Two men were charged with murdering five family
members during a December 21, 2002, robbery at their suburban Detroit
John Wolfenbarger, 31, and Dennis Lincoln, 27, were charged with
five counts each of premeditated murder and felony murder.
Pesce, 38, his mother, Maria Vergati, 68 and Pesce's three children,
Melissa, 6, Sabrina, 9, and Carlo, 12, were gunned down execution-style
in Pesce's home. Police said the safe was open and the house ransacked.
The killings happened after Pesce dropped his children off at his house
in Livonia, then went to his office without entering the home,
"We believe these three children walked into a
home where the armed killers waited for them," Prosecutor Michael
Duggan said. The burglars may have forced Carlo Pesce to call his father
and ask him to come home after realizing the children didn't know the
combination of the safe.
Wolfenbarger and Dennis, who had been cellmates
also were charged with armed robbery, home invasion, being a felon in
possession of a firearm and using a firearm during the commission of a
The uncle of John Wolfenbarger testified in a
preliminary hearing that his nephew bragged that he had done something
that would make the national news.
Wolfenbarger's uncle, William Smith,
36, of Detroit, testified that he went to police after his nephew came
to his home late on the night of the killings looking for a change of
clothes and bragged that something he did would be shown on CNN.
Investigators suspect the two men began zeroing in on
Pesce's house sometime in early December 2002. Pesce's 3,000-pound safe
was filled with jewels, watches and other valuables.
The men were
believed to have been cellmates in a Carson City prison and were paroled
earlier in the year. Lincoln served nine years for armed robbery, and
Wolfenbarger served eight years for a series of burglaries.
On the afternoon of December 21, 2002,
Marco Pesce, an Italian immigrant who owned Italia Jewelry in Livonia,
drove his three young children, Carlo, Sabrina, and Melissa, to visit
their mother, Diane Pesce, who was in a residential drug treatment
facility in Ann Arbor.
Marco picked up the children from
their visit, then dropped them off at his home in Livonia at about 5:30
or 5:40 p.m., returning to work at approximately 6:00 or 6:15 p.m.
Marco’s mother, Maria Vergati, who was
visiting the family from Italy, was at the Pesce home at the time, and
Marco did not exit his vehicle and go inside his home when he dropped
off the children.
Shortly after Marco arrived back at
work after dropping off the children at home, Carlo called Marco and
told him to come home because Melissa had fallen and chipped her tooth.
Marco left work immediately and returned home.
The next day Marco, his three children,
and his mother were discovered dead in the Pesce home. They had each
been shot to death on December 21, 2002. The house had been ransacked
and the family safe had been emptied of jewelry and cash.
The evidence showed that Dennis
Lincoln and his codefendant, John Wolfenbarger, carefully planned and
prepared to rob Marco Pesce at his home.
Lincoln made a written statement to
the police explaining his role in the crimes and describing how he and
Wolfenbarger planned and prepared to commit their crimes.
Lincoln admitted that on December 19,
2002, he and Wolfenbarger, in separate cars, communicated by cell phone
as they targeted Marco Pesce and watched Italia Jewelry. They attempted
to follow Marco home, but could not tell which driveway he turned into.
The next evening, on December 20,
2002, Lincoln and Wolfenbarger followed Marco home again. This time,
they succeeded in as certaining the location of Marco’s home.
According to Lincoln, on December 21,
2002, he and Wolfenbarger purchased a clipboard, delivery receipts, and
a teddy bear to further their plan to have Wolfenbarger pose as
deliverymen to gain access to the Pesce family home. They also borrowed
a pick-up truck from Wolfenbarger’s friend to use when they committed
According to Lincoln, late in the
afternoon of December 21, 2002, Wolfenbarger drove the truck to the
Pesce home, parked it in the driveway, and got out with the teddy bear
and approached Vergati, who was in the garage. According to Lincoln put
his hand in his coat pocket, which contained a .380 pistol, and
Wolfenbarger and Vergati went inside the home.
Lincoln claimed that Wolfenbarger made
a gesture with his hand, so Lincoln left the Pesce home in the pick-up
truck and drove to Italia Jewelry to watch for Marco. Defendant and
Wolfenbarger communicated by cell phone during this time.
According to Lincoln, Wolfenbarger
told him that he told Carlo to call Marco at work and tell him that one
of his sisters chipped her tooth to lure Marco home. Lincoln claimed
that he fell asleep while he was sitting in the parked truck waiting for
Lincoln further claimed that he
awakened at 6:21 p.m. and then drove to the Pesce home and picked up
Wolfenbarger. Lincoln asserted that when Wolfenbarger got into the truck,
he said, “five dead, Bro’.”
Lincoln and Wolfenbarger then returned
the truck to Wolfenbarger’s friend and brought bags containing items
from the Pesce home to Tracy Letts’ home.
