Crime History, Feb. 5, 2002: California lawyer found dead in shallow grave in sensational case

Sarah Dutra, left, and Elisa McNabney, were suspected in the murder of McNabney's husband, a California attorney.

Sarah Dutra, left, and Elisa McNabney, were suspected in the murder of McNabney’s husband, a California attorney.

On his day, Feb. 5, in 2002, Sacramento lawyer Larry Williams McNabney was found in a shallow grave in a Northern California vineyard in a murder case full of twists.

McNabney, 52, had disappeared six months earlier. By the time a farmer worker found his body, his wife Elisa McNabney had fled.

Investigators brought in Elisa McNabney’s close friend and McNabney law office worker Sarah Dutra.  The 21-year-old art student brought her designer dog into the police interrogation room, then confessed to being the wife’s lover.

Larry McNabney

Larry McNabney

Dutra then described on camera how she and the lawyer’s wife dragged poisoned him with a lethal dose of horse tranquilizer and then McNabney’s body from a second-floor bedroom, then concealed it in a garage refrigerator. The pair went on a trip to Las Vegas with the body in the trunk. McNabney buried the body herself.

About a month before her husband’s body was found, Elisa McNabney, went on the run as authorities also began asking about the missing lawyer. She drove away in her red sports car and teenage daughter.

It turned out Elisa McNabney, 36, was really an ex-con from Florida who used 40 aliases to mask her past.

Authorities eventually caught up to McNabney in Florida, where she was from originally. But she hanged herself in a jail cell, while California authorities were attempting to extradite her.

She left a suicide note that implicated Dutra. Dutra was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 11 years behind bars.

— Scott McCabe



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