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Crime News Buried in the Backyard

Who Killed This Mother Who Was Found Buried In The Backyard Of Her Own Home?

Detectives had to look into the complicated relationships of her past and present in order to identify a motive and track down her killer.

By John Thrasher
Buried in the Backyard Bonus 102: Trouble for Lisa

Lisa Fein, a mother of two from Galien Township, Michigan was found buried in a field in her own backyard on June 30, 2000. Her tragic story was the subject of a recent episode of Oxygen's "Buried In The Backyard," airing Sundays at 7/6c.

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Though investigators were able to track down Lisa's remains after she had gone missing from her home in the middle of the night, they weren't able to immediately identify who would have committed such a heinous crime.

Within the episode, it's reported that Lisa's son Jacob, aged 12, remembered waking up at 3:30 in the morning on June 30, 2000 to find his mother, Lisa, screaming. Reports indicate that Jacob described a man with a black snowmobile helmet wrestling with his mother in her bedroom. Jacob woke his other brother Shane, 10 years old, and ran next door to his grandmother's house, who took them in for the night.

By the time Lisa's current husband Ron had returned home from work at 6:30am, he made a call to 911 saying that his wife and kids were missing from the home. Detectives eventually headed to the residence and talked to the kids, who were still at the grandmother's residence unbeknownst to Ron. Jacob told detectives that it was his stepfather, Ron, who was struggling with his mom in the bedroom.

But after obtaining the logs of the badge Ron used during his evening at work, it was clear that Ron was present at his job the entire evening and had not left the building in which he worked until close to 6am.

Detectives continued to look for Lisa, and eventually discovered a shallow grave in a field behind her house that included her remains. She had duct tape around her head, and a pillowcase and towel covering her face. Detectives took evidence away from the crime scene, including DNA samples from under Lisa’s fingernails. 

They also discovered she was having an affair with a man named Jeff. Phone records showed that Lisa had paged Jeff the night before she went missing. Admitting the affair, Jeff volunteered a sample of his own DNA to prove that he had no involvement with her disappearance and murder. Weeks later, the DNA results supported Jeff’s insistence that he was innocent.

Next, detectives looked into the father of Lisa’s son Jacob—Frank Spagnola. People close to Lisa recalled their relationship had been very chaotic, and Lisa's sister claimed that Frank had been physically abusive. After their relationship was over, Frank had allegedly stalked her. When police approached Frank, they noticed he had a scratch on the front of his face. On the evening that Lisa went missing, Frank claimed that he had been running errands—but no one, including his parents, could vouch for his whereabouts.

Suspicious, detectives got a warrant to collect Frank’s DNA, which ended up matching the DNA found under Lisa’s fingernails.

Detectives were further able to connect Frank to the crime by matching pillowcases and towels at his home to the same manufacturer that were found on Lisa's body at the burial site. Further, they found a black helmet that matched the description given to police by his own son, Jacob. Duct tape was also found in Frank's car, which matched the same roll of duct tape that was used on Lisa's remains.

Detectives theorized an ugly custody battle between Frank and Lisa was likely the motive for the murder. The Herald-Palladium reported in 2003 that Frank Spagnola was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no parole.

For more stories like this watch "Buried In The Backyard," Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.

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