Produced by Alec Sirken, Ryan Smith and Michelle Feuer
To say Steven Schwartz’s life was extraordinary, as his son, Carter, does, is an understatement.
“Dad was always a role model to me … and what I’ve always told everyone, ‘If I could be half the physician he was, that would be a successful life,” Carter Schwartz told “48 Hours” correspondent Peter Van Sant.
The third-year medical student is following in his father’s footsteps.
“Everyone seems to universally hold such a high respect for him,” said Carter.
“He was beloved in many ways, was he not?” Van Sant asked.
“I would say that’s a very accurate statement,” Carter replied.
“Patients, colleagues -- a great career,” Van Sant noted.
“Absolutely,” said Carter.
Doctor Schwartz had a thriving practice as a kidney specialist in Tampa, Florida.
His friend and medical partner, Dr. Robert Patton, admired him greatly.
“Steve was your classic gentle giant … a guy who had the heart of a bear,” Dr. Patton said. “He was dedicated to medicine like no physician I’ve ever known. He was just a wonderful guy who would do anything for anyone.”
And Dr. Schwartz had become very wealthy —worth somewhere between $20 and 30 million. Besides his medical practice, he owned a vast array of rental properties and lived in an expensive waterfront home with his second wife, Becky. She managed both his medical office and investments.
“If I had to describe her, very energetic, southern charm, hospitality, ‘Come in. Welcome.’ You know, everything was just over the top with her,” said April Cox.
But her one-time friends, April Cox and Patrick Olive, who helped her manage the Schwartz properties, say Becky could also be a tough cookie. She fired them shortly after the murder.
“And if you cross her … then, you know, you’re basically gone,” Patrick Olive said. “I mean, you’re just outta the picture.”
Becky and Dr. Schwartz had met in the late 1990s through a dating service, and were a committed couple. She even changed her name to Schwartz -- though they didn’t actually marry until 2012. Becky had two sons from her previous marriages, including Ben.
“Did you get along with her children?” Van Sant asked Carter Schwartz.
“Early on, I didn’t like dislike ‘em, but that faded pretty quickly,” he replied.
Schwartz had Carter and two other children from his previous relationships.
“We sort of learned to coexist,” said Carter.
But with a blended family came problems. Becky’s son, Ben, had ongoing drug issues, according to Carter.
“…he was found many times -- on death’s door nearly overdosed and she disowned him,” Carter explained. “Basically, ‘if you get better, call me. If not, here’s a few bucks a month for your phone bill.’”
In 2011, Ben was arrested and convicted of stealing jewelry from the Schwartz home. Carter says he often needed money.
“And he said, ‘Let me borrow $300 outta your paycheck.’ You know, ‘I gotta pay this guy. I’m really short and -- and don’t tell my mom. That’s what brothers do.’”
Carter also struggled with Becky. He says his relationship with her was “always uneasy.”
Becky lavished luxury on herself and her own sons -- paying for their weddings. Carter says she bought them houses, cars, clothing, and jewelry for herself. Her son, Eric, even got a Verizon store to run in Wisconsin.
“Would you look out and see, ‘All this money is going to Rebecca and her children. And me and my siblings are kind being left out here.’” Van Sant asked Carter.
“I think you’d have to be willfully ignorant not to see it,” he replied.
Carter always believed the main reason Becky was with his father was because she wanted to spend his money.
“It became very apparent early on, her motive was financial. Even as a young child, I could see she wasn’t there because she loved him,” he said.
But all that family turmoil was hidden, and to most who knew him, Dr. Schwartz seemed to have a beautiful life until the evening of May 28, 2014, when Becky Schwartz came home and discovered her home in disarray.
She ran outside and called 911:
911 Operator: Tarpon Springs Police may I help you?
Rebecca Schwartz: Hi, somebody – I just walked in to my house and somebody robbed my house.
