

      Interviews with these guys are always the same: THY’RE the victims, never the people that were killed.

      Reply

      • Vincent Rizzo

        Not in any way standing up for my father, but that’s not quite the way it went and that was not said. Not smart to quote someone when you weren’t there.

        Reply

  4. Angel

    Why wasn’t didn’t police try (through telephone records trace source of the call)
    I wish the family would hire Detective Ken Brennan(he solved the vanishing blond case and another difficult case bc he thinks outside the box) to see if he can help solve this case. It seems crazy that if women was then chopped with wood chipper that no one found wood chipper or heard the wood chipper….or that police didn’t try to find thru phone company who made the tip…seems crazy ….it’s unfortunate so many years passed but doesn’t seem police did much work on this case . If they did they didn’t share much with public nor did they they seem to ask for much help in solving case either. My heart goes out to family who had to suffer a loss like this

    Reply

    • Anonymous

      The police in San Antonio do not usually work hard to convict criminals. Not certain why, but they prefer to convict innocent people for crimes they did not commit.

      They did not have to trace the call, they know who I am. I also am the one that told them it was a wood chipper, where he recieved it, and that the same person that gave it to him, got it back. That same person, though not involved with the crimes, also knows the where about a of another murderer on the run from North Carolina, that person is also possibly connected to this case, Richard Bare also featured on Unsolved Mysteries. Though he is connected to the person that provided the wood chipper, I am not certain he was involved in this case.
      This story involves a lot of people and allegedly more murders. Rizzo is guilty, but there is more to it. The other person involved is a very dangerous person. It’s a long story. More to it that anyone knows or would believe. The person that was involved in it with Richard, was elegedly caught for the other murders but amazingly was released for lack of evidence, despite finding body parts of the victims in his freezer, or so I was told. Rizzo moved to Houston, I was told his son also disappeared and has not been seen since. The SAPD, knows all if this. It’s just apparent that they are not interested in following up on the case.
      Personally they should all be locked up and the key thrown away. Non of them, including Rizzo’s wife were innocent. She was up to her neck indirectly with what was going on. This to include guns, drugs, murder and a very infamous biker gang, and the highest levels of it’s leadership.

      I wouldn’t be to concerned with it, this case will be buried and never resolved.

      While I had no issue at the time contacting police, at this point, I do not trust them. Likewise, I am posting this anonymously, as I do not want my identity to be public knowledge as I do not wish to be involved, likewise do to some of the people involved, I do not want anything to happen to my family. If the woman was innocent and did not put herself in situations for this to happen, I may have felt different. However, she is not worth the risk to my family. A risk that is inevitable.

      Reply

      • Anonymous

        I’m really intrigued by the case and would love to know your theory on the other possibilities or deeper info on Rizzo’s involvement. I’ve followed this case since the start and it’s baffled me how the case was botched. It just seems suspicious that her skull was left in the open yet someone made the effort to chop all of her bones as if to rid of her. This story has bothered me for a long time. I wonder if it would’ve remained unsolved had this happened today.

        Reply

      • Vincent Rizzo

        Over the years so many people claim to have knowledge or be connected to my mothers case. Clearly you’re just trying to get a reaction. All I can say is clearly you never knew my mother..

        Reply

    • Vincent Rizzo

      How would you have expected an 18 year old to have the money or know how to hire anyone? I was trying to get threw what was happening and hoping my mother would return. We didn’t know for a few years the remains were her.

      Reply

  5. Anonymous

    After reading this book, I am convinced of the husband’s guilt: THE RAW TRUTH by William A. McKinney, Monika Rizzo’s father. His description of his daughter’s life and murder is meticulous and gripping. http://tinyurl.com/ps4swry

    Reply

  6. J.P.

    Did the police ever consider going to businesses where they rent shredders or chippers out and see who have rented one at the time of the murder? And if there is a potential lead, perform a DNA test. This can spell a huge difference between making an arrest and bringing her family and friends closure and the case go unsolved forever.

    Reply

    • Vincent Rizzo

      Everyone thinks they should have look more into that it seems. The remains were only bones. No flesh or blood. People keep saying you’d see that “mess” for lack of better words. Again that wasn’t the case. Everything was dry and very small pieces. I’m not sure where the skull came from as to my knowledge it was never found. My mother’s remains fit into a very small box. That’s is why she is at rest under my bothers headstone and why it was so hard to ID. They simply didn’t have any large enough bits to get good dna from. It too over three years to ID her after found. Clearly whatever happened didn’t happen in our yard. And so everyone knows. The picture above isn’t our home. That bbq isn’t even half the size of the one we had. The side of the house is a different style home and color as well. They must have used pic from the re enactment that they changed a great deal of fact in. Unsolved mysteries is a joke. When they interviewed me and my brother before he passed, they tried their best to guide us to the answer of questions as they wanted. They are like any other report being full of lies and only trying to make a story people will watch for ratings. They don’t care about really helping anyone

      Reply

  7. Anonymous

    I don’t get a “warm and fuzzy” feeling from looking at the husband’s picture, looks evil to me.

