‘The Bone Yard’: Who killed Monika Rizzo? South Texas Crime Stories, Episode 2

A mystery has been swirling for a quarter of a century — who killed Monika Rizzo and why?

Monika Rizzo's death has remained a mystery for a quarter of a century. In her backyard, 200 of her bone fragments were found. Her husband has been considered the prime suspect, but he's never been taken into custody

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It’s a decades-old case swirling with questions.

Who killed Monika Rizzo and why?

Rizzo’s case takes us back to the 90s.

On May 5, 1997, the 44-year-old mother of two left her work with no explanation.

After a few days, Rizzo’s boss was finally able to reach her at home. She said she wasn’t feeling well but would be back to work the following Monday, May 19.

The day came and went like the others before, no Rizzo.

The next two weeks brought much of the same.

On June 5, an anonymous male caller told police Rizzo had been killed by her husband Leonard and her bones were in the backyard.

San Antonio police rushed to the couple’s home and spoke with Leonard and one of the couple’s sons who no longer lived with them.

The son said he hadn’t seen his mom in over a week. Meanwhile, Leonard said he had seen her when she got home from work on May 5.

Leonard said a few days later, he woke up and Rizzo was gone. Despite not seeing her, Leonard never reported Rizzo missing.

Outside, SAPD’s search of the backyard only turned up animal bones.

Exactly one month passed and the anonymous tipster called the police back again.

This time, the caller who was later identified as family friend Robert Hakala, said Rizzo’s bones were buried under a pile of tires in the backyard.

Hakala said he was at the Rizzo’s home and saw the dog playing with a human jawbone.

When police responded after Hakala’s latest call, they made a gruesome discovery.

A search warrant affidavit described human bones, hair, and bodily fluids all found in the backyard and barbecue pit.

A group of archaeologists with The University of Texas excavated the backyard for eight days and found more than 200 bone fragments chopped into pieces less than three inches long.

Dr. Robert Hard was a part of the archaeological team.

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

Before their team was done, the yard was dotted with dozens of orange flags.

“When you find a 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 of weeks. There was no soft tissue still attached to it,” Dr. Hard said.

Investigators thought the bones had gone through a wood chipper or shredder.

At this point in time, they weren’t sure if all of the bones were Rizzo’s or if they belong to others as well.

The find had police focusing their attention on Rizzo’s husband Leonard.

Leonard has said consistently that he had nothing to do with Monika’s disappearance and how the bones got into his backyard was just as much a mystery to him.

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

Rizzo’s coworkers also spoke with the police and told them they had been concerned about her because she started to lose weight and they noticed bruising on her body.

Despite their findings, no arrests were made and the case stayed open.

In 2018, an article in the Victoria Advocate revealed that Leonard Rizzo disputed claims that he offered information in the case in exchange for a lesser sentence.

The detective on the case had said that he wanted to make a deal in exchange for a 10-year probated sentence, but Leonard apparently claimed police were the ones who offered the deal.

Below is a copy of that 1998 article.

Courtesy: The Victoria Advocate (The Victoria Advocate)

Two years passed and Leonard was placed under arrest but it had nothing to do with his late wife Monika.

Instead, his current girlfriend told police he threatened to “kill her, chop her up, put her in a garbage bag, and bury her.”

SAPD showed up on his doorstep yet again, but this time they were greeted by a gun.

A standoff ensued and Leonard was shot after pointing a gun at officers.

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

In the same year, 1999, the bone fragments were positively identified as only those of Monika Rizzo.

Rizzo’s remains were buried beside her son who had died in 1998 from cancer. According to her gravestone, Rizzo was declared dead on May 28th, 1997.

Leonard has always been seen as the prime suspect in his wife’s death but he was never charged.

He served two years in prison for charges related to the 1999 incident with his then girlfriend and the standoff with police, but was released in 2001 and has no other arrests in Texas.

Rizzo’s only living son declined to comment about his mom or this case.

In 2011, Rizzo’s father Bill McKinney published a book titled “The Raw Truth!” According to an Amazon description of the book, it’s a non-fiction crime story that shares “intimate family details of the victim.”

Meanwhile, in 2022, SAPD said the case is still open but there’s no new information. The original detective who handled the case has retired and his original case notes are no longer available.


About the Authors:

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.

Leigh Waldman is a news reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.