Rebecca Schwartz: I walked in the bedroom, into the closet and all the drawers were opened. And I was, like, what?
Police arrived and quickly entered the home looking for a possible intruder. Instead, they found Dr. Schwartz in a pool of blood. He had been strangled, shot and stabbed.
“One of, if not the worst moment of my life,” said Carter.
Carter Schwartz was on the way home after travelling in Japan when he got word of his father’s murder.
“What do you do, stuck in an airport?” Van Sant asked.
“It was feeling numb when people describe it. I think now I can relate to what they mean by that -- just a feeling of helplessness,” Carter replied.
By the time he landed back in the States, Carter called his uncle -- certain he knew who killed his father, because it struck him that to Becky, Dr. Schwartz was worth more dead than alive.
“And the first words outta my mouth on that phone call were: ‘It’s Becky, Ben or a combination thereof. I don’t know how, but I know one of the two of them or both are involved,’” Carter told Van Sant.
Asked if he was interviewed by police, Carter told Van Sant he was. “I said to them, ‘Please, do not overlook anyone in this family just because they’re related.”
Police looked at Dr. Schwartz’s inner circle.
They interviewed Becky and Ben. But they then began to focus on the Schwartz’s longtime employee and contractor, Anton Leo Stragaj.
“Rebecca hired me to fix her first house,” Stragaj, who goes by Leo, told Van Sant.
Stragaj, who is from Albania, was working in the U.S. without proper legal status. But he was very good at his job, and paid more than $100,000 a year by Dr. Schwartz.
“I build. I read plans. I get permits. I build from scratch,” he explained.
Stragaj says he worked on all the Schwartz’s homes, including the mansion they lived in.
“Rebecca handles the business and she called me ‘son’ for four years,” he said.
Stragaj also felt close to Steven Schwartz.
“He was my doctor and my wife’s doctor. He look out for us,” said Stragaj.
“He liked you?” Van Sant asked.
“Oh, yeah. He loved me,” he replied.
“I had nothing against the man. I loved the man,” Stragaj said. “And he provided work for me. …So I had no hate for him. I had no revenge or nothing.”
After months of testing, investigators made a damning discovery: Stragaj’s DNA was on several parts of Dr. Schwartz’s clothing. Stragaj doesn’t deny he was there; he says he discovered the body.
“I was there. I admit I was there, but I didn’t kill Dr. Schwartz,” he said. “I’m so sorry I didn’t call the police.”
“Here’s a guy who’s been shot, strangled, blood -- why would you touch him at all to begin with? He’s obviously dead -- right?” Van Sant asked.
“I didn’t know,” Stragaj said. “How I knew he was dead?”
And after he found the body, Leo Stragaj made what he says was the biggest mistake of his life.
“I make mistake. I didn’t call the police that day. I was scared,” he said.
He was scared that he would be deported.
“…immigration told me any contact with police will send you back,” he told Van Sant. “I didn’t have the -- you know, the green card, the nothing.”
Stragaj says he has an alibi and insists he is not the killer.
“Who is it?” Van Sant asked.
“Rebecca Schwartz,” Stragaj said. “…she asked me to find someone to kill Dr. Schwartz.”
LEO STRAGAJ’S STORY
Leo Stragaj adamantly denies he killed Dr. Schwartz. He says he had every reason to keep Steven Schwartz alive.
“I loved Dr. Schwartz,” he told Van Sant. “He was my doctor. He provided food for my family.”
Stragaj says his DNA must have gotten on Schwartz’s clothing when he checked the body.
“I see Dr. Schwartz and he was facing the wall,” he explained. “I know I went down and grabbed him and shook – ‘Hey Dr. Schwartz, you OK?’”
And he says the only reason he was in the house that morning was because Becky Schwartz sent him there. She said she had left the house that morning without her handbag.
“She said, ‘I had a little fight with Dr. Schwartz. Can you go and grab my bag, please? I forgot my bag,’” said Stragaj.
