The Bone Yard

Monika Rizzo pictured.

Monika Rizzo pictured.

May 5th, 1997. San Antonio, Texas. It was a seemingly average day at the San Antonio Department of Human Resources. Monika Rizzo had been in for her scheduled shift until she suddenly left the office, leavig her purse behind. She walked out without saying goodbye to her colleagues. A few days went by and her co-workers were understandably worried for her. Her manager called to check in on her and Monika thankfully answered the phone. Things were already suspicious; taking off work with out telling anyone and not calling in? For most, it would be a punishable offense, if not a firing at the very least a verbal warning. Her manager inquired how she was and Monika responded that she was still not feeling well and she would be in the following week. That was the last any of her co-workers would speak to Monika. No one from her offices would ever see Monika again. 

It is not entirely clear the exact date Monika went missing as her husband never reported her as such. Her husband, Leonard, claimed that he simply woke up one morning and she was gone. June 5th, 1997, just weeks since Monika was last spoken to, police received an anonymous call. The strange call claimed that Leonard had killed Monika and that her bones were scattered throughout the backyard. Police arrived later that day at the Rizzo home only to find Leonard suffering from convulsions. He was rushed to the hospital where he would recover while investigators got permission to search the property from the Rizzo’s son. During the search, investigators saw that Moinka’s car and her clothing were still on the property. In addition to her personal items, evidence of a struggle was present, with broken drywall and blood splatter throughout the home. While searching the yard, multiple small bone fragments were found but they were reported to have been animal bones. In retrospect, I am curious if investigators were mistaken in this assumption and should have investigated the bones more closely. The anonymous caller appeared to have been mistaken and the police left.

On July 5th, 1997, Monika was still missing. The anonymous caller tried once more and became more specific. He again said Leonard had killed Monika and that her bones would be found in the yard underneath some tires. Once again, authorities went to the property and found the tires as described by the caller. Once they looked underneath they found more bone fragments, a skull and a garbage bag of human flesh. Leonard was unable to provide any reasoning as to why human remains were on his property. When questioned about the bones in conjunction with the evidence of a struggle within the home, Leonard claimed he had simply taken his frustration out on the house. Furthermore, were these bones placed after authorities had searched or had they simply overlooked the area on their first attempt. 

Leonard would claim that the 26-year marriage was still strong but Monika’s co-workers claimed the opposite. It was reported that Monika had been losing a substantial and dangerous amount of weight. Leonard claimed that he and his wife simply preferred a trim figure and she wanted to maintain a 93-pound frame. In addition, to the rapid weight loss, people at her job also reported Monika coming into work with bruising. This prompted them to contact authorities for a wellness check. Upon arrival, Monika opened the door. It was apparent to the officer that she had bruising on her neck and face. When asked if she was alright she said yes and claimed she had fallen. When interviewed, again Leonard reiterated how strong their relationship was and continued to claim he never abused his wife.

Once the skull and bone fragments were found, authorities began an excavation of the property. With the help of a team of archeologists from the University of Texas, an investigation into the yard was performed. After a number of days in the Texas sun, more then 200 bone fragments were discovered on the property including within the family barbecue. It was reported that many of the fragments had a greasy film on them, indicating that they were terribly old, potentially placed there within the last few weeks or months. 

Initially authorities believed the bones to be that of several individuals. It is not entirely clear the reasoning as to why this assumption was made, maybe due to the sheer number of bone fragments but it was eventually determined that all bone fragments belonged to Monika Rizzo. Leonard became the prime suspect but authorities were unable to prove the crime. As the media attention surrounding the case grew, Leonard made a number of interviews and statements including one where he likened himself to O.J. Simpson: "I feel like O.J. Simpson. I feel like all of a sudden there is a nightmare all around me and it's completely beyond my control.”

Monika and Leonard Rizzo.

Monika and Leonard Rizzo.

Unsolved Mysteries aired a reenactment of the events leading up to Monika’s disappearance along with an interview from Leonard. Throughout the interview Leonard does appear to be uncomfortable and makes a number of strange comments; referring to he and his wife’s relationship in past tense and constantly correcting himself throughout. With that said people do deal with grief differently, however it seems Leonard is not being entirely truthful. He ended his interview with the following: “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.” How does one not notice human remains scattered throughout their property? It was eventually determined the anonymous caller was a friend named Robert Hakala who noticed a dog playing with a jawbone, whose teeth resembled Monika’s. Coupled with her sudden disappearance he decided to alert the police.

Unfortunately the case has grown quite stagnant, with no new leads surfacing. In 1999, Leonard was involved in a domestic dispute that quickly escalated and required S.W.A.T. team intervention. After fighting with his girlfriend she fled the home and called the police in order to escort her back and collect her things. Upon arrival, Leonard answered the door brandishing a pistol. This led to a 4-hour standoff which culminated in Leonard being shot in the stomach by law enforcement after he pointed the pistol in their direction. Leonard made a full recovery and claimed he only intended to kill himself and no one else. Leonard was taken into custody and eventually charged with assault with a deadly weapon, kidnapping, and drug possession.

After the altercation, Leonard’s girlfriend claimed that he threatened her and said he would "kill her, chop her up, put her in a garbage bag and bury her.” Leonard reported that the fight stemmed from his girlfriends claims that she saw Monika. He demanded to know where she was which soon changed to him claiming his girlfriend was Monika’s killer. 

To this day no one has been charged in the disappearance and murder of Monika Rizzo.