Murder-for-Hire: The Murder of Elizabeth DeCaro
On the evening of March 6th, 1992, Elizabeth DeCaro was supposed to meet her sister and friends for dinner at a local restaurant. Elizabeth was home alone in her St. Charles, Missouri home for the first time. Her husband and kids were on vacation that weekend, so Elizabeth made plans with her sister that night. When Elizabeth didn’t show up, her sister grew concerned and went to check on her. When she entered the house, she found Elizabeth lying dead in a puddle of her own blood.
Elizabeth Van Iseghem was born May 28th, 1963, to James and Georgianna Van Isegham. Elizabeth was one of seven children born to the Midwest couple who was residing in St. Ann, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. Elizabeth, the second youngest child, was a happy, sociable, loving person. She was a cheerleader and made friends easily. When she was a young teenager, Elizabeth met Richard “Rick” DeCaro. Rick and Elizabeth were high school sweethearts. They became parents as teenagers, marrying before they were in their twenties. Rick appeared to be an attentive and affectionate husband, showering Elizabeth with gifts as they built their lives together.
In 1992, Elizabeth was twenty-eight years old, a mother of four children, and Rick DeCaro’s wife of ten years. On Friday, March 6th, 1992, Rick drove the carpool for his children as they had an early dismissal that day. He then packed up the kid and family dog, Ozzie, and headed off to Lake of the Ozarks. This was the first time since becoming a father that Rick took his children for a trip without his wife. He told Elizabeth he was excited to have a “daddy’s weekend” with the kids. That evening, Elizabeth was shot in the head execution style inside her own home. The killer than stole the family’s SUV.
Upon finding Elizabeth’s body, her sister instantly told police she believed that Rick DeCaro was responsible for the death of Elizabeth. Police learned of a troubled relationship between Rick and Elizabeth. Rick and Elizabeth appeared to have it all: a nice home in a beautiful subdivision, four great kids, and plenty of material things. Rick worked as a mechanic at an automotive service station owned by his family. Elizabeth worked at her parents’ delicatessen but was primarily a mother and homemaker. They seemed to have it all, but there were secrets in the DeCaro marriage.
A few years before her death, Elizabeth became frustrated with her husband and his constant need to shower her with gifts and affection. She told him to back off a little, which seemed to have hurt Rick deeply. Rick sought affection in other women, starting an affair with the receptionist at the service station he worked at. As the police soon learned, Elizabeth herself had a brief affair as well. Elizabeth was not okay with her husband’s affair, however, and demanded he fire the receptionist and end the affair. Rick told her he had ended the affair, but he did not fire his mistress.
Elizabeth was not convinced that her husband was no longer cheating. She enlisted her sisters to help to spy on her husband. It became clear that Rick was spending most of his free time working out at the gym and meeting up with his mistress. Rick was obsessed with appearances- his own, his wife’s, his children’s, and the appearance that the family was financially blessed. As it turned out, the DeCaro family was in deep debt. Rick had purchased a boat, against his wife’s wishes, pushing the family further into debt.
There were more odd circumstances that convinced Elizabeth’s sister that Rick was responsible for her death. Rick had changed since he married Elizabeth ten years earlier. He was not as friendly and sociable with Elizabeth’s family. Her sister was not happy in the marriage but wanted more than anything to work it out with her husband. Elizabeth was getting worried, however, and quite frankly afraid. She felt like Rick was hiding something. Rick was up to something.
A few months before her murder, the DeCaro’s had their van stolen. The whole incident was odd. Rick and Elizabeth had been out together when Rick suddenly was in a hurry to go home. He told his wife he wanted to make love, something they hadn’t done in a long time. Rick then parked the van in the driveway instead of the garage, the first time he had ever done that. The van was stolen that night. It was later found in Cape Girardeau torched. Rick filed an insurance claim, but the van was insured by the service station and not him personally.
Something else odd happened just weeks before the murder. Rick and Elizabeth had been out again. Upon returning home, Elizabeth got out of the couple’s vehicle and walked towards the door to the house inside the garage. Suddenly, the vehicle lunged forward pushing Elizabeth into the wall. Rick then got out of the vehicle and walked to the front door of the house without even checking on his wife. Elizabeth had wondered aloud to her sisters if Rick had been trying to kill her. Her fears were eased by Rick’s tearful apologies. He explained that it was an accident, he was reaching for something and accidentally hit the gas pedal instead of the brake. He was sick over it, begging for forgiveness. Elizabeth accepted his apology. Now she was dead.
The night Elizabeth died, the Van Iseghem family gathered at the hospital in sorrow. How could Elizabeth be gone? How could Rick and the kids move on without her? How could any of them move on without her? Rick and the kids, however, were not there. Police left St. Charles for Lake of the Ozarks, searching for the newly widowed husband and their children. When they finally tracked them down in the early morning hours on Saturday, police were shocked by the response.