“From the house?” Van Sant asked.
“From the house. When I go grab it, I found dead body,” Stragaj replied.
Stragaj said, “I think she murdered him.”
“And then staged the scene to look like a burglary?” Van Sant asked.
“Yes, sir. She -- she staged this. She set me up. She planned it. She planned it for a long time,” Stragaj replied.
Stragaj says he immediately knew Becky was behind the killing because, he claims, six months earlier, she asked if he could arrange to have her husband killed.
“She asked me to find somebody,” said Stragaj.
“You are telling me that Rebecca Schwartz asked you to find someone to murder her husband,” Van Sant queried.
“Yes, sir,” Stragaj replied.
“And why in the world would she want her husband dead?” Van Sant asked.
“I don’t know, said Stragaj.
“Was there money involved in this? There’s speculation that she wanted her husband dead so she could collect on his many millions,” Van Sant noted.
“I don’t know for sure,” said Stragaj.
Stragaj says when he picked up the handbag he saw a knife inside. He took the bag back to Becky that morning and confronted her.
“I said, ‘What did you do,’ right away. I said, ‘What the hell did you do?’ And she said, ‘You know why I did it,’” said Stragaj.
He says that confrontation was more than 10 hours before Becky called police to the house that night to report an alleged burglary. Stragaj also claims she threatened him.
“’And if you say anything, you’re never gonna see a house or you’re never gonna see a penny,’” said Stragaj.
Stragaj claims Becky threatened to withhold $75,000 he had invested in real estate with her.
Ten months after the murder Leo Stragaj was arrested, but police kept looking for evidence.
While the homicide investigation document listed Becky Schwartz as a suspect, she has never been charged with anything related to her husband’s murder.
But friends and colleagues of Dr. Schwartz have always suspected Becky was involved.
“It all points to her. She probably wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger, but she was behind it all,” said Dr. Patton.
“What is the most important thing to Becky Schwartz?” Van Sant asked Dr. Patton.
“Money. Money. Money. She is into money like you and I are into breathing air,” he replied.
“And greedy, just greedy to the point of it being absurd almost,” said Carter Schwartz.
But absurd took on a new meaning with Becky after a tragic car accident 30 years ago that killed her 2-year-old son, Christopher.
“This is a woman whose son was killed by a drunk driver. She went to work for MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. She has a felony conviction for embezzling money from MADD,” said Dr. Patton.
Becky was convicted of embezzling from Mothers Against Drunk Driving -- more than $12,000, she used to buy a car and a boat for herself.
“Now, you tell me; what kind of person does that?” said Dr. Patton.
Becky got five years probation and had to pay back the money she stole.
“That’s like stealing money out of the donation tray at church,” Dr. Patton remarked.
And there were bizarre behaviors after Dr. Schwartz’s death that fed speculation about Becky’s involvement. Patrick Olive and April Cox say that around 9 a.m., Becky unexpectedly showed up at their house.
“I heard the door open. She grabs a beer, and come sits on the couch, and drinks a beer,” said Cox. “Drinking the beer at 9:00 a.m. definitely not something—”
“Yeah, that was definitely not normal,” said Olive.
“-- that we’ve ever seen,” Cox continued. “And I don’t recall there being a lot of conversation. But I did notice her, you know, being-- a somewhat of a stressed type of thing, you know, putting her head -- hands on her knees. And she was rubbing her hair. And -- you know, and then I think she was gone after she drank the beer.”
And strangely, Becky never wanted a memorial service. But when Schwartz’s colleagues planned one…
“It turned out Rebecca had canceled any services, any ceremonies, any remembrances for my father. Only later did I find out she held a private funeral or service, if you would, at -- at the house to which I was not invited,” said Carter.
“She is clearly a sociopath, without a doubt,” said Dr. Patton.
“If evil is to the left, good is to the right. She’s about five standard deviations off the left side,” said Patton.
