Solving the mystery behind the disappearance of Kelly Dwyer

In October 2013, after a night out on date, a young Wisconsin woman vanishes — "48 Hours" investigates the search to find her and the search for justice for her killer

The Disappearance of Kelly Dwyer

Produced by Susan Mallie and Josh Gelman  

When Kelly Dwyer didn't show up for work on Oct. 12, 2013, her co-workers were the first to respond by calling her cell phone and checking social media. Investigators would learn her phone was dead, her social media was down, and her debit card hadn't been used.

"In an age of an electronic footprint, if you will, it's not there," Assistant District Attorney Sara Hill tells "48 Hours" correspondent Peter Van Sant. "It's like she just isn't anymore."

Investigators would learn that Dwyer had been last seen alive on a date with Kris Zocco, whom she had been dating for about a year. Police initially think Zocco had something to do with Dwyer's disappearance – which he denies. But then, Zocco was arrested for drugs that police found while searching for clues to Dwyer's disappearance. Investigators also learn Zocco had a long-time girlfriend who didn't know about Dwyer and that Dwyer was dating others she had met through dating websites. Friends also told police they occasionally noticed bruising on Dwyer's wrists and neck, something they say she laughed off as a crazy night.

It's a case about a young woman with a promising future cut short. The investigation raises questions about the risks of online dating, risky sex and the hidden double lives unknown by those who loved them.

"There are some evil people out there," says Katherine Spano, who was a detective with the Milwaukee Police Department when Dwyer went missing.

Where does the twisted tale lead?

 

WITHOUT A TRACE

Like the rest of Milwaukee, Assistant District Attorney Sara Hill found Kelly Dwyer's sudden disappearance in 2013 baffling.

Sara Hill: It's like she vanishes. … Her social media goes dead … Her debit card goes dead. … The phone is dead.

The night of October 10 started out like any other for Kelly. She'd been on a date with a man named Kris Zocco.

Sara Hill: Kelly came to Kris' apartment building. … They go to get a few drinks and have a nice night out at a place called Allium … a cute little bar that was kind of across the street from the apartment building.

Chanell Royston was at the bar that night. Kelly told her what she planned to do the next day.

Chanell Royston: I remember her and I having a small conversation of "so what do you have to do tomorrow?" And she goes "I actually have off. … I want to wake up in the morning. I want to do yoga. I want to do laundry and just have an easy day."

Sara Hill: They picked up a pizza from Ian's, a little pizza place that's like a block away, brought it to the bar.

Chanell Royston: We were all sitting outside on this very long communal picnic bench. … We were all nibbling on the pizza. You know they're sharing it with us.

Kelly and Kris decide to call it a night. 

Kelly Dwyer and Kris Zocco on security camera
Kelly Dwyer and Kris Zocco are seen on security video entering the lobby of his apartment building after their night out. Milwaukee Police Department

Sara Hill: A little after two in the morning … they head back to Mr. Zocco's apartment building across the street.

Kelly and Kris had been dating for about a year after being introduced through a mutual friend. Kelly had moved to Milwaukee in 2008 and gone to college.

Sara Hill: When we're in our early 20s that's definitely a time of exploration when you're trying to find your own footing as an adult.

Kelly's journey of self-discovery had led to yoga class, and instructor Ryan Hader.

Ryan Hader: She always greeted me with a hug.  … She was always excited to see me and excited to get her butt kicked in my class. … And her energy was just infectious.

Kelly worked part-time as a nanny and as a salesperson for an athletic apparel store where her tight-knit co-workers were the first to sound the alarm when she missed a shift.

Ryan Hader: They worked together. And they played together. … It's like she found her tribe.

Peter Van Sant: When was the last time that you saw Kelly Dwyer?

Ryan Hader: It was just before her birthday … She was like, "Something big is going to happen. I can feel it. This feels really important to me."

dwyer-zocco.jpg
Kelly Dwyer and Chris Zocco Facebook/

 

Kelly had just turned 27. And her relationship with 38-year-old Kris Zocco seemed to be taking on greater meaning for her.

Sara Hill: Based on what her friends said it certainly appeared to me that she was extremely interested in him, maybe even in love with him.