    Reply

  8. Izzy

    why werent the sons allowed to go to the funeral….also i just saw the older brother passed away? Is this true?

    Reply

    • Vincent Rizzo

      Why would you think I wasn’t allowed at my mothers funeral? I returned fro overseas for it. Like so many things in my mother’s case, that information is incorrect

      Reply

    • Vincent Rizzo

      And it would have been hard for my brother to miss it since she was put to rest under his headstone due to the few remains she had so my brother was there as well.

      Reply

  9. Izzy

    I worked with her son Vincent back in the fall of 1995 till April of 1996….I met the family once and there was some awkwardness to it. This was before Mrs Rizzos murder

    Reply

  10. Scorpio_29

    I don’t understand if she left work why her employer or a co worker never tried to make contact with her that day or in the following days. Why they didn’t call police, why they didn’t try to contact her husband or emergency contact … someone. And if he’s suspected of burning her body didn’t anyone see him or someone at his residence bbquing, or making a fire?? Didn’t anyone else in her family attempt to locate her at her home by calling, going over?? I mean if it was my relative I’d have called, gone over, demanded to be let in and check for myself. Her employer at the time didn’t have cameras to observe coming and going maybe she left with someone, just all too weird, that her purse was left behind that so much time elapsed before she was reported.

    And what about her sons weren’t they concerned, what are their names, have they ever come forward or publicly talked?? Were they interviewed by police?? Any new developments??

    Reply

    • Vincent Rizzo

      Wow, where to start with your comments. Cameras, no luck. Why would anyone think anything when someone leaves work? People leave and come back all the time. Nothing was odd at the time. After the fact and looking at everything that happened it’s easy to say that where it starts, why didn’t that get seem?
      As far as my brother and me, of course we were questioned. You have no ideal how many time I was taken to the police station and held for hours as a minor with no adults or attorney I may add. I was only detained for questions as was my bother but as any child would be unsure about the laws and had no ideal what was and wasn’t allowed. They even let my grandparents come in and try to question me as they blamed me for not reporting it any sooner. For many years I was where they laid blame and resentment so this was not a legal or appropriate thing to subject a child to. Like so many people they couldn’t understand nothing was wrong when it first started. My parent stayed at the mobile home in the back yard on the extra property. I stayed in our home. Going a week or two without seeing them was very normal for me. I was a teen and had unlimited freedom and no rules. Money was left for me. What teen would think anything was wrong? My brother didn’t live at home so again, how would he know things were not normal or know to check? His name was always in the paper. Me being a younger, my brother and father tried to keep my name out in an attempt to make life easier for me. This only semi worked of course. Clearly you didn’t follow the case as it happened or you’d know this. They even printed my name when my brother passed away when it should have never been in the papers. Everyone interviewed us. Reporters from Germany, Unsolved Mysteries, local reporters,. Normally my brother would step forward to try to protect me as any good older brother would. He knew I was effectected more due to being much closer to my mother.

      You can’t think of every case from your life. People live very different. Normal is only what one know. That varies based on life.

      Reply

  11. Barry Watts

    How much evidence do you need? Someone killed her and placed her remains in the backyard, if not the father, then the son or another family member. I can’t believe the D.A. says there is not enough evidence!

    Reply

  12. LUIS FREEH

    3 INCHE PEICE’S! IS THAT ALL U GOT LAW ENFORCEMENT “AGENCY”? SINCE WHEN?

    Reply

  13. William McKinney

    I have said it all before as delineated in my book: The Raw Truth!

    Reply

  14. Jessica Schaper

    I was at the Rizzo house at this time. I am a key witness (with lots of back up and a shotgun) Monika told me not to flush the toilet Why? I’ve been trying to get a hold of someone for my “story” but no one seems to care…

    Reply

    • unsolved

      Hi Jessica – we have passed this information on to the law enforcement agency handling Monika’s case.

      Reply

    • william mckinney

      I care Jessica! Key witness??? Lots of back-up???? I would be more than pleased to hear “your” story. Bill McKinney, Monika’s father

      Reply

    • Vincent Rizzo

      I’m sure your just another person trying to feel important. If you really have something not made up more would have been brought forward by now. This is a prime example of why cases get off track. The police have a very hard job. People reporting false info only waste time.

      Reply

  15. Ernest

    I remember passing through the neighborhood and wondering how he could do something like that

    Reply

  16. Anonymous

    He was arrested for attacking his current girlfriend? Not any charges for his wife’s disappearance/murder?

    Reply