According to Leo Stragaj, Becky even wanted Carter out of the picture. He claims there was a conversation at a bar along with Becky’s son, Ben, a year before Dr. Schwartz was murdered.
“She goes, ‘Listen, I want – I – I -- I want you to find somebody to kill Carter Schwartz --” said Stragaj.
“Dr. Schwartz’s son,” Van Sant interrupted.
“-- son. And her son goes, ‘Mom, are you crazy? What -- what are you saying? Is-- is this -- drink talk and not -- what was that?’ And she said, ‘No, I’ll say it when I’m sober.’ And I said, ‘Listen, I’m your man for construction, but I don’t know what you’re lookin’ for.’ I mean, that’s crazy,” Stragaj explained.
Through a family friend, Ben confirmed that in that conversation he told his mother it was a crazy idea that she shouldn’t even joke about.
“And why would she want you dead?” Van Sant asked Carter.
“My guess is because I was finding this information out that she had kept hidden for years,” he replied.
That “hidden information,” Carter says, is that Becky was moving money from their joint bank accounts.
“And siphoned to where? Where did it go?” Van Sant asked.
“Other accounts in only her name. She had credit cards that were only in her name, anything basically my dad couldn’t get a hold of,” Carter replied.
“And when you present this information, is this jaw dropping to your dad?” Van Sant asked.
“I’ve never seen him move so quickly and he was a man who he could have the biggest argument in the world with you but he was very professional,” Carter replied. “He said, ‘I’m going home. I’m gonna take care of this.’”
But Schwartz never did take care of it. And that became a problem for Carter. Because unbeknownst to him, his father had already changed his estate plan a year earlier, leaving his entire fortune to Becky and nothing for his own children.
“Why would he do that?” Van Sant asked Carter.
“Anything I would tell you would be speculation. I’m not sure why,” he replied. “I wasn’t there when he did it, but I can’t imagine why, having sober judgment, anyone would do that.”
That’s one of many unanswered questions. But a shocking incident long in Dr. Schwartz’s past may provide a clue.
SECRETS OF THE PAST
A year after Dr. Steven Schwartz was found shot stabbed and strangled in his waterfront mansion, Leo Stragaj sits in jail.
But could a shocking incident deep in Dr. Schwartz’s past have played a role in his murder?
Fifty-five years ago in Hobbs, New Mexico, Schwartz himself was involved in another murder case.
“It happened the day before Thanksgiving of 1961, November” said Phillip Dyer.
Back then, Dyer was 20 years old, a former high school football star and a buddy of Steven Schwartz. Today, Dyer is an adjunct professor of criminal justice at Youngstown State University in Ohio.
“That changed my whole life, right there in that point in time,” he said.
“48 Hours” brought Dyer back to New Mexico to tell the story of that day in 1961 with Schwartz, who was 21 and a college dropout. Schwartz was a tall, handsome kid from New York, the son of a doctor.
“I liked Steven. I really did. I mean -- he was intelligent. He was bright. He was sharp. He just had this kind of dark side to him that … you couldn’t quite put your finger on it,” Dyer explained.
And on that fall day, the dark side came out. Schwartz decided to rob a local dentist, Dr. Victor Cook.
James Cecil, a local auctioneer in Hobbs for decades, was a patient of Dr. Cook back then.
“I’d see him on the street from time to time and he’d always ask me, ‘How you doin’? How’s your teeth doin’?’” Cecil said.
“He was just a good dentist and a good -- become a good friend,’ Cecil continued. “I just -- think he was just a great gentleman.”
In this small town where everybody knew everybody, Dr. Cook was known to carry large amounts of cash.
“Oh, I imagine he had maybe $1,000 or more at the time on him,” Cecil said. “I figure that’s why Schwartz went there, to rob him.”
Schwartz, Dyer says, may have had some gambling debts to pay off.