Kris' mother, Joyce Frye.

Joyce Frye: He was always into sports. He always had a lot of friends. … He was a very good golfer. … My dad took him out to the driving ranges. … I think he put a golf club in Kris's hand when he was about 3.

Kris graduated from Boston University with a degree in international business, but his love of sports led him to his dream job.

Joyce Frye: He was a major Yankee fan. … And they did hire him in their IT staff. And he just thought that was — there could never be anything better.

Peter Van Sant: And where was his office.

Joyce Frye: It was at the ballpark.

Peter Van Sant: At Yankee stadium? That's where his office was? So, he was in heaven.

Joyce Frye: Yeah, he really was.

But Frye says Kris left New York in search of new opportunities, eventually landing in Milwaukee in 2009, and winding up at the relocation management company where she worked.

Joyce Frye: He was the CIO. … The chief information officer.

Det. Katherine Spano: I became involved in … Kelly Dwyer's missing person investigation.

Katherine Spano, then a detective with the Milwaukee police department, would learn about Kelly and Kris' relationship. She says Kelly's reasons for dating Kris were obvious.

Det. Katherine Spano: He was educated, he was bright, he was smart. … He had a job that paid him well. … He had a nice car, a beautiful condo down on the east side.

While some friends thought Kelly might have been in love with Kris, it seemed Zocco might not have been on the same page.

Det. Katherine Spano: Kris Zocco described his relationship with Kelly Dwyer as friends with benefits.

But it did seem Kelly was keeping her options open.

Sara Hill: Mr. Zocco didn't make promises to her that he was being exclusive with her, and she also dated some other people.

Royston recalls another time, not long before Kelly went missing.

Chanell Royston: It was a very easy night here at the bar.

Royston was out at the Allium bar when Kris and Kelly invited her back to Kris' apartment at closing time.

Chanell Royston: I went across the street with them for a nightcap … walked out to the balcony to smoke a cigarette. Kris then joined me. He was smoking marijuana. Kelly was inside. I don't know exactly what Kelly was doing.

Royston says she got a bad feeling.

Chanell Royston: I just had this urge that I needed to leave.

Though she'd just arrived, she told Kris and Kelly she'd suddenly realized how late it was and that she had to work in the morning.

Chanell Royston: I looked at Kelly. I said, "I need to leave." And she looked up and said, "Are you sure?" I said, "Yup, it's OK. It's just late — later than I thought. I need to go home." And I walked out.

Peter Van Sant: What was it? What was your sixth sense telling you?

Chanell Royston: I don't know. It just — you weren't supposed to be there — bad space, bad juju, you don't need to be here.

Royston wasn't the only one to get the sense that all might not have been right in Kelly's world. Kelly, like many women her age, had been active on several dating websites.

Chanell Royston: Even though she was seeing Kris and I'm thinking that that was the main person she was seeing, she was dating other people. There were other people and other men involved.

And her friends were concerned.

Sara Hill: She made a few statements … they were usually prompted by the friends observing bruising on her wrists or her neck and wondering why she has those bruises.

Peter Van Sant: She told one friend she kind of laughed about these bruises on her neck and wrists and laughed it off as a crazy night –

Sara Hill: Right.

Peter Van Sant: — and changed the subject.

Sara Hill: Yes.

As police faced the daunting task of finding Kelly, would her love life provide their first clue?

WHERE'S KELLY?

Det. Tammy Tramel-McClain: So, on Monday, October 14, I started my shift at 4 p.m. I learned that Kelly Dwyer, a young woman, had been reported missing and had not been seen or heard from since the previous Friday.

As Kelly Dwyer's family and friends continued to search for her, Milwaukee Police Detective Tammy Tramel-McClain arrived at the scene of Kelly's last known whereabouts three days earlier – Kris Zocco's apartment building.

Det. Tammy Tramel-McClain: They come right through this door. And he actually holds the door open for her.

Peter Van Sant: You can see that on the video.

Det. Tammy Tramel-McClain: Yes.

Sara Hill: You see two people that are chatting. … Walk past that camera, then there's another camera that catches them turning the corner to the elevator. And you can see Kelly in her typical, I think, outgoing fashion. … She's gesturing with her hands a little. … They bend the corner. And then that's the last time that she is ever seen alive by anyone.

