48 Hours Mystery: Thou Shalt Not Kill

When a Mother is Murdered, a Mysterious Woman Holds All the Answers

"When the children woke up the next morning, they just sat up and they looked at me," said their grandmother, Betty Baquer. "They must be saying to themselves, 'Where's my mother?'"

Lex and Betty Baquer had to tell their grandchildren what happened: their mother had just been murdered and their father was the prime suspect.

"So I sat them down on the bed - all three of them. I said, 'Mommy's no longer with us,'" Betty continued. "Bradley said to me, 'Where is she?' I said, 'Baby, she died last night.'"

"I just remember crying for hours," Bradley said. "'Why did this happen to me? Why is this happening to my mother?'"

"It was terrible," Betty said. "I mean, you know, hysterically crying, trying to calm them down. They were crying. I was crying. [Lex] walks in the room he starts crying."

"For like five years after it happened, I thought every day I was going to wake up and it was going to be a dream," said Bradley.

"I cried for weeks and weeks afterwards," said Daniel.

Betty said Amber, the youngest, was most affected.

"Every night going to bed she would cry for her mother," she explained. "Hysterically crying, 'Grandpa, please.' Tugging on his shirt. 'Please. Please open the box. I want to see my mommy. I promise you one more time. Just this one time, then I'll let you put the nail in.' She put that little finger up. She wanted to see her mother."

"I kept saying, 'Where's my mom? When is she coming back?'" Amber said, "People would have to just look at me brokenheartedly and tell me, you know, 'She's not. She's not coming back. She's gone forever.'"

Betty and Lex were in mourning themselves for the death of their daughter. On top of that, Bob Fratta had been released by the police and was now trying to get custody of the children.

"You're fighting for custody of your grandchildren with the man who you believe at the bottom of your soul, killed your daughter," said Schlesinger.

"It was a very difficult situation, but you don't think at that time," Lex said. "All you want to do is save these innocent children and you cannot let these children go."

While Fratta was making his case for custody, detectives were building their case against him.

"We're just following him. We find out where he goes. Anywhere he visits we're going to visit. We know he likes to go to the gym," said Det. Larry Davis.

And it was at the gym that Davis heard about some interesting conversations Fratta had been having about his wife.

"He said, 'I'm gonna find a way to knock her off,'" said Mike Edens, who worked out with Fratta. "And I said, 'Knock her off?' And he goes, 'Yeah.'"

Edens said Bob casually asked him if he knew someone who would kill her.

"'What about some of these people you work with? You think they might be interested?' 'I don't know,'" Edens said.

He never thought Fratta was serious; just frustrated by the divorce.

But Fratta sure did like talking about killing his wife.

Jimmy Podhorsky also worked out at the gym. "He asked me if I knew of anybody. It seemed to be pretty much what he wanted to talk about… to me and everybody else."

According to Prosecutor Kelly Siegler, "15, 17 different guys" all said pretty much the same thing as Edens and Podhorsky.

"What do all these guys prove?" asked Schlesinger.

"They prove motive," replied Siegler.

Apparently, Bob Fratta had put some thought into how to have his wife murdered.

"He had a list of her daily activities," Podhorsky said. "He was gonna solicit a gang member."

"He said, 'I'll get a gun,'" said Edens.

But none of Fratta's gym buddies thought of calling the police. Podhorsky said, "He's going to come to his senses. He's just blowing off steam."

"There wasn't a lot of money up front. Maybe a thousand dollars, $2,000," said Podhorsky.

"It didn't raise any red flags, though?" asked Schlesinger.

"If it was anybody else, probably so," Podhorsky replied. "But just knowing Bob, he was so likeable and he was very kind. You didn't take him seriously."

Prosecutor Kelly Siegler disagreed. "Oh, he was serious. Deadly."

If Fratta was serious, his efforts to cover his tracks were a joke. Police got a big break when they went to St. Mary's, the church where Fratta was with his kids at the time of the murder. Trouble is, while he spent some time in the pews, he spent a lot of time on the phone.

"A lot of the ladies at the church recalled Bob being on and off the phone," said Siegler.

The church ladies weren't the only ones who remembered Bob making calls that evening. Bradley, who was 7 at the time, remembered his father being on the phone, too.

Fratta's beeper kept going off and he used the church phone to return the calls. The police were certain he was calling the killer. But when they traced the calls, they were led to a woman they had never heard of before: Mary Gipp.

"We tried to talk to her," Davis said. "She didn't tell us a whole lot."

"I didn't give them any information that they wanted," Gipp told Schlesinger.

"Perhaps I wasn't cooperative."

"She was a witch. She was a smart aleck. She was a bitch," said Siegler.

Investigators were sure Gipp was hiding something big.

"In my mind she was the key to this case," said Davis. That was especially the case after investigators learned about Gipp's live-in boyfriend. Joseph Prystash, an ex-con, liked to work out with Bob Fratta.

But Mary Gipp had no intention of revealing anything.

"I don't know why I did what I did," said Gipp.