Rick seemed indifferent, not as you would expect a grieving husband to be upon learning of his wife’s death. He didn’t ask how she was killed or who did it. He didn’t shed a tear. Police told him that he was needed back in St. Charles. Rick told police that he didn’t want to wake the kids, but once they woke for the day, he would tell them their mother was gone. He said he would ask them if they wanted to stay in Lake of the Ozarks another day to do some fun things before going back to St. Charles. What kind of man considers staying on vacation after the brutal murder of his wife?
Saturday morning Rick did return home to St. Charles with the children. They arrived at Elizabeth’s parents’ home. Rick’s demeanor, and quite honestly even that of the children, alarmed the Van Iseghem family. The kids did not seem to be upset or grieving, it was as if they didn’t realize their mother was gone forever. Rick was more than stoic, he almost seemed numb. Was he in shock, or did he just not care that Elizabeth was dead? Most of Elizabeth’s family suspected Rick of being involved but kept quiet about it at first. Georgianna realized she would have to stay on Rick’s good side in order to stay involved with her grandchildren. She stuck close to her son-in-law, even going on television to express her confidence in his innocence.
Police immediately suspected Rick and questioned him but had nothing to go on at first. Knowing he was under suspicion, Rick agreed to draft papers that would give Georgianna, Elizabeth’s mother, custody of the children if Rick were to be arrested. Georgianna shared with her daughters that she believed Rick was guilty, but she was keeping on his good side to ensure that paperwork was completed, and the kids would be safe in her care after his arrest.
Immediately after the murder, the St. Charles police enlisted the help of the Greater St. Louis Major Case Squad. The best detectives of the St. Louis region gathered to investigate this brutal murder in a safe neighborhood. There wasn’t much forensic evidence at the scene, but soon witnesses came forward. An acquaintance of Rick’s from the gym came forward. He had brought his vehicle into the service station Rick worked at. He said a few months before Elizabeth’s murder, Rick DeCaro had asked him if he knew someone who could steal his van. He said he didn’t. He said Rick also asked him if he knew someone who he could hire as a hitman. Rick wanted to kill his wife.
A co-worker came forward soon after, explaining that Rick had asked him if he knew anyone who would steal his vehicle for an insurance scam. The co-worker said he introduced Rick DeCaro to his cousin. The co-worker brought his cousin, Daniel Basile, to meet with Rick DeCaro. Daniel told him later that Rick asked him to steal his vehicle for an insurance scam. He later added that the van was a “package deal”, stating that Rick also asked him to do another job. The second job was to skill Elizabeth DeCaro.
According to the witness, Daniel Basile said he would not kill anyone and was only interested in stealing the van. Rick had offered him money for the theft, which he completed in February of 1992. Another witness, a former lover of Basile, testified that she brought Daniel to St. Charles, identifying the DeCaro house. She said Basile stole the van, and she followed him all the way down to a rural area near Cape Girardeau where Basile torched the car. She identified the sight that the van was found. She also said Daniel through the license plate out the window. Police were able to find the license plate in the area the witness described.
Police had enough to arrest Basile and DeCaro for insurance fraud, but not for murder yet. More witnesses came forward soon, however, adding more evidence to the case. Police put out an all-points bulletin about the family’s SUV, which they hadn’t located yet. A woman came forward and remembered seeing the vehicle with the descript “Rick Liz” license plates driving on Interstate 70. She said she saw a man with long black hair driving, adding that she got a good look at his face. She identified the man in a line-up as Daniel Basile. Another family member of Daniel Basile admitted to seeing Basile and a man he later identified as Rick DeCaro on numerous occasions. He also led the police to a garage that Daniel had asked to use for a few days. He had used the garage as a chop shop, and pieces of the SUV were positively identified as DeCaro’s SUV. More witnesses testified that Daniel Basile came into a large sum of money the day of Elizabeth’s murder.
A week after the murder of Elizabeth Decaro, Daniel Basile and Rick DeCaro were both arrested and charged with first degree-murder in the conspiracy to kill to Elizabeth. Police believed Basile was the hired hitman in Rick DeCaro’s murderous plan. The prosecution believed that DeCaro had fallen in love with his mistress and needed Elizabeth out of the way. In this theory, DeCaro found it less damaging to his reputation if his wife died as opposed to divorcing her. Besides, if he divorced her, he wouldn’t have his children with him any longer and everyone would find out about their financial problems. Not only that, Rick DeCaro had recently taken out a $100,000 life insurance policy on his wife. Phone evidence linked DeCaro and Basile, showing frequent phone conversations between the two including the night of Elizabeth’s murder.
The prosecution announced they would seek the death penalty against Rick DeCaro and Daniel Basile. Daniel Basile and Rick DeCaro were tried separately in 1994. Much of the evidence was suppressed in Rick’s case, but Daniel’s public defender was not as strategic. Daniel Basile was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. He became his stay on Missouri’s death row as Rick DeCaro went on trial.