Kelly Dwyer
Kelly Dwyer is seen for the last time rounding a corner as she heads to Kris Zocco's apartment. Milwaukee Police Department

Now it was time to talk to the other person in that video. Tramel-McClain sat down with Zocco in his 18th floor apartment.

Det. Tammy Tramel-McClain: He came off as a pretty nice guy.

Det. Tammy Tramel-McClain: He said … she would hang out with him a couple of times a week. … He used the word "party." They party together.

Somewhat shockingly, Zocco didn't hold back — telling police exactly what he meant by "party," as he described how he and Kelly had ended their evening.

Det. Tammy Tramel-McClain: They walk back. And they do … lines of cocaine. They have a couple more drinks. He says there was sex, and they both passed out on opposite ends of his couch.

Zocco said Kelly left around 9 a.m. the next morning, adding that he heard the front door click shut behind her. There was only one problem with that.

Det. Tammy Tramel-McClain: While I'm speaking with him, I get a text message from one of the other investigators who have been watching video downstairs with the manager. … And he simply just says in the text "she doesn't come out."

As Tramel-McClain focused on how Kelly could have slipped out of this high security building undetected, Zocco seemed more interested in shifting focus away from himself.

Det. Tammy Tramel-McClain: "Well, you know, she's messing around with a lot of other guys. … There's some other guy." … You know, kind of trying to take the attention away from himself.

That may have been Zocco's intention, but that's not what happened.

Peter Van Sant: In your bones, in your gut based on your instinct and your training and experience, you felt like you were looking at a suspect.

Det. Tammy Tramel-McClain: Yes.

Police needed a way to search Zocco's apartment for evidence. Because he had told Tramel-McClain he'd used drugs there, they were able to get a search warrant.

Peter Van Sant: What did you find?

Det. Tammy Tramel-McClain: Lines of cocaine on top of a magazine. … Some canisters of marijuana in the refrigerator. Painkillers, pills and marijuana pipes, smoking pipes.

Zocco was arrested for drug possession. During his interview, he seemed flip — even when asked routine questions about his medical history:

DETECTIVE: Anxiety? Nothing like that?

KRIS ZOCCO: I have anxiety when they brought me in.

DETECTIVE: OK. But no, uh?

KRIS ZOCCO: No, I'm not taking anything for it.

DETECTIVE: OK. No problem. But no bipolar? Schizophrenia?

KRIS ZOCCO: I suppose that's all open to interpretation by somebody.

Zocco's interrogation finishes abruptly:

KRIS ZOCCO: I'd like to call my lawyer.

Calm and cool or overzealous? Listen to Kris Zocco’s interrogation with detectives

But while they had Zocco in custody, police get a warrant to search his cell phone, hoping to find clues in Kelly's disappearance. They were stunned to find a video of Zocco and Kelly Dwyer engaged in a sex act where Kelly appears to be in distress.

Sara Hill: She can't breathe. She's … straining for breath.

Peter Van Sant: When was this video taken?

Sara Hill: That video was taken approximately three weeks before she went missing.

And there was more incriminating evidence: disturbing pictures of Kelly on Zocco's phone.  

Sara Hill: Still photographs that are very concerning as well because she appears to be unconscious on his bed.

zocco-drug-arrest.jpg
Kris Zocco was arrested for drug possession on October 17, 2013. Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office

But police could not link those images to Kelly's disappearance. And despite Zocco being a person of interest, they could only charge him with drug possession. But that search of his apartment led police to a bizarre discovery in his bathroom.

Sara Hill: During that first search warrant the police observe the shower curtain hooks with the torn fragments of shower curtain.

Not knowing what a torn-down shower curtain could mean, and concerned that Kelly is never seen exiting the building —

Sara Hill: They then bring in a canine to conduct a sniff for the odor of decomposing human remains.

And that police cadaver dog, Molly, would deliver some stunning results.

Sara Hill: There's an indication at the outside of the apartment door. … In the parking garage on the level he parked his car. … On the dumpster door on the 18th floor.

