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 Pesce’s 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 Detroit News and Livonia Observer 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., and selected 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 robbers ordered the jeweler’s 12-year-old son to phone his father and ask him to come home, claiming 6-year-old Melissa had fallen down and hurt herself. When Pesce arrived, he was forced to open the house’s basement safe, which contained jewelry, watches, and other valuables.
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 one day later, 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 to the police on Dec. 23 because of the children’s murder, he said.
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—as well as the alleged murder weapon.
Because the murder occurred during the commission of a robbery, which also is a felony, the crimes are considered felony murders and carry a penalty of life imprisonment. Even if Lincoln wasn’t in the Pesce home, he could be found equally guilty as if he had committed murder, his attorney told the Observer.
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. Donations may be sent to the Light of Life Memorial Fund, 35902 Schoolcraft, Livonia, MI 48150-1217.