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Springfield-Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni announces Monday, Sept. 18, 2017, that Gary E. Schara, 48, of West Springfield, Massachusetts, has been apprehended as a suspect in the 1992 slaying of Lisa Ziegert in Agawam, Massachusetts. (Photo: Dave Roback/The Republican via AP)

The latest DNA technology, investigative persistence and a handwritten confession have led to the killer and rapist responsible for a brutal slaying, 25 years after the crime, Massachusetts authorities announced Monday.

Gary Schara, now 48, is in custody in Connecticut for the slaying of Lisa Ziegert, 24, on the night of April 15, 1992 in Agawam, Massachusetts, just across the Connecticut River from Springfield.

A full DNA profile found at the crime scene allowed scientists to use phenotyping to produce a composite likely appearance of the killer’s face—which led to a reconsideration of the persons of interest from the initial investigation, said Anthony Gulluni, the Hampden County District Attorney, in a press conference announcing the arrest.

“Through the dedicated and skilled work of many investigators, we have arrested the person who was responsible for the heinous acts committed against Lisa—and the 25-year-long search for answers is over,” said Gulluni.

Ziegert, a teacher’s aide at the local middle school, was working a second job at a card shop on the night of April 15, 1992, when she disappeared. The next day, the store’s day clerk found the shop’s doors open, the lights on and Ziegert’s car still in the parking lot. The money was still in the register, and Ziegert’s possessions, including her purse and school materials, were still there.

Four days later, and about four miles away in a wooded area, Ziegert’s body was found. She had been raped and stabbed.

The investigation involved the Agawam Police Department, the Massachusetts State Police, the Hampden County DA’s Office and the FBI.

Hundreds of persons of interest were considered from the area. Schara was one of them, back in 1993.

But the single-source male DNA profile found on Lisa’s body did not turn up any hits in various genetic databases like CODIS.

More than two years ago, Gulluni and the detectives began a fresh look at the case. Last year, they contacted Parabon NanoLabs, a Virginia-based DNA phenotyping company which uses DNA profiles to generate composite facial likenesses. Their images depicted a man with a mix of northern and southern European ancestry: a male with fair to very fair complexion, with some freckling, brown or black hair, and hazel or brown eyes. They showed the purported suspect at age 25, and about 25 years older.

That image pared down the persons of interest from the initial investigations in the area, authorities said.

“What the Parabon allowed us to do was narrow this investigation and it gave us criteria (…) where we could exclude people and include people,” said Gulluni.

A Parabon NanoLabs Snapshot composite based on the DNA profile found at the scene of Lisa Ziegert's 1992 murder, alongside a photograph of suspect Gary Schara. The composite image was created using a technique known as DNA phenotyping. (Image: Courtesy of Parabon NanoLabs)

Detectives focused on the persons of interest who had never been in the databases. They started reaching out to those people to inform them of a legal process to obtain a genetic sample, Gulluni explained.

Last Wednesday, they appeared at Schara’s home to tell him of their continuing look at the Ziegert case. He was not home.

Shortly thereafter, a person who is “very close” to Schara contacted the Massachusetts State Police with handwritten documents allegedly produced by Schara, which admitted to the crime.

The Agawam police appeared at Schara’s home again—only to find out he had fled.

Schara next appeared at a Connecticut medical facility. He had attempted to commit suicide, authorities said.

Investigators then acquired a sample of Schara’s DNA—and it matched the profile from Ziegert’s body, authorities said.

Schara is now being held in Connecticut on a fugitive from justice warrant, pending further court appearances to bring him back to Massachusetts.

Three of Ziegert’s family members attended the press conference, sitting next to the DA, occasionally holding hands. Diane Ziegert, the victim’s mother, said they were “grateful” for the outcome.

“We got him,” she said. “It’s always been about justice for Lisa.”

Steven Armentrout, the Parabon CEO, told Forensic Magazine that Snapshot worked for the Ziegert case as it is intended to.

“Our understanding is that Snapshot helped DA Gulluni and his investigative team focus in on a small list of persons of interest,” Armentrout said. “That efficiency gain is often enough to turn a cold case into a solved case.”

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