Two arrested for ‘worst jewelry crime in a generation’

Two men have been arrested and will stand trial for the Dec. 21 robbery and murders of a 38-year-old retail jeweler and his family in Livonia, Mich., a Detroit suburb.

The murder of Marco Pesce, an Italian immigrant who owned the Italia Jeweler in Livonia, his mother, Maria Vergati (a resident of Italy who was visiting the family for the holidays), and his children, Carlo, 12, Sabrina, 9, and Melissa, 6, is the “worst crime in the U.S. jewelry industry in a generation,” says the Jewelers Security Alliance in its report.

According to JSA, police reports and the Livonia Observer and The Detroit News newspapers, the two suspects identified as Dennis Lincoln, 27, Flint, Mich., and John Wolfenbarger, 31, Detroit, were former prison cellmates with long criminal histories. Each was charged with five counts of premeditated murder and felony murder. Both pleaded innocent.

According to the Livonia Observer‘s account of Lincoln’s hearing on Jan. 10, the two suspects allegedly decided weeks before the murders to follow a jeweler home and rob him. Police said they targeted jewelry stores in Livonia and Dearborn, Mich., until they picked Pesce several days prior to the robbery.

Posing as deliverymen bringing a teddy bear wrapped as a Christmas present, they watched the Pesce home until they saw Maria Vergati go into the house’s garage. With the phony Christmas present in hand, Wolfenbarger allegedly approached her in the garage, then pulled out a gun, and directed her into the house, said the Observer.

After the Pesce children were dropped off at home after school, Lincoln reportedly said he went to the jewelry store to watch for Pesce. Meanwhile, says JSA, the jeweler’s 12-year-old son was made to phone his father and ask him to come home, claiming six-year-old Melissa had fallen down and hurt herself. When Pesce arrived, he was forced to open the house’s basement safe that had jewelry, watches, and other valuables in it.

Lincoln later told police he had fallen asleep in his car while watching the jewelry store and only awoke when Wolfenbarger phoned him to come to the Pesce home to pick him up. Afterward, the two went to Detroit where, says the Observer, “they began working at cleaning the jewelry and preparing to melt it down.”

The bodies of Marco Pesce, his mother and his children—who had been shot execution-style—were discovered at their home a day after they were shot, says the Detroit News. The newspaper reported that the suspects allegedly showed some of the stolen jewelry to Wolfenbarger’s uncle, the leader of a local motorcycle gang. He reported them on Dec. 23 to the police because, he said, of the children’s murders.

The two suspects were arrested on Christmas Eve following an intense police investigation. During their Christmas Eve raids, police recovered the stolen jewelry, including a watch taken from Pesce’s wrist, and the alleged murder weapon.

Because the murder occurred during the committal of a robbery, also a felony, they are considered felony murders, which carries a penalty of life imprisonment. Even if Lincoln wasn’t in the Pesce home, he could be found equally guilty as committed murder, his attorney told the Livonia Observer.

Both Lincoln and Wolfenbarger are scheduled to be arraigned on Jan. 17 in Detroit in the Wayne County Circuit Court.

Meanwhile, relatives of the Pesce family have established the Carlo, Sabrina and Melissa Light of Life Memorial Fund-named for the three murdered children—to help save the eyesight of children of poor Italian families who don’t have enough money to cover medical bills. To contribute, write in care of Light of Light Memorial Fund, 35902 Schoolcraft, Livonia, MI 48150-1217.