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The Everglades is a vast area of wetlands in Florida, much of it isolated and teeming with wildlife. As such, bodies have been dumped in the Everglades, in the hope alligators will eat them and destroy evidence of a crime. In one 2007 case, though, somebody spotted the remains before they could be lost forever.
On April 28, 2007, a local fisherman contacted police after spotting a human head wrapped in a bag in the water being circled by alligators. Authorities retrieved the head, but had little to go on. They couldn't even determine the age and gender of their victim.
"[In] this case the only thing we had were the pieces of the periphery of the puzzle. We didn't have the cause of death or the manner of death or the location of death -- all things that have to be answered to properly prosecute a homicide," Gregg Rossman, a former Broward County prosecutor, told Oxygen's "Florida Man Murders."
The blood-splattered plastic grocery bag, however, provided a vital clue. It came from a chain of grocery stores specific to New York. Investigators sent word up the east coast to see if anyone else had found a headless body or other remains, but no viable matches emerged.
Eventually, they sent the head to a forensic anthropologist named Dr. Heather Haney Walsh.
"My task at that point was reading the bones of the skull to figure out if we had a male or female and see if there was anything unique we had," she told producers.
Haney Walsh eventually determined the victim was a younger white woman, anywhere from her 20s to 40s. She had received a blunt force impact to her head and it had been dismembered from her body -- when she was still alive.
"She was still alive when somebody started to cut her neck. She may have been unconscious and we hope most likely unconscious but she was still a living being as she suffered horrible, horrific injuries to her neck," Rossman said.
Investigators got a break when a tip came in from detectives in Port Orange, Florida. A man had come in and told them two men staying at the same motel as him were bragging about killing a woman.
"He'd killed a girl but he mentioned something about alligators so the head is somewhere here, I think," he's heard telling authorities in video footage obtained by "Florida Man Murders."
These two men were Paul Truchiero and Robert Mackie. They had initially met in prison, and afterward worked together as tree trimmers in New York. Not only did the witness say he heard them discuss killing a girl, he also saw them cleaning a blue truck with chemicals and bleach as well engaging in other suspicious behavior.
"There was a statue at the motel, it was an alligator, and [one of the men] referred to it as the alligator god. He would pat it on the head and pray to the alligator god to eat the rest of the body," Sarina Fazan, a Florida journalist, told producers.
Unfortunately, the truck had already been sent to a salvage yard by the suspects, but they had been spotted taking the license plate off and tossing it off a bridge.
"We had divers drag the water and to my surprise and everyone's surprise, within 45 minutes, a diver surfaced holding a license plate from New York folded up," Capt. Scott Champagne of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office told producers.
It was tracked to a woman named Lorraine Hatzakorzian from Long Island, New York. She had been reported missing on April 21.
Hatzakorzian, 41, was described as an independent, hard-working woman and single mom. It was confirmed she actually knew Paul Truchiero and Robert Mackie -- she had done odd jobs for Mackie's tree-trimming company before. They also learned Hatzakorzian had last been seen alive with the two men leaving the state.
The authorities had the evidence they needed to make an arrest. Four months after the head had been found in the Everglades, the two men were behind bars.
"Thank goodness that they were stupid [and talked] because it led us back to them," Rossman told producers.
A search warrant found items consistent with the witness' story of how the two men killed \and dismembered Hatzakorzian, but the two suspects refused to talk.
In fact, it took five years for Truchiero to finally be brought in front of a judge. He opted to forgo trial and plead guilty, seemingly after seeing Hatzakorzian's family in the courtroom.
"You're the worst lawyer in the world, I'd rather spend the rest of my life in prison [...] I don't want no offer, I want the max," Truchiero is heard fuming in video footage obtained by "Florida Man Murders."
Truchiero got his wish and was sentenced to 30 years in prison after pleading no contest to second-degree murder. He tried to withdraw his plea afterward, but the motion was dismissed.
Mackie, meanwhile, reached out to Hatzakorzian's family and claimed he would reveal the location of her body, but never actually followed through, in what family members considered more cruelty and games from him.
While the men maintain their innocence, it's believed the two solicited Hatzakorzian to drive them to Florida, but then an argument broke out and when she tried to flee with the truck filled with Mackie's equipment, they killed her.
Mackie was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He has since sent Champagne, who is determined to try to find Hatzakorzian's remains, on multiple "wild goose chases" to find her body.
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