Lincoln denied being the shooter and
claimed that he simply dropped off and picked up Wolfenbarger at the
Pesce home. He also asserted that Wolfenbarger had determined that
defendant did not need a gun because he would not go inside the Pesce
Defenders: Livonia Murder Is
Allegedly Plotted, Planned
Investigation Goes Inside Shocking Crime
January 30, 2003
One month ago, just days before Christmas, three
children: Carlo, 12, Sabrina, 9, and Melissa, 6, are murdered along with
their father, Marco, and grandmother Maria Vergati. They are shot,
execution style, in the Pesce family home in an upscale suburban
For years, Marco Pesce makes jewelry. He's the
popular owner of a local shop in a Livonia strip mall. It's here two
ex-cons wait and watch, plotting to follow the businessman home to
Now for the first time, the Local 4 Defenders give
you a personal glimpse into the Pesces' private lives.
Photos, shared by a family member, show the children
in front of the Christmas tree: Melissa dancing, Sabrina at a Halloween
party, and Carlo playing the keyboards.
Dad, Marco, and son, Carlo, pretend to hold up the
Leaning Tower of Pisa during a family trip to Italy. In another photo,
Marco gets a kiss from his mother, Maria.
In a plot lasting just a few short days, all five
lives will be stolen in a home robbery by two ex-cons looking for cash
and jewels, who are willing to murder to get them.
The Local 4 Defenders share exclusive new details in
one of metro Detroit's worst murder scenes ever.
A cuddly looking stuffed animal, Cookie the teddy
bear, is purchased by the alleged killers.
Investigators close to the case tell the Defenders
the two ex-cons, Dennis Lincoln and John Wolfenbarger, pose as
deliverymen, using the bear to lure the Pesce family into opening the
The men meet the grandmother at the garage where
Wolfenbarger reaches for his gun and forces his way inside.
The ex-cons formulate their plan in a Livonia parking
lot. For two days they watch through trees, keeping an eye on Italia
When Marco Pesce leaves for the day they follow him
The Defenders have discovered Pesce wasn't the first
jeweler Lincoln and Wolfenbarger stalked. Several jewelers from Garden
City, Dearborn, and Livonia were also targets. The Defenders discovered
new documents which raise the question, should these career criminals
have been out of prison and on the streets?
Never before seen documents reveal Dennis Lincoln's
criminal history, which includes alcohol and drug abuse.
He robbed a gas station at gunpoint and spent eight
years behind bars at a Michigan prison.
The Defenders obtained Lincoln's prison record, which
shows misconduct and poor adjustment while locked up. He's labeled as a
high-risk factor on his parole eligibility sheet.
The records also indicate several improvements in
attitude and participation in father-nurturing classes. The repeat
offender is released from prison last February.
After he's released, Lincoln gets a job working with
the public and you may have come face to face with him.
He works at the information desk at Great Lakes
Crossing in Auburn Hills. His next move is to Walden books at the same
Parole records show two days after the Pesce family
is murdered, Lincoln checks in with his parole officer. The ex-con
reports no problems.
Lincoln's alleged partner in crime? John Wolfenbarger.
At 18, Wolfenbarger grabs headlines in 1989 when he
robs several local homes, many while families are inside. He steals cash
and jewelry and is convicted and sent to prison.
The Defenders have learned Wolfenbarger escapes from
prison and commits more crimes while on the run. He's caught and serves
Wolfenbarger's risk factor, according to his parole
eligibility sheet, is listed as middle to high, but despite a long rap
sheet and his escape, Wolfenbarger is released from prison last August.
Lincoln and Wolfenbarger met while serving time at
the Boyer Correctional Facility in Carson City.
Once out, the two ex-cons reunite and it takes just
five days for the men to plot and pull off one of the most horrible
crimes in metro Detroit.
When it's over, five people are dead: Maria Vegati,
her son, Marco Pesce, and three children.
Two Arrested for 'Worst Jewelry
Crime in a Generation'
JCK-Jewelers Circular Keystone
Saturday, March 1 2003
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
According to JSA, police reports, and the
Detroit News and
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
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
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.
Michigan: Murder Convictions For 2
The New York Times
May 10, 2003
Two men were convicted of murdering a jeweler and
four family members in the robbery of $3,200 and jewelry from a safe in
the victims' house in Livonia.
Separate juries found the men, John Wolfenbarger, 31,
of Detroit, and Dennis Lincoln, 27, of Flint, guilty. They face
mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole.
The jeweler, Marco Pesce; his children; and his
mother, Maria Vergati, were found shot to death on Dec. 21. The verdict
against Mr. Lincoln was reached last month but was sealed until the
verdict against Mr. Wolfenbarger was reached.
Livonia, Michigan jewelry store
owner and his family who on Dec. 21 were shot to death in their home by
recently-paroled robbers Dennis Lincoln and John Wolfenbarger, after the
Pesce’s had complied with the robber’s requests and emptied the safe.
Slain where jeweler Marco Pesce, 38; his mother, Maria Vergati, 68; and
Pesce's three children, Melissa, 6, Sabrina, 9, and Carlo, 12.