“It was well-known that he liked to gamble quite a bit,” said Dyer.
A desperate kid looking for a way to bail himself out.
“I don’t think he was a badass kid at all. I mean, I don’t think any of us were, really,” said Dyer.
Schwartz had recruited Dyer to drive him to and from the dentist’s office.
Dyer wasn’t even sure Schwartz was really going go through with it, until he pulled out a gun.
“I told him-- I said, ‘I want nothin’ to do with this. I’m leaving,’” said Dyer.
While Dyer walked away from his car, Schwartz went ahead with his plan. But the robbery of Dr. Cook went terribly wrong.
“As I read these stories, you know, he didn’t want to give ‘em his money,” Cecil explained. “Said, ‘No, you’ll have to shoot me. …you’re not gonna get my money.’”
Minutes later Schwartz, driving the car, pulled up to Dyer on the street.
“And I’m thinkin’, ‘He couldn’t have done anything. It’s too -- hasn’t been long enough to do anything.’ So I run and get in the car, and when I look inside -- get a look at his face when I get in. I turned around and look at him, and his eyes are just bloodshot,” said Dyer.
“And what he described to me -- he said, ‘I shot the man between the eyes,’ and he did this,” Dyer said, pointing between his eyes.
It was a horrific incident. And to this day, Cecil has the gun Schwartz used to murder Dr. Cook.
“I thought always thought a lot of him, and I want that gun. So I bought it at the auction,” he said.
“I think most of us that were involved, that it was a horrendous, despicable and deplorable act,” said Dyer.
Dyer, the accomplice, went to prison for a year. Schwartz, the shooter, spent nine years in prison. Both sentences were eventually commuted and both men later went to college. Schwartz moved to Italy, where he earned a medical degree. The two former criminals pledged to spend the rest of their lives atoning for their terrible act.
“I think he had that drive to somehow make up for the wrong and the pain and the suffering that he caused to Doctor Cook’s family, to others in this community -- and I had that same drive as well,” said Dyer.
“When you heard the news … that your father had killed a man, how shocking was that for you?” Van Sant asked Carter Schwartz.
“Very,” he replied. “I didn’t even know about it until after his death.”
But could that murder 55 years ago, which had been a closely-guarded secret, have somehow played a role in the murder of Dr. Schwartz?
“The only one that can really answer that question is Dr. Schwartz himself,” said Wil Florin.
Florin and Tom Roebig are top civil attorneys in Florida, representing Carter and his family in a wrongful death lawsuit.
“The person that benefitted was Becky Schwartz and the people that she deems worthy of giving away Dr. Schwartz’s money to. And we’ve alleged that Leo and Becky conspired to murder him,” said Roebig.
Ben is not named in the lawsuit and there have been no criminal charges filed against him in the murder. But as for Dr. Schwartz’s dark past…
“There’s some folks who think that his past was being used against him,” said Florin.
Used, Florin theorizes, by Becky Schwartz to blackmail her own husband for millions.
“But is the suggestion -- the possibility that Rebecca Schwartz may have said to him, ‘If you don’t transfer everything in the estate over to me, I will make this deep dark secret public. I’ll ruin your reputation. …Your own children will learn that you are a murderer,’” Van Sant asked Florin.
“Well, that’s one possibility,” he replied.
In fact, according to a police document, one of Schwartz’s office workers called police to say: “Rebecca was blackmailing Dr. Schwartz by withholding information that could ruin his career.”
“If she knew -- which I have every reason to believe she did -- that’s entirely possible that was something used against him,” Carter acknowledged.
But Becky is not saying anything. She’s in a new state starting a new life with a new man.
BECKY’S NEW LIFE
“A grieving widow is standing on a doorstep of the police department every morning, saying, ‘Have you made any progress finding out who violently shot strangled and stabbed my husband?’” Tom Roebig, Carter Schwartz’ attorney, reasoned.
