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'I'll Never Forgive Him': Husband Caught For Killing Wife Thanks To Suitcase Filled With Recordings
Lawrence Gaudenzi took his daughter and fled after failing to show up for a polygraph test about his wife's disappearance.
Lisa Marto was a determined woman who took care of her daughter, Lea, a child living with cystic fibrosis. When her first marriage with her child’s father failed, the New Jersey-born woman moved to Richmond, Virginia, where she attended Virginia Commonwealth University and enrolled in pre-law studies. There, she put herself on the track to becoming a lawyer.
Lisa then met tow truck driver Lawrence Gaudenzi while working at an auto body shop.
“Lawrence absolutely charmed Lisa,” Lisa’s friend Rachel Fitzpatrick told “Killer Relationship With Faith Jenkins,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen. “He also had a little bit of bad boy, but saying all the right things about family values and raising children and his faith in his church that she wanted to hear.”
By 1992, Lisa and Lawrence seemed to be the perfect couple, with Lawrence volunteering to help Lisa raise her medically compromised daughter. In November 1993, the pair welcomed their daughter, Shelby, into the world.
They married and moved their growing family to rural Virginia six months later. But tension simmered when Lawrence struggled to find work in the new town.
“Lawrence’s ability to provide was questionable,” said Fitzpatrick. “He was not constantly maintaining a full-time job.” Money troubles were at the center of Lisa and Lawrence’s arguments, which soon became physical.
As a last-ditch effort to save the marriage and provide for the family, Lisa enlisted in the US Army. The military would even pay for her schooling as she set her sights on one day becoming a military judge. But instead of being grateful for Lisa’s sacrifice, the then-stay-at-home-father grew resentful.
“Lawrence did not like Lisa being in the military because Lisa was not accessible,” Fitzpatrick continued. “He could not call Lisa whenever he so chose. And he tried.”
Friends said Lawrence would show up and try to derail Lisa’s progression through basic training. Despite his efforts, she graduated in January 1995. She was expected to show up for officer training one week later but never arrived. When military police informed Lawrence, he went to the Caroline County Sheriff’s Office and reported his wife missing, adding that Lisa was having an affair with another man.
“Lawrence said she met this guy at boot camp, and she ran off with him,” said Lisa’s stepmother, Nancy Marto.
“To me, it was farfetched to even think she was running away,” said Lisa’s daughter, Lea Burdette.
Authorities investigated the Cuba theory, as well as Lawrence’s claims that Lisa had run away from her first husband. But authorities could not locate Lisa’s former husband, Jim Burdette.
Months went by with no answers. Finally, two years later, Lawrence was asked to show up for a polygraph test thanks to persistence from Lisa’s family.
With Lisa’s daughter, Lea, living with relatives, Lawrence took 3-year-old Shelby and vanished. After Lawrence’s escape, the case was turned over to state police, who investigated Lisa’s disappearance as a homicide. Authorities interviewed new witnesses, including one of Lisa’s friends.
“[Lisa] told a friend, ‘I’m going to divorce him,’” said retired Senior Special Agent Doc Lyons of the Virginia State Police. “Lisa looked up, and Lawrence was standing at the screen door. And after she saw that he had overheard her conversation, that was the last time that she was seen by anyone.”
But Lawrence's whereabouts remained unknown for the next five years. Lisa’s family used all their resources to find their daughter and granddaughter. In 2002, they turned to a news station for help. When the media outlet displayed Lawrence’s photo on the news, a tipster called in with information, claiming they’d spotted Lawrence near Harrisonburg, Virginia.
A state police agent believed he’d located Lawrence and Shelby, though the suspect claimed his name was Randy, and his daughter’s name was Logan.
“But fortunately, he had gotten a pretty unique tattoo on his chest,” said Lyons.
Authorities then had their suspect, who’d taken the identity of a missing homeless man. Although there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest Lawrence Gaudenzi for his wife’s disappearance, he was arrested on fraud charges.
Investigators learned Lawrence remarried a woman who helped raise Shelby.
“So I found out that my dad was not who he said he was,” said Shelby. “And I find out that I am not who I thought I was.”
While Lawrence Gaudenzi served time for fraud, investigators discovered their suspect met up with Jim Burdette, Lisa’s first husband, just days after Lisa’s disappearance.
Authorities headed to Florida. By happenstance, they found Burdette, who was then homeless and blind, walking along a dirt road. Jim Burdette had a suitcase with him, one he’d carried with him over many years. Inside the case was a corsage from his and Lisa’s wedding.
Burdette told officers that Lawrence had asked him to visit Virginia to help him move something. Burdette, visually impaired, relied on tape recorders to help his memory. In 1995, he’d recorded conversations between him and Lawrence, believing the second husband’s actions were off for a man who should have been grieving his wife.
“So in that briefcase he’d been carrying for years and years were these recordings,” said retired Special Agent TC Collins of the Virginia State Police. “Of course, that was of extreme importance to us.”
On one of the 1995 tapes, investigators heard Lawrence ask Burdette to help him bury a dog. Burdette accompanied Lawrence for a drive to bury a duffle bag. However, due to Burdette’s eyesight, authorities could not narrow in on a location.
Soon, Lawrence was released from jail following his sentence for fraud.
Agents turned their focus back to past witnesses. This time, they revisited a former babysitter, who was a teenager when Lisa disappeared.
“One thing she was concerned about was Lawrence coming to get her,” said Collins. “I can’t even describe to you how scared she was of this man.”
The babysitter, who lived in the couple’s basement apartment back in 1995, described that she saw Lawrence walking away from home following a domestic argument. When Lawrence returned about 20 minutes later, he ordered the teen to clean the house but warned her not to go into the bathroom.
“This girl was 14 or 15 years old,” said Agent Lyons. “So, what do you think she does?”
The teen picked the lock to the bathroom door and found the floor covered in blood.
In 2008, more than 13 years after Lisa Gaudenzi’s disappearance, Lawrence was charged with her murder. He accepted a plea in exchange for information about his former wife’s death.
“He admitted to wrapping her body in a sleeping bag, putting her in a metal drum, and covering her with muriatic acid to get rid of the body,” said Lyons.
Lawrence withheld a motive and her cause of death, and told the judge he could not remember where he put her body.
He was sentenced to 25 years behind bars.
“He took a mother away from their children, took a daughter away from her father, and mother, and stepmother,” said Lisa’s stepmother, who cried during her interview. “I’ll never forgive him.”
However, one year into his sentence, Lawrence reached out to agents, seeking to have his sentence reduced if he could lead them to Lisa’s remains. Lawrence met with investigators the next day and led them to a rural area where they found three buried drums filled with muriatic acid, as Lawrence claimed he’d placed near a tree line.
During a massive search of the surrounding area, Agent Collins found a red thread. The thread belonged to a sleeping bag that held the remains of Lisa Gaudenzi.
Lisa was afforded a military funeral on the east coast of Florida. Her headstone displays her maiden name, Lisa Marto.