Det. Tammy Tramel-McClain: Molly alerted on the hallway, guest bedroom, guest bathroom. …  She went on to the master bedroom, got up on to Kris Zocco's bed.

Sara Hill: She seemed to be sniffing vigorously on top of his bed and gives her final formal trained alert.

For police, that moment changed this case forever. They now believed Kelly was dead and her final moments had been in Kris Zocco's apartment.

Peter Van Sant: And if Kelly died on that bed … where did the body go?

Det. Tammy Tramel-McClain: That's what we needed to find out. And Kris Zocco had those answers. And at that point, it was turning into a homicide investigation.

Not having enough to charge Zocco, and not knowing where Kelly's body could be, police search Zocco's home electronics for more clues.

Sara Hill: They examined an external hard drive and some disks that were found in his spare bedroom.

Peter Van Sant: What's on that hard drive?

Sara Hill: That hard drive has a number of hardcore child pornography videos. Very extremely, extremely disturbing.

Zocco disavowed any knowledge of the child pornography police found.

Joyce Frye | Kris Zocco's mother: If you're an IT guy, you collect stuff. So, you collect old hard drives. You collect disks. You collect, you know, you just collect IT equipment. And that particular hard drive was from his former place of work in Boston. … He didn't know it was there.

Peter Van Sant: And you believe him?

Joyce Frye: I do believe him. Yeah.

It had been two weeks since Kelly disappeared. Zocco was arrested again, this time for possession of child pornography. By early November 2013, he was out on bail and awaiting trial on the drug and child porn charges.

DETECTIVE: Girlfriend?

KRIS ZOCCO: Uh, no. I mean, I date multiple people.

But before Zocco had lawyered up in that first interrogation, it would turn out he'd said something that would come back to haunt him:

DETECTIVE: OK, so nobody you consider your girlfriend right now?

KRIS ZOCCO: No. There is a couple of girls that I would like to be my girlfriend, but it hasn't been that seriously [sic] yet, I guess [laughs].

Det. Katherine Spano: He began dating a young woman in 2009.

Det. Tammy Tramel-McClain: He was living two different lives.

THE OTHER WOMAN

According to Chanell Royston, before Kelly Dwyer disappeared, it seemed her relationship with Kris Zocco was evolving.

Chanell Royston: Towards the end … there was more touching. … and more of the smiling towards each other. There was more affection there than there had been towards the beginning.

Peter Van Sant: Did Kelly ever tell you that she was falling in love with Chris?

Chanell Royston: She never told me. But you could tell, you know … how she would look at him that she was looking for something more. And I think … that she did love him at that point.

It turns out Zocco may have been in love as well — with someone else.

Sara Hill: He was in a very serious relationship with a woman … who he was dating at the time that he was seeing Kelly. And this young woman knew nothing about the relationship with Kelly.

Peter Van Sant: And did Kelly have any idea about this other woman?

Sara Hill | Assistant District Attorney: Absolutely not.

And neither did investigators until this "other" woman's brother, after seeing Zocco arrested on the news, reported to police that his sister, Meagan, had been dating Zocco for more than three years.  

Det. Katherine Spano: When I went to interview the long-term girlfriend, Meagan … I had a lot of photographs from the search warrants with me. And I was able to … have her identify different objects within the apartment.

Sara Hill: They learned that a number of things were missing … She described that that guest bathroom … there should have been a shower curtain. There should have been a little rug and some matching decorative towels.

Det. Katherine Spano: All of those things were gone, and she was surprised to see that. She identified the shower curtain hooks … that were bent and torn, identified the fact that they were not like that when she had last been in there.

Peter Van Sant: And it's in that very bathroom where the sniffer dog had alerted — detecting human remains.

Det. Katherine Spano: Exactly. Exactly.

Meagan also identified one more missing item.

Det. Katherine Spano: There had been a large travel golf bag lying in front of the TV that had been there for weeks and weeks, that they literally would have to step over to get into the bathroom and that was missing.

A travel golf bag is commonly used by golfers to protect their clubs.

Peter Van Sant: It's all padded ... very large.

Det. Katherine Spano: Very large. … It was padded. It was silver. And she thought it was maybe two, two-and-a-half feet wide.

Detectives wondered if Zocco had a more sinister use for the bag.