After her husband was murdered, Becky Schwartz sold the medical practice and decided to start a new life, moving from sunny Florida to the tiny, snowbound town of Winneconne, Wisconsin, near where her son, Eric, was running his Verizon store.
“Well, I think she’s been trying to find a purpose,” Kym Rivellini said. “She’s just trying to lay low and find a path.”
Rivellini and Denis deVlaming are Becky’s criminal attorneys, hired to defend her against any possible future charges .
“And in Wisconsin, does she just live a quiet life now?” Peter Van Sant asked.
“Yes,” deVlaming replied.
Quiet is not a word a Wisconsin woman named Meredith would use to describe her former best friend, Becky.
“I think I was preyed on by the most calculated, malicious, vindictive, pathological liar of a woman I have ever met in my entire life,” she said.
Meredith, who asked “48 Hours” not use her last name, says she and her husband took Becky in as one of their own, after a chance meeting at a charity event.
“I thought truly we had found a great friend. …She fit into our lives so perfectly,” Meredith explained. “Every single night, seven days a week, we were together.”
Becky and the family did everything from vacations in Florida, to sports events, to lavish parties -- all paid for by Becky. She even took them on her boat in Florida and one thing stuck in Meredith’s mind.
“And her boat name was ‘Exit Strategy.’ And I looked at that and I looked at my husband and I said, ‘Isn’t that weird? Her boat’s name is ‘Exit Strategy’?’” she said.
“I never saw Becky grieving for her husband or her loss,” said Meredith.
And as time went on, Meredith felt Becky was becoming a little too close to her own husband.
“I kept telling him -- I said, ‘it’s like you’ve checked out of our marriage and I don’t understand. I don’t understand what’s changed, what happened,’” she said.
Nor did she understand what she learned about Becky from a Google search.
“In one of the articles, it said she got married in 2010. I said, ‘That’s impossible.’ I said, ‘That’s a misprint, because she met her husband in med school in New York 35 years ago.’”
And there were other lies.
“Becky has lied about her children,” Meredith said. “…she didn’t have five children.”
Meredith says Becky’s lying was soon followed by betrayal.
“My life pretty much changed on January second, when my husband got out of the shower and said he was leaving me,” Meredith said. “And he said, ‘I’m moving into Becky’s.’”
Not only her husband —who is 16 years younger than Becky—but her 13-year-old daughter moved in with Becky as well, after Becky lavished her with attention and gifts, Meredith says.
And Becky seduced her new boyfriend with expensive gifts, too.
“The boyfriend has had a plane bought for him,” Florin explained. “Becky took … his extended family on an Alaskan cruise that lasted a couple weeks … with Dr. Schwartz’s money.”
“Ultimately, I think Becky’s motive was to buy -- into our family,” Meredith said. “…money was her way of connecting.”
Being betrayed by her husband and her best friend was just too much.
“And I quickly grew more depressed and decided that I was going to end my life, that I couldn’t stand the pain anymore,” said Meredith.
As Meredith lay recovering in the hospital from her suicide attempt with prescription drugs, she had a surprise visitor: Becky. And according to a video deposition conducted by attorneys Florin and Roebig in the wrongful death lawsuit, Becky allegedly came to deliver a cruel message.
Deposition attorney: She walked over to Meredith and leaned down and whispered in her ear, “I wish you would have died.”
Dana Nichols: Yes.
That’s Becky’s daughter in-law, Dana Nichols, who is married to her son, Ben. In an extraordinary moment, Dana, who had remained silent publicly for two years, turns on her own mother-in-law, reading a text message she sent a friend not long after Dr. Schwartz’s murder:
Dana Nichols (reading aloud in court): “It’s crazy how so much of what Becky did all adds up now. I’m sure she planned it for a long time.”
Wil Florin: What -- did you mean to say she’d planned for a long time? The murder?
Dana Nichols: Yes.
