URBANA — A landlord who found a woman’s dismembered remains in her bathtub said he felt compelled to break into the locked bathroom after her mother came looking for her.
Gary Zerkle told The Associated Press that 21-year-old Jessica Sacco’s mother arrived at the younger woman’s Urbana home Thursday night, finding nothing amiss, but a locked bathroom door.
The following morning, Zerkle, who lives next door to the duplex Sacco rented, decided to check it out himself, largely because Sacco’s mother had looked so concerned.
“I didn’t think that was right,” he said of the locked bathroom door. “Sometimes you get a gut feeling.”
He removed the doorknob and pried open the door. Once in, he looked behind the shower curtain.
“I pulled it back, and that was it,” he said. “And I zoomed out the front door. … I was trying to gasp for air.”
Shuddering, he said he can’t describe what he found.
“All I could think about was the sadness for her mother,” he said.
Sacco, who police say moved to the area from California about a year ago, paid $360 per month to stay in the duplex, Zerkle said. Her on-again, off-again boyfriend had joined her in the apartment in the fall. Shortly thereafter, Andrew and Kandis Forney, of Fenton, Mich., began staying with them.
The boyfriend, Matthew Puccio, has been charged with murder and other counts in Sacco’s slaying and dismemberment. The Forneys and another couple, Christopher Wright and Sharon Cook, of Urbana, are also charged. Police say the couples watched as Puccio stabbed Sacco, then placed a bag over her head and suffocated her. One of the men is accused of helping with the dismemberment.
Some of the body parts were found miles away in Kentucky.
Puccio was arraigned Tuesday and is being held on $100,000 bond. The other four defendants also have been arraigned and are being held on bonds of $50,000 each. Telephone messages seeking comment were left for their attorneys on Tuesday.
Urbana police Chief Matt Lingrell has said that Puccio and Sacco had recently met the Forneys online and that the members of the group were “loose friends.” Investigators haven’t commented on a motive for the killing, believed to have happened around March 22.
Sacco’s mother went to her home after failing to reach her via cellphone for about a week, Zerkle said.
He was having the house emptied and the bathroom gutted on Tuesday by a crew that wore white protective gear and facemasks and placed articles in a large refuse container.
“I can’t go in there thinking about what happened,” he said.
Crews were disposing of almost everything but salvaged Saccos’ birth certificate and a baby book. Zerkle plans to return them to her mother.