Peter Van Sant: Could Kelly's body have fit inside that travel bag?

Det. Katherine Spano: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely.

But how did Zocco get that bag out of his apartment? There is no video of Zocco leaving on any of the 28 surveillance cameras in the building.

Sara Hill: There is no camera on the elevator. … So, he could take her body in the travel golf bag out of his apartment, into the elevator, down to the first floor and out to the garage without being captured on any cameras.

But there are cameras inside the garage and yet no image of Zocco with that bag.

Sara Hill: The garage is the only area where the cameras would be motion activated. … Some of the investigators think he just got lucky with it.

It took months of painstaking work for Milwaukee Police Department investigators to piece together Kris Zocco's movements on the days after his date with Kelly Dwyer. Lt. Erik Gulbrandson worked the case as both a homicide and cold case detective.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 11 | 10:06 A.M.

Det. Erik Gulbrandson: At 10:06 a.m. …  we have Kris Zocco standing by the driver's side door. … When he leaves that building at 10:08 a.m., Kelly Dwyer's phone — it goes dead.

Peter Van Sant: What do you think happened to the phone at that moment?

Det. Erik Gulbrandson: Broken, powered down, thrown in the water.

Det. Katherine Spano: The river is very close by.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 11 | 10:22 A.M.

Zocco is next seen back in his garage 16 minutes later standing by the trunk of his car.

Det. Erik Gulbrandson: If you look closely in that image … there's … a gray or silver object lying in the vehicle above the trunk level. … I think that's consistent with the travel golf bag.

Kris Zocco surveillance
Surveillance video shows Kris Zocco at the trunk of his car.  Detectives say  a gray or silver object lying in the vehicle above the trunk level "is consistent with the travel golf bag." Milwaukee Police Department

Peter Van Sant: So, you believe Kelly Dwyer is in the trunk of his vehicle?

Det. Erik Gulbrandson:  I do.

Investigators believe that because the cadaver dog, Molly, told them so.

Det. Katherine Spano: The cadaver dog not only hits on all of those things in the apartment, but … the dog hits on the car also and the trunk and on the door handle … and inside the vehicle.

Over the next eight hours, video shows Zocco coming and going several more times, loading items into his car before finally leaving for the day at 6:16 p.m. 

Det. Tammy Tramel-McClain: He said … he decided to take … his summer sports equipment to his mother's house.

Peter Van Sant: On a Friday night around 6:30.

Det. Tammy Tramel-McClain: Sure. Yes.

Joyce Frye | Kris Zocco's mother: He came over to drop off some golf clubs and his baseball equipment.

Peter Van Sant: And, so, there's nothing in your mind unusual when he showed up with this sporting equipment at your place?

Joyce Frye: Not at all.

Peter Van Sant: There's a golf bag that investigators say went missing, a bag that they claim … Kelly Dwyer's body was in. Did you ever see this golf bag?

Joyce Frye: Never.

It's 7:30 p.m. on Friday, October 11 and Zocco is now due at his girlfriend's house for a Friday night dinner, but investigators learn he didn't arrive until about 8:45 p.m.

Sara Hill: There's time that's unaccounted for. … We believe he was possibly looking for areas to dispose of the body during that time.

Unfortunately, detectives weren't able to trace Zocco's movements from his phone records.

Peter Van Sant: Was his cell phone on or off?

Sara Hill: It was off.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 11 | 8:45 P.M.

When Zocco did finally arrive for dinner, his girlfriend told investigators he wasn't quite himself.

Sara Hill: He was quite late. And he seemed a little bit ruffled, a little bit nervous. He's fiddling with his phone, claiming it doesn't work.

Det. Erik Gulbrandson: When they went to bed, she described him as being restless. She described him as sweating profusely, to the point where she actually had to change the sheets. … She found that very unusual.

And Zocco may have had a very good reason to sweat that night.

Sara Hill: His car is parked near his girlfriend's house overnight. We believe that body is absolutely in that trunk locked inside that golf bag. 

Det. Katherine Spano: He could not have left that body in his apartment because that's the first place everybody went to look for Kelly.

The following morning, investigators say, Zocco rose with the sun — still faced with a nightmare.   

Det. Katherine Spano: He was desperate. By Saturday he had to get that body out of that vehicle.

CREATING AN ALIBI

One day after Kelly Dwyer disappeared, Kris Zocco left his girlfriend's apartment and hit the road. Where he went that morning would be the first in a series of clues as to what may have happened to Kelly Dwyer. 

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12 | 7:30 A.M.

Det. Erik Gulbrandson: Kris Zocco had gone to a place called the Mousehouse.

Peter Van Sant: What's the Mousehouse?

Det. Erik Gulbrandson: It's a cheese place.

The Mousehouse is 80 miles from Milwaukee, near Madison, Wisconsin — one cheese shop in a state full of cheese shops.

Peter Van Sant: Why would he drive up toward Madison to buy cheese?

Sara Hill: It's a very good question. A very good question.

mousehouse.jpg
Investigators caught a break when they learned Kris Zocco took a 160-mile roundtrip the day after Kelly Dwyer's disappearance to go to the Mousehouse, near Madison, Wisconsin.  CBS News

Zocco says he drove 160 miles roundtrip to buy a half pound wedge of cheese for his girlfriend's parents. But the investigators say that he did it to finally dispose of Kelly's body somewhere in the rural Wisconsin farmland between Madison and Milwaukee.

Peter Van Sant: In case he was spotted, do you believe Zocco … actually went to the Mousehouse to create an alibi of sorts?

Det. Katherine Spano: I do. I certainly do.

Police believe that after dumping Kelly's body, Zocco made his way to a shopping center on his drive to Milwaukee. Investigators say that he walked into a "Sports Authority" and used his credit card to buy a brand-new pair of sneakers.

Peter Van Sant:  Why is he buying new sneakers?

Sara Hill: He might have purchased those sneakers to replace ones that he used in — in dumping the body … like he might have been concerned that evidence got on those sneakers, so he had to have new ones to put on.

Sara Hill: Here's the slip up. I don't know if maybe he just had a momentary lapse of judgment … but that created a paper trail for him.

That paper trail was a single credit card receipt, which gave detectives a critical piece of the timeline. 

Det. Erik Gulbrandson: We know, through the investigation, that he purchased the cheese at 9:55 a.m. and we know that he purchased the shoes at 12:11 p.m. The distance between the Mousehouse and Sports Authority … is 54 miles. And it should take 47 minutes to get there, but yet we have 90 minutes unaccounted for at that time.

Ninety minutes — certainly enough time, detectives believed, for Zocco to locate a secluded spot off the highway. But for them to find that spot would be like finding a needle in a haystack. And without Kelly's body, there was no physical evidence of a crime to charge Zocco with — only circumstance and suspicion. 

Peter Van Sant: Did you want to take it to trial then?

Sara Hill: It was tough.

Peter Van Sant: What was missing?

Sara Hill: What was missing was her body.

Eventually, Kris Zocco did go on trial, in November 2014 — not for murder, but for the child pornography possession uncovered with the initial investigation search warrants. 

Peter Van Sant: What's the result of that trial?

Sara Hill: He's convicted of all but one count.

One month later, Zocco pleaded guilty to additional drug charges and was sentenced to a total of 19 years.      

Peter Van Sant: So, are you done with Kris Zocco? Is that it? … Or is the … potential murder investigation still hanging over his head?

Sara Hill: It's still there.

Det. Katherine Spano: We still wanted to be able to find out what actually happened with Kelly.

MAY 1, 2015 | LOCAL NEWS REPORT: Breaking news tonight. Authorities have just identified the remains of 27-year-old Kelly Dwyer.

Peter Van Sant [standing in field]: Detective, where are we?

Det. Katherine Spano: We are on a dead-end country road and we are … about 45 miles west of Milwaukee. … And it's quite overgrown here, but this is the specific area where Kelly Dwyer's body was found.

Detective: Killer picked the “perfect spot” to get rid of Milwaukee woman’s body

For a year-and-a-half, Kelly Dwyer had been hidden under trees just six miles from busy I-94 before her remains were discovered by local man out for a walk.

Sara Hill: He catches a glint of light hitting off of something that's whitish in color. … And when he takes a closer look, he sees what appears to be a human skull. 

Six days later, using dental records, those remains were confirmed to be Kelly Dwyer. What could not be confirmed, though, was just how she died.

Sara Hill: There was nothing on that skeleton to tell us what the cause of death was.

There was no physical evidence found at the scene, either.

Det. Katherine Spano [standing in field]: No shower curtain. No cloth. No towel. No clothing.

And no travel golf bag. But detectives say there was one clue left behind: the position of Kelly's skeleton. 

Det. Katherine Spano [standing in field]: Her feet and legs were more over in this area with one of her legs completely turned … very contorted. Same thing with her left arm, it was behind her back as if she had been scrunched into some kind of a container.

Peter Van Sant: Like a golf travel bag.

Det. Katherine Spano: Like a golf travel bag. Exactly. Exactly.

It would appear that police now had enough evidence to bring Kris Zocco back to court for the death of Kelly Dwyer.

Sara Hill: It is just too much of a coincidence that her body is found somewhat near … where he was shopping on the day after she goes missing.

But Assistant District Attorney Hill wanted more than coincidence to build an airtight case.

Sara Hill: We wanted to make sure … that we had uncovered all of the evidence we would be able to uncover. … When you have a case that's going to be largely circumstantial, it's absolutely essential you do that.

And with Kris Zocco already in prison, there was no rush. It took another two years of investigative work before the state of Wisconsin charged Zocco in the death of Kelly Dwyer — and another year-and-a-half to bring the case to trial.

SEEKING JUSTICE FOR KELLY

Almost five years after Kelly Dwyer went missing, Kris Zocco goes on trial for her death. But surprising to some, it's not for murder.

Det. Erik Gulbrandson: Kris Zocco was charged with first-degree reckless homicide, hiding a corpse and strangulation, suffocation.

With the media restricted behind courtroom security glass, prosecutor Sara Hill presents the state's theory of how they believe Kelly died.  

SARA HILL | ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY [opening statement]: Good morning ladies and gentlemen. This case is about a young woman named Kelly Dwyer.  … You will hear evidence that the defendant Mr. Zocco … was basically having sex with Kelly Dwyer and … he winds up killing her.

Det. Katherine Spano: I think Kris Zocco enjoyed taking women to the brink of death for his own sexual gratification.

In fact, investigators interviewed several women who said that Zocco engaged in this type of behavior as far back as high school.

Sara Hill: It was that reckless conduct that wound up killing Kelly Dwyer. And then // Mr. Zocco had to do something about it.

Det. Erik Gulbrandson: Kris … uses that shower curtain and wraps her up … puts her into the golf bag and goes down to his parking garage.

Craig Mastantuono: The police have no evidence to believe that Ms. Dwyer exited the apartment in either a shower curtain or a golf travel bag.

Kris Zocco's defense attorneys Craig Mastantuono and Rebecca Coffee say the state has it all wrong.

Craig Mastantuono: Someone did kill Kelly Dwyer, but it wasn't Kris Zocco.

REBECCA COFFEE | DEFENSE ATTORNEY [Opening statement]: This case is more about the State wanting Mr. Zocco to be guilty than having the evidence to prove it.

Peter Van Sant: Is there any eyewitness to this alleged crime?

Rebecca Coffee | Defense attorney: There was no eyewitness. No.

Peter Van Sant: Is there a CSI moment, some definitive piece of DNA?

Rebecca Coffee: There was no DNA evidence.

Kelly Dwyer
Almost five years after Kelly Dwyer went missing, Kris Zocco goes on trial for her death, charged with first-degree reckless homicide, hiding a corpse and strangulation, suffocation. Facebook

The prosecution contends that while the security camera video clearly shows Kelly walking into Zocco's building, she is never seen walking out.

Craig Mastantuono | Defense attorney: She very well could have left the building in a way that wasn't reviewed.

The defense argues there is video from several cameras they never had a chance to examine, because it was not preserved as evidence.  

Craig Mastantuono: When the defense went to review all of the video evidence … that video was missing.

And what about that missing travel golf bag police insists is in the back of Zocco's car?

Rebecca Coffee: We've looked at that picture. There is no silver bag in his trunk.  … There is no video of him … carrying a bag that would have been a very large bag to fit a woman who is 5-foot-7. … There was no video of that because that didn't happen.

Peter Van Sant: The cadaver dog evidence seems significant.

SARA HILL [Opening statement]: Canine Molly alerts on the bed in the master bedroom and she also alerts in the garage.

Craig Mastantuono: There's no way whatsoever to verify what the officer says this dog alerted to. It wasn't even filmed. And, so, it's entirely dependent on a police officer describing what she believes her dog was alerting to.

And the defense also has an explanation for that video from Zocco's phone, where Kelly appears to be in distress:

REBECCA COFFEE [Opening statement]: The government found a video that Kelly Dwyer and Kris Zocco made together. … They are calling it strangulation or suffocation. A consensual sexual act is what it depicts.

Craig Mastantuono: That type of sex is depicted in mainstream motion pictures like "50 Shades of Gray" as being engaged in with two consensual adults.

Peter Van Sant: If Kris Zocco did not kill Kelly Dwyer, who did?

Craig Mastantuono: I don't know. I don't think that we know. I think that we know that it could have been a number of other people.

The defense says that's because Kelly dated men she had met online.

Peter Van Sant: And is this suggestion … that perhaps … she met up with one of these individuals … and that that could be the cause of her disappearance?

Craig Mastantuono: Yes. 

Rebecca Coffee: Yes.

Craig Mastantuono: Yes. 

To support that theory, the defense presented a witness who says that he saw Kelly after she was reported missing.

Craig Mastantuono: Someone who credibly said I saw her that weekend in the car of another individual.

Sara Hill: His observation of this individual was very brief at a stoplight.

FORTHUNE HASAN | WITNESS [testifying]: I was sure it was her. It looked exactly like her.

Craig Mastantuono: He went to the district station and said, I saw the woman that is being looked for, that's on the posters, that's on TV.

REBECCA COFFEE: Did anyone ever follow up with you about that information?

FORTHUNE HASAN: No.

Peter Van Sant: You think he's just mistaken?

Sara Hill: I think he's mistaken. I don't think he was is trying to mislead anybody. I just truly believe he's mistaken.

After nine days of argument and testimony, the case seemed to rest on one thing: the quality of the evidence:

SARA HILL [Closing statement]: Ladies and gentlemen, the defendant killed Kelly Dwyer. Every piece of circumstantial evidence supports that.

CRAIG MASTANTUANO | DEFENSE ATTORNEY [Closing statement]: Despite the tragedy of Ms. Dwyer's demise, it's not justice to find Kris Zocco guilty based on conjecture. It's justice to find him not guilty.

Sara Hill: All of the factors pointed to him. … There's no other person that could have done it.

It took the jury only three-and-a-half hours to reach the same conclusion:

JUDGE: We the jury find the defendant Kris Zocco guilty of first-degree reckless homicide as charged in count one …

Finally, after five years of waiting and wondering, there is justice for Kelly Dwyer. As for Kris Zocco …

zocco-court.jpg
Kris Zocco is escorted from court followng his guilty verdict. Pool

Joyce Frye: He did look at me when he was being removed.

Peter Van Sant: What did you see?

Joyce Frye: He was devastated.

Peter Van Sant: And what was Kris' sentence?

Joyce Frye [crying]: Thirty-one years.

Peter Van Sant: Is that on top of the 19 years?

Joyce Frye: Yes.

Sara Hill: Kris Zocco is a person who's demonstrated that he poses a danger to society … particularly to women.  … And someone is dead as a result.

Meet the women who solved Kelly Dwyer’s case

That someone was a vibrant and trusting young woman just beginning to find her way in the world.

Chanell Royston: She was a loving person who … truly cared about people and loved so much that she didn't really find much fault in anyone.

Sara Hill: There's this sense of profound loss, loss for her family … Her friends, you see a loss of a light … because of one person's selfishness … And that's a tragedy — tragedy is the best word for it.

Kris Zocco will be eligible for release in 2065. He will be 90 years old.

Zocco plans to appeal his homicide conviction.

  • Peter Van Sant
    Peter Van Sant

    Correspondent, "48 Hours"