Major Scott Champagne of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office was determined to learn the identity of the severed head that was found in the Everglades.
It was 2007 when officials made the gruesome discovery in a canal along Alligator Alley. It wouldn’t be until more than a decade later when investigators learned what really happened to the victim.
The case is being explored in the Oxygen docuseries “Florida Man Murders,” which focuses on bizarre, horrific crimes in the Sunshine State. It features interviews with investigators, as well as loved ones.
Champagne told Fox News that while the Everglades is a popular tourist attraction, it has become a notable dumping ground.
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“Anyone in Florida knows that the Everglades is a very harsh environment,” said Champagne. “I’ve often said before that the Everglades holds several secrets. It’s not unusual for us to work homicide investigations that ultimately end up in the Everglades.”
Florida has had its share of notorious murderers. Ted Bundy’s crime spree came to an end in 1989 when he met the state’s electric chair, nicknamed “old sparky,” at age 42. Aileen Wuornos, who killed six men along central Florida highways while working as a prostitute, became the 10th woman executed in the United States in 2002 at age 46.
Still, Champagne didn’t believe the decapitation was the work of a serial killer.
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“We always hold that in the back of our minds, but this particular case didn’t necessarily stand out with regards to serial killers,” he explained. “The focus was more-so on being able to identify the victim at the time. … It just wasn’t our first thought. Our focus was trying to identify the victim and move forward from there.”
Investigators had a few clues. Alligators are frequently found in the area, but the head had no bite marks, the Sun-Sentinel reported. According to the outlet, the bloodied plastic shopping bag that once held the head was still at the scene. It came from Waldbaum’s, a supermarket chain located only in New York. Police then took their search up north.
The outlet noted that more than three months passed from the discovery to the identification of the remains.
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“It was huge,” said Champagne. “Any homicide investigator will tell you that one of the first things is knowing your victim, understanding the victim. In a majority of homicide investigations, the victim had known their assailant. It’s not unusual. So for us to be able to finally identify the victim months later allowed us to get the ball rolling on the investigation. We went full steam ahead at that point.”
In April 2007, Lorraine Hatzakorzian of Mastic, New York, disappeared. The 41-year-old’s mother told authorities she had seen her daughter leave New York with two men. The missing woman picked up a money order on April 16 from a Waldbaum’s on Long Island, police said.
Investigators said they zeroed in on Paul Bryan Trucchio and Robert Mackey, who lived together in Port Orange, Florida, after a roommate alleged they bragged about murdering a woman and dumping her body parts, the New York Daily News reported. A Suffolk County police report stated Hatzakorzian was last seen leaving her home in the company of Trucchio and Mackey.
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According to the outlet, Douglas Stein told police that Trucchio, 33, and Mackey, 39, had taken a New York license plate off a blue pickup truck registered to Hatzakorzian. Stein also told authorities he recalled seeing the pair cleaning the truck with bleach and muriatic acid.
A background check found that Trucchio and Mackey had been stopped in Hatazkorzian’s 1998 Dodge Dakota pickup on May 1 for traffic citations.
The outlet also noted that Trucchio and Mackey were in the Volusia County jail on unrelated charges at the time. An unidentified inmate claimed to authorities that the men provided him details of the crime, including specifics that weren’t released to the press that also matched the evidence.
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In the documentary, Hatzakorzian’s grieving family credited Champagne and the investigation team for working tirelessly over the years.
“Investigators will often say that we speak for those who can’t speak for themselves,” said Champagne. “We become the victim’s voice. I spent a lot of time with Lori’s family over the course of this investigation, which lasted several years. Some of those conversations were intelligence-gathering for the investigators. Other parts of those conversations were reassurance to the family that we would get the job done.”
But the case only got stranger. The documentary revealed that witnesses testified that both Trucchio and Mackey allegedly prayed to an “alligator god,” or a small statue outside a Port Orange motel where they were staying at the time. The witnesses alleged that the men hoped evidence would be consumed by nearby alligators as they rubbed the sculpture’s head, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
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Champagne described Trucchio and Mackey as “stone-cold killers.”
“The final hours of Lori’s life were violent,” he said. “This was a violent, heinous act committed against her. In circumstances like this, you want to say that the victim didn’t suffer. But I’m not sure this is the case with this particular investigation based on what we know. The suspects, in this case, had more than enough opportunity [to stop] and they failed to do so. Instead, they took it a step further and dismembered her.”
In 2007, Trucchio and Mackey were charged with grand theft and first-degree murder. In 2013, Mackey was sentenced to 30 years in prison, the Sun-Sentinel reported. According to the outlet, a Broward jury determined that Mackey may not have been involved in Hatzakorzian’s murder, but he did help Trucchio cover up the crime for months. Mackey was convicted of accessory after the fact.
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A year earlier, Trucchio was also sentenced to 30 years after pleading no contest to second-degree murder.
Both men have maintained their innocence.
It is believed that Hatzakorzian had a disagreement with the men. It appeared that she was bound, beaten unconscious and dismembered. The suspects allegedly disposed of her body parts as they made their way to Florida.
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“They were familiar with each other,” said Champagne. “They were associates, whether it be through hanging out or that there was some indication that maybe Lori had assisted them on a few jobs related to [Mackey’s] tree trimming business. There were also some implications that there may have been some involvement between her and Paul Trucchio, but of course, that has never been confirmed.”
“This whole incident was initiated because Robert Mackey wanted to travel down to Florida to visit his ailing mother at the time,” he continued. “So they had every intention of coming down to Florida prior to the murder. It was Lori’s hesitation or reservation about going to Florida with them utilizing her truck that caused the violent act and ultimately her murder. She was ultimately murdered and dismembered in an effort to cover up the initial assault.”
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The documentary revealed that at one point, Champagne attempted to speak with Trucchio to find out where the rest of Hatzakorzian’s remains could be found. However, the interaction only lasted about 10 minutes.
“Trucchio played many games,” said Champagne.
The case still raises questions decades later. However, Champagne hopes the documentary will show viewers how determined homicide investigators are to ensure justice is served, no matter how long it takes.
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“This case is now going on 14 years,” said Champagne. “I still remain committed to returning Lori’s remains to her family to give them some level of closure. Even though we gave them a little bit of closure, I still remain committed to returning the rest of Lori home back to Long Island. I’d like to be optimistic that that could happen one day, but that really falls upon those responsible for her murder. And they are Paul Trucchio and Robert Mackey.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.