Dana says she and others believe Becky had to be involved in Dr. Schwartz’s murder:
Dana Nichols: The only thing I can think is that she shot him first. And then -- and did the rest in a crazy, violent rage, unless Leo helped her finish the job. But still, I can’t see Leo hurting Dr. Schwartz.
And remember, Becky claimed her Florida house had been burglarized. Questioned by Florin, Dana suggests Becky staged the burglary to implicate her son, Ben.
Wil Florin: When did you first start -- this is her own son you’re -- and that -- that you’re concerned -- your husband -- that his mother is setting him up for the murder?
Dana Nichols: Immediately.
Wil Florin: What gave you that concern?
Dana Nichols: Just me knowing her and things that she’s done before. I wouldn’t put anything past her.
Dana says Ben has gotten past his drug problems and the two of them have settled down with their daughter, Kendall. But they live in fear, as she told her friend in another text:
Dana Nichols (reading aloud in court): I said, “I am scared to talk to the detectives and -- and police… I would hope if Becky came after me or sent someone after me, she wouldn’t hurt Kendall. But sadly, I don’t think anyone matters to her but herself.”
Becky was also deposed in that wrongful death suit, but refused to answer any questions from Roebig and Florin.
Wil Florin: You were present, were you not, in the home at the time of Dr. Schwartz’s murder and took part in the murder of Dr. Schwartz, did you not?
Becky Schwartz: I reassert my rights under Article I Section 9 of the Florida Constitution.
“She’s got something to hide. And that something is her involvement in the murder,” said Florin.
“Rebecca Schwartz is a victim, just like her husband. She had nothing to do with the murder itself,” said deVlaming.
Becky Schwartz wouldn’t speak with “48 Hours.” But her attorneys make the case that she is innocent, and Leo Stragaj had a strong motive to kill Dr. Schwartz alone.
“Leo is the killer,” deVlaming said. “…and now he’s gonna pay for it.”
WHO KILLED DR. SCHWARTZ?
Three years have passed since Dr. Schwartz’s murder, and Becky Schwartz splits her time between Florida and Wisconsin.
“All these things that we’re talking about would never have come to light if it wasn’t for money. And big money. Millions and millions of dollars worth of money,” said Becky’s attorney, Denis deVlaming.
DeVlaming says this case is about greed, but it’s the greed of the Schwartz children in trying to pin the murder on Becky so they can get their father’s money instead of her.
“They’ve got to trash her. They gotta show her as somebody that would participate in the murder, because that’s the only way they’re gonna profit in this case,” he said.
DeVlaming says all the evidence points to Leo Stragaj.
“What does the DNA evidence tell you?” Van Sant asked.
“That Leo Stragaj was there at the time of murder. That that’s how his DNA got there. That’s when his DNA got there. And that he was the killer,” said deVlaming.
“Why in the world would Leo Stragaj murder Dr. Stephen Schwartz when Schwartz was providing him his entire livelihood?” Van Sant asked.
“My theory is that Dr. Schwartz was gonna retire. He was in his 70s. And I think that -- I think that Leo Stragaj believed that his time with the Schwartzes was limited. And he was going to be replaced with somebody far less expensive,” deVlaming replied. “And -- if Dr. Schwartz was outta the picture that perhaps Rebecca Schwartz would keep him on.”
Furthermore, deVlaming says, Stragaj’s story of being in the house to retrieve Becky’s purse makes no sense.
“You go grab the bag,” Van Sant noted.
“I seen, like, jewelry boxes and one knife on the bag,” said Stragaj.
“A knife,” Stragaj replied. “Kitchen knife.”
“A kitchen knife -- a large kitchen knife?” Van Sant asked.
“Yeah, a large kitchen knife,” Stragaj affirmed.
“Was there blood on the knife?” Van Sant asked.
“No -- not as I recall,” Stragaj replied.
