More than 200 bone fragments found, nobody charged in Monika Rizzo murder

South Texas Crime Stories: A San Antonio murder mystery

SAN ANTONIO – This week on South Texas Crime Stories, we look at a murder case that shocked the community in 1997. 
The story of Monika Rizzo sounds as if it comes straight from a crime movie or television show. 
Below is a look back at this mysterious case.

May 5, 1997

This was possibly the last day that anyone ever saw 44-year-old Monika Rizzo alive. 

She had left work with no explanation and, after days of unanswered phone calls, her boss finally reached her at home. 

Rizzo said she wasn't feeling well, but would be back at work the following Monday on May 19. That never happened.

June 5, 1997

In a strange twist, police got an anonymous call from a man claiming that Monika Rizzo had been murdered by her husband, Leonard, and that her bones were in the couple's backyard.

Police rushed to the home and Leonard Rizzo and one of the couple's two sons -- both sons were older and no longer lived at the home -- were interviewed and the backyard was checked.

Rizzo's son told police he had not seen in his mother in over a week and Leonard told police he seen her the afternoon she came home from work but said that, a few days later, when he woke up, she was gone.

He had never reported her missing.

A search of the backyard only yielded animal bones.

July 5, 1997

It had now been almost two months since Monika Rizzo was last seen when the same tipster from June called police again.

This time, the man said that her remains were buried in the backyard under a pile of tires. 

Police went back to the home and, this time, they found bone fragments. 

According to a search warrant affidavit, human bones, hair and body fluids were found in the backyard and barbecue pit.

The backyard of the home would soon be the focus of a major investigation. 

A team of archaeologists from the University of Texas was called in to excavate the backyard. 

A gruesome discovery

After more than eight days of searching the backyard, more than 200 bone fragments were collected.

All of the bone fragments had been chopped into pieces less than 3 inches long. 

Investigators believed the fragments had been in the yard for a week or two, and that a wood chipper or shredder had been used to make the fragments that small.

It was at first thought that the bones weren't Monika Rizzo's and that they belonged to three to four other people. 

The investigaton

Police started questioning Leonard Rizzo again.

A search was done on the home and it was reported that several sections of drywall had been bashed in.

Co-workers spoke to police and told them they had been concerned about Rizzo because she had started to lose weight and they noticed bruises on her body. 

Leonard Rizzo always claimed he had nothing to do with Monika Rizzo's disappearance and knew nothing of how the bones got into the backyard. 

It was later determined that the anonymous tipster was Robert Hakala, a family friend. 

In an interview, Hakala told a reporter that he was at the Rizzo home and noticed the dog playing with a human jawbone and that is when he called police. 

Police never named him as a person of interest in this case. 

Leonard Rizzo arrested years later

Monika Rizzo's husband would be arrested in 1999, not for her murder. 

Rizzo attacked his current girlfriend, who told police he had threatened to "kill her, chop her up, put her in a garbage bag and bury her."

When police went to question him, he answered the door while holding a gun, which led to a standoff with police. 

He was shot by police after he pointed his gun at them.

Leonard survived the shooting and was later convicted on four criminal counts. 

In that same year, the bone fragments found in the Rizzo backyard were finally identified as being soley those of Monika Rizzo.

Her family laid her remains to rest at the gravesite of her son, who had died the year before from cancer.

Even though Leonard Rizzo was always considered the main suspect in Monika Rizzo's death, he was never charged and, to this day, her death remains a mystery. 

About the Author:

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with more than 12 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter.