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Crime News Sins of the South

Tennessee Husband Suffocates His Wife as Affair and Financial Crimes Are Nearly Exposed

Discoveries of a sexual affair and financial fraud lead investigators to the person who cruelly strangled Tina Caronna. 

By Joe Dziemianowicz

On October 27, 2008, Tina Caronna, 44, was found dead in her Chevrolet Avalanche miles from her home in Cordova, Tennessee.

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The grim discovery came two days after she’d been reported missing by Joe Caronna, her husband of 15 years.

“She was pressed down between the backseat and the front seat,” Det. Kevin Martin, Bartlett Police Department, told Sins of the South, airing 8/7c on Oxygen.

Who was Tina Caronna?

Tina, like Joe, was an avid car collector — Hummers, Porsches, vintage Corvettes, muscle cars. On October 26, she was a no-show at a Memphis Corvette Club party.

Tina Caronna featured on Sins Of The South Episode 101

Joe reported Tina missing at 11:30 p.m. “Tina was driving an Avalanche truck, so we started investigating that,” said Det. Martin.

Det. Martin observed that Tina’s hands had been loosely bound by duct tape and there were no signs of bleeding. Tina was wearing jewelry valued at $30,000.

“If I'm a bad guy, why would I not take those rings?” Det. Martin said, adding that he considered the crime a kidnapping gone wrong. The car was thoroughly swabbed for DNA.

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On October 28, Tina's husband Joe Caronna was questioned by police. He told authorities that Tina hadn’t had any unknown phone calls or suspicious encounters prior to her murder.

Joe said he last saw her at 10 a.m. on Saturday as she was leaving to buy meat for the car party. During this time, he went to a friend’s house around noon to work on a car. Investigators confirmed that Joe’s alibi checked out.

At the same time, detectives learned that Joe and Tina had planned on buying a large new home, but the real estate venture fell through.

When asked by police why he waited so long to report Tina missing, Joe acted “really weird,” said Martin.  “He brought up, ‘Well, Tina and I always had this agreement that we would never embarrass each other. But he doesn’t give us any more information.”

A Deep Dive Into Tina and Joe Caronna’s History

Tina and Joe were both divorced when they met in 1993, CBS News reported. At the time, Joe worked at a shoe store, where Tina shopped regularly. They married within a year.

Tina’s friends and family members told police that she was a "hotshot banker," having worked her way from being a teller to vice president in charge of small business loans. 

But Tina's ambitions weren't just for herself, she wanted Joe to experience the same success, too. After tying the knot, Tina went to her father, who headed a number of insurance agencies. “She said, ‘Can you take him into your office and train him?” Clara Murphy, Tina’s mother, told Sins of the South.

That gave Joe his foot in the door to the insurance business. He eventually rented an office in Bartlett, Tennessee and launched his own investments company, according to Scott Murphy, Tina’s brother.

Joe built a successful business. Carrie Brown, Tina’s best friend, was among his clients. She said she relied on Joe to handle her life insurance and annuity.

The Caronnas used their ample income to fuel their love for gambling at southern casinos. “It was my understanding that Joe had achieved seven-star status at one of the casinos,” said Joe Underwood, former vice president of the Memphis Corvette Club.

To reach that mark, one would need to have $1 million in play, he added.

Clues About Joe Caronna Emerge

Joe and Tina Caronna featured on Sins Of The South Episode 101

After interviewing and clearing members of the Corvette Club, investigators learned that Joe stored his cars in a facility a half a block from where Tina’s body was found.

At the same time, the autopsy report determined that Tina died by asphyxiation. The time of death was likely 48 hours before the body was found, according to Martin.

The report showed bruising around her neck and lower body. Some of her fingernails were broken. It also appeared that there was a struggle and that “someone had come from behind and attacked her,” said Det. Martin.

The lack of evidence of a struggle in the car led detectives to believe she’d been killed elsewhere and dumped in the vehicle.

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Joe Caronna’s Affair Discovered

Days into the investigation, Tina’s brother informed detectives that he believed Joe “has been cheating on my sister for years,” said Det. Martin. The other woman’s name: Becky Black.

Interviewed by police, Black, who was joined by her husband for the interview, said she and Joe’s family went to the same church. She eventually admitted to an affair with Joe.

“She'd been meeting Joe secretly like two or three times a week,” said Det. Martin. “Is there a love triangle? Becky and Joe are both on the top of the list of suspects.”

Detectives determined that Tina was murdered before going shopping because she never appeared on store security footage. However, the case stalled for four months.

Then, in February 2009, Black came to police to report concerns about Joe. She told them she wanted to end their relationship, but he relentlessly persisted.

Black ultimately agreed to wear a wire to see if Joe would admit to killing his wife. The plan failed. “I wouldn’t do something like that,” Joe is heard saying in the recorded conversation.

New Tip Breaks the Case Open

Police got a big break from Carrie Brown. She’d gone to Joe to get money from her annuity to pay off a credit card. But he told her not to do that. When she insisted, he relented and sent the money through a wire transfer.

Puzzled about that, Brown consulted a friend who worked at a bank. “She said, ‘Carrie, this money came from their bank account … not from your insurance company. This is fraud,'” Brown recalled, adding that she eventually called the police.

Investigators discovered Joe was “stealing from Peter to pay Paul,” said Martin. “He was taking money from people saying he was investing it, but paying other people with money he's supposed to be investing.”

Investigators had a new angle to investigate Joe. But a search of his residence turned up no signs of murder.

Then, in a stroke of good luck, one of Joe’s neighbors came forward. He explained that he had a security camera that picked up the Caronna’s house the day Tina vanished. At the time, he told Joe about it in case it might be helpful but Joe had said to forget about it.

At this point, the footage was erased but the neighbor had watched it and noticed that the only vehicle to leave the house the day of te murder was the Avalanche. And interestingly enough, Joe returned in a Chevelle.

Detectives believed that Joe killed Tina, stashed her in the Avalanche and parked the vehicle within walking distance of where he stored his cars.

Joe Caronna Arrested and Tried

Joe Caronna featured on Sins Of The South Episode 101

Police went to arrest Joe, who’d gone on the lam. He was eventually apprehended charged with first-degree murder and fraud.

The trial began in October 2012, with prosecutors suggesting that Tina caught wind of Joe's massive fraud just before they were to close on her dream house.

“We found out that they were a couple hundred thousand dollars in debt,” said Det. Martin. “We think he must have found out.”

Prosecutors called a confidential informant to the stand — Joe’s fellow inmate. “In jail, Joe was saying he went up behind Tina with a bag and suffocated her,” said Brown.

Joe Caronna was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life, WMC-TV reported. In May 2013, he plead guilty to fraud charges in federal court, according to a US Attorney's Office release. The judge issued a sentence of 85 months.

To learn more about the case covered in the “Terror in Tennessee” episode, watch Sins of the South, airing Sunday 8/7c on Oxygen.

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