“It’s hogwash. And the reason it’s hogwash is Leo says that he looks in the bag and he sees a butcher knife. What individual would tell somebody that could turn them in, to go pick up the murder weapon that could be turned into the police to get your DNA, (laughs) your fingerprints? It’s absolutely laughably ridiculous,” said deVlaming.
And, deVlaming points out, even Stragaj’s alibi was shot down by police, who checked his cell phone records.
“Here’s another quote from the report,” Van Sant said to Stragaj. “’Analysis of cell phone activity failed to support his alibi,’ -- your alibi. ‘Locations and associated times given by [you] did not match cell phone tower.’”
“I—well, I told you I don’t -- I know what I did. I was with people with alibi all day. And I made two runs because I’m -- I’m in construction site job, $125,000 job. So, I had to go and buy materials or dump a trailer. That—,” he replied.
“This looks really bad, though. This looks bad,” Van Sant pointed out.
“I know it was bad. I want-- I-- I know it looks bad,” said Stragaj
And, deVlaming says, Sragaj is a large man capable of physical force, unlike Becky.
“My client is five foot three. Dr. Schwartz is six foot three. There’s no way in the world that she could have shot, stabbed and strangled somebody that big,” he said.
DeVlaming denies Stragaj’s claims that Becky ever asked him to kill Schwartz or his son, Carter.
“All of those are false. All-- those statements are false,” deVlaming told Van Sant.
But Stragaj insists he didn’t do it—that Becky was the culprit.
“I’m so sorry I didn’t call the police. I mean, I -- I regret it all of my life. But one thing, I didn’t kill their father. I didn’t kill their father. I’m not the man,” he said.
“Your DNA was on the victim. You didn’t call 911. And when you were interviewed by investigators, you lied to them. You add all that up, and you’ve got yourself a murder suspect,” Van Sant remarked.
“I know. That’s why I’m here,” he said of being incarcerated.
“He lied to the police. The police talked to Leo Stragaj. The police took his statement. He never mentioned anything -- anything in his statement to the police about Rebecca Schwartz being in any way responsible for the death of her husband,” said DeVlaming.
Leo Stragaj admits he never implicated Becky until the day he was arrested.
“I believe that both Leo Stragaj and Rebecca Schwartz were involved in his murder and caused his death on that date,” said Carter Schwartz.
So who killed Dr. Schwartz? There was a potential eyewitness of sorts -- the elaborate security camera system in the mansion -- something only Stragaj, Becky and family members knew about. But the hard drive had been removed.
“Did you remove the hard drive from that security camera—” Van Sant asked.
“No, I –” Stragaj replied.
“Who do you think did? Who else besides you would know that that hard drive was there?” Van Sant asked.
“Her. And if she had somebody else helping her,” Stragaj replied.
Leo Stragaj awaits trial as the only person charged. But Becky’s attorneys are uncertain what the future will hold for her. Police aren’t talking because the case is still open.
“Is she still a person of interest in this case?” Van Sant asked deVlaming.
“We understand that she is,” he replied.
“And is there still a possibility there could be an arrest?” Van Sant asked.
“There’s always that possibility,” said deVlaming.
“Is she worried or afraid that she’ll be arrested for the murder of her husband? I think that that cloud is always there that they may arrest her,” attorney Kym Rivellini said.
“What I want more than anything is for justice to be served. I want the people responsible for this to be held both criminally and civilly liable,” Carter Schwartz said.
Carter wants justice for a father whose life started and ended so badly, but who lived the long middle dedicated to others.
“He never lost sight of paying back his debt to society. I think he turned it into a positive. I think he did everything he could to pay back society,” he said.
“Quite a life,” Van Sant remarked. “Can’t make this stuff up can you?”
“Yeah,” Carter replied, “Certainly cannot.”
The gun and the knife used to kill Dr. Schwartz have never been found
No trial date has been set for Leo Tragaj’s murder trial.
Meredith and her husband are divorcing.
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