The murder of one spouse by another is not something unusual. We all know that when a spouse, or an ex-spouse goes missing or is found dead the first people they look at are the current or former spouse. It has become almost so routine that it is not uncommon that when the news media announces there has been a murder and the person was married, social media is full of comments quickly blaming the spouse. It is difficult to do a True Crime Blog and not be bombarded with such cases but it also makes it difficult to keep my, what some would call “morbid enthusiasm” going. Of course you will find spouse on spouse crimes here, in fact the last one I did was a case of a woman convicted of hiring a man to kill her medically ill husband, but I try not to do them extremely often as well as attempt to report on the more “sensational” ones. This one I believe qualifies.
Timothy Schuster met Larissa when they were both working at a nursing home in Missouri. The two would marry in 1982. Larissa would study bio chemistry at the University of Missouri while Timothy went to nursing school and take administrative classes. Their daughter, Kristin was born in 1985 and in 1989 the family moved to Fresno California. It was here that their son Tyler was born in 1990. In 2000 the couple would move to Clovis California. By now Larissa had opened her own chemistry lab called Central California Research Labs and despite being an administrator at a medical center, she was making more than double what Timothy did. But, with the more money and her own business it took her away from home more often and Timothy did much of the rearing of the children.
Over the years the marriage had begun to deteriorate. It did not help that they had their own stresses at work or that Kristin was now a teenager and they come with their own issues. In fact, at some point Larissa had decided to send Kristin back to Missouri to live with her parents but that did not lower the stresses at home. In February of 2002 Larissa filed for divorce from Timothy and the couple began fighting over custody of their son. Timothy would move out of the house and eventually Larissa would retain custody as well as possession of the home but it seems the divorce was never completely settled. In August of 2008 Timothy's home was burglarized and it was apparently much later determined that the perpetrator had been Larissa and a co-worker named James Fagone. Fagone would later tell authorities he had broke into the home with Larissa because she claimed Timothy had taken many of her items when he moved from the home. It also seems that Larissa had a tendency not just to talk bad about her ex-husband to anyone who would listen but to call his home and do the same. Timothy began taping the telephone calls between the two.
On July 10, 2003 Timothy was supposed to meet some co-workers for breakfast. A few days prior they had all been laid off at the medical center and while most agree between the divorce, his issues with Larissa and now his job Timothy's emotions were not the best and he was quite depressed. So, while the co-workers were a bit worried about him when he did not show at the breakfast and tried to contact him they were not overly worried just yet. It was not until they discovered that Timothy had not picked up Tyler for a scheduled visitation that a few of them went over to his home. Strangely the friends found Timothy's wallet, watch and cell phone in the yard of his home, but Timothy was no where to be found.
Authorities were notified about the suspicious findings and of course they went looking to talk to Larissa. They immediately became suspicious of her when they learned that despite the fact the father of her children was missing she planned a trip to Disneyland with Tyler and then a visit to Missouri just after. She seemed less than worried about the fact that her soon to be ex husband was no where to be found or had strangely missed a visitation with their son. Authorities would soon learn though that while missing a visitation may have not been unusual as Larissa would indicate this was the first time that he had missed because of his apparent own doing. It seems that Larissa had not always been compliant with allowing Timothy to see Tyler.
While Larissa was gone the investigators began to dig deeper. They began interviewing her co-workers and her friends. The first co-worker they spoke to was James Fagone. They felt he too acted suspicious but they had nothing on him for a bit. Another co-worker indicated that Larissa had asked her to rent a u-haul truck and a storage unit in her own name on the day before Timothy was reported missing. The co-worker also indicated that Fagone was apparently with Larissa at that time.
By the time Larissa was set to board a plane at the St. Louis Airport, seemingly to head back home investigators had not only discovered where Timothy was located but they had already made an arrest. She would be their second arrest before she boarded the plane. Once the pieces of what had happened to Timothy began to fall into place it appears that James Fagone began singing like a canary. Fagone confessed that he and Larissa had gone to Timothy's home on July 9th and lured him from his home. They then used a stun gun and chloroform on him. While he was unconscious they placed him inside a 55 gallon barrel and poured acid inside. They then sealed the barrel and transported it in a U-Haul truck and placed it inside a storage unit. By the time Larissa was arrested they had recovered Timothy's half acid eaten body from the storage unit.
Despite his confession Fagone would apparently receive no deals and he went to trial in November of 2006 facing charges of first degree murder and kidnapping. At his trial he would claim that Larissa was the mastermind of the plan and that he was only an accessory after Larissa had committed the murder. He would claim that he only helped her under duress and that she had threatened his life if he did not help. He also attempted to recant his confession. The prosecution of course argued that Fagone was just as guilty as Larissa but the defense was apparently successful in proving that Larissa was a “controlling and forceful person.” This characteristic had been evident to all that knew her and while some would concede that this attitude is what had led to her business and financial others would argue that it was this same attitude that was used to “bully” people, including both Fagone and Timothy.
While the jury did not feel there was enough evidence to warrant a conviction for kidnapping they did find him guilty of first degree murder. It was also said that the jury did believe that he had been highly influenced and manipulated by Larissa and asked for leniency but the judge sentenced him to life without parole.
Larissa would go on trial the following year. Her October 2007 trial was moved to Los Angeles County due to the publicity of the trial. She had already been nicknamed “The Acid Lady” and no one felt an impartial jury could be found without changing the venue. Fagone did not testify against her but prosecutors still had the information he had provided that had collaborated with the evidence they had found. Among those who did testify was a woman named Terri Lopez. She was Larissa's friend and manicurist. She would testify that at one point Larissa had stated to her “I want my husband dead. You don't understand. I could do it and get away with it.” According to Lopez she saw Larissa on July 10th and while there was not talk about Timothy missing (no one supposedly knew for sure yet) Lopez stated that Larissa seemed much more upbeat about her divorce than she had in a very long time.
For her part Larissa would testify on her own behalf and would claim that James Fagone had committed the murder on his own, without her knowledge. She would admit to helping move his body and hiding it but that is all she would confess to. Prosecutors would play many of the nasty conversations and messages she had left with Timothy in which they were riddled with curse words and full of anger towards her husband. When asked about the extra load of acid that she had ordered into her lab just prior to the murder which was unusual for the normal delivery at her business she would claim that it was ordered for cleaning items.
The jury did not believe the defense theory and in December of 2007 she was found guilty of first degree murder after the jury deliberated for two and a half days. In May of 2008 she was not only sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole but the judge also ordered her to pay back Timothy's family for the expenses they incurred for his burial. In 2011 her conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Supreme Court.