Witnesses testified that the weekend Elizabeth was killed, the DeCaro family was supposed to take a trip to Kansas City to visit a friend of Elizabeth’s. Rick decided that he would rather take the kids on a trip himself, a “daddy’s weekend”. This was the first time ever. He would take the family’s van, leaving Elizabeth the SUV. The SUV, which Rick took to work every day, was in great condition. However, Rick insisted that Elizabeth not go to Kansas City by herself to visit her friend, claiming he didn’t trust the vehicle to get there safely. He wanted Elizabeth at home while he and the kids went on vacation. Elizabeth expressed to others that she was scared the days before her death and felt Rick was “up to something”.
More evidence was presented including that incident in which Rick hit his wife with the van, the eyewitnesses that could connect Daniel Basile and Rick DeCaro, the witness that placed Basile in the SUV just after Elizabeth’s murder, and the witnesses that led police to discover the SUV in Basile’s possession. Elizabeth’s family testified that the family dog, Ozzie, was loud and barked at everyone. Rick had never taken Ozzie anywhere before, so why would he take Ozzie on vacation with him and the kids? The thought was that he did this in order to give the hitman a chance to kill Elizabeth without the dog as an obstacle.
The DeCaro children also testified. One of the little girls testified that it was her idea to bring Ozzie that day. Their friends, who had been driven home in the carpool by Rick DeCaro that day, testified that it was the first time Rick had ever driven for the carpool. The other kids were surprised to see Ozzie in the van, who didn’t typically go on car rides with the family. The defense also presented a note left that morning in Rick’s lunch box from Elizabeth. The note read, “Looking forward to really starting over and loving again, one day at a time” (English, N., 1994). The defense suggested that the marriage was not troubled, and the couple was rebuilding their relationship.
Much to the shock of the Van Iseghem family, in September of 1994, Richard “Rick” DeCaro was found not guilty of murdering his wife. Tears erupted in the courtroom. The jury foreman stated that the state failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. “How could they say he is not guilty?” Melanie, Elizabeth’s sister, told the police (English, N., 1994). It seemed Rick DeCaro had gotten away with murder, and now he was determined to get custody of his children back. The nightmare just kept getting worse for Elizabeth’s family.
The case didn’t end with Rick DeCaro’s acquittal in the Missouri court, however. In 1995, the United States of America filed federal charges against both Daniel Basile and Rick DeCaro. These charges included use of the mail or facilities in interstate commerce with intent to commit murder-for-hire. The defense for both Basile and DeCaro filed objections, stating that federal prosecution was violating their rights because it constituted double jeopardy and asking the federal court system to separate the trials like the State of Missouri had. All of their motions to vacate and separate were denied.
This time, Basile and DeCaro were tried together, and the jury heard all of the evidence against both suspects. The witnesses presented the full story including how DeCaro and Basile became involved with each other, the evidence suggesting a murder-for-hire plot, the false insurance claims filed through the United States Postal Service and the use of federal facilities in the plot to commit fraud and murder. After the murder, Rick DeCaro filed insurance claims on items “stolen” during the murder of Elizabeth DeCaro. Both Basile and DeCaro were found guilty on all charges, and both were sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Both men filed appeals, claiming the federal government violated their rights and subjected them to double jeopardy. However, their appeals have all been denied. “It has long been the law under doctrine known as dual sovereignty that federal prosecution following state prosecution of the same person for the same acts does not violate the defendant’s criminal rights” read the appeal denial. Rick DeCaro remains in a federal prison to this day. He is now sixty-one years old. Daniel Basile was executed by the State of Missouri in 2002. Elizabeth’s brother told the media, “This does not bring closure because we will never have closure. This is, however, the penalty the system has chosen” (Wittenauer, 2002).
Elizabeth A Van Iseghem DeCaro (1963-1992) - Find a Grave Memorial
Missouri Inmate Executed | AP News
03/06/1992 - Report #206 - Victim: Elizabeth A. DeCaro - Location: St. Charles, MO — Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis (majorcasesquadstl.org)
US 8th Circuit Opinions and Cases | FindLaw
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER re: 1 MOTION to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence filed by Petitioner Richard DeCaro..IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that movant's motion pursuant to 28 U.S;C. § 2255 is DENIED AND DISMISSED AS SUCCESSIVE. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(3). A separate order of dismissal will be entered herewith.IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Court will not issue a certificate of appealability. Signed by District Judge John A. Ross on 4/29/19. (MRS) (justia.com)
K:COMMONOPINIONSALLOPNS97 962744P (uscourts.gov)
English, N. (1994). Classmates of DeCaro youngsters testify. St. Louis Post Dispatch. 04 Sep 1994
English, N. (1994). DeCaro acquittal brings tears. St. Louis Post Dispatch. 15 Sep 1994
McLellan, B. (1996). The prosecution starts out strong in DeCaro trial. St. Louis Post Dispatch. 28 Feb 1996
Bryant, T. (1996). Witness tells of DeCaro murder plot. St. Louis Post Dispatch. 28 Feb 1996
Rose, L. & Bell, K. (1992). Police: killer was hired. St. Louis Post Dispatch. 15 Mar 1992
Bosworth Jr., Charles. (2015). A killer among us.