A Story of PoisonDateline NBC
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- 7 Apr 2021
In this Dateline classic, lawyer Larry McNabney, had money, a successful practice and a beautiful wife. But Larry also struggled with alcohol that sometimes caused him to disappear for days on end. When days stretched into weeks and no one heard from him, people began to worry. Keith Morrison reports. Originally aired on NBC on May 18, 2012.
She was a person out of a 40s film noir movie. She was a stunner physically, and she had a strange hold over men.
She was able to say jump. And the men would say how high? One of those men was her husband. He said she's just fun and vivacious and we have a good time. But the good times ended.
He disappeared then. So did she, leaving behind a very close friend.
They bought matching underwear together.
A mystery deep, deep in her office and a murder.
It was a love triangle and one of them had to go.
Here's Keith Morrison with a story of poison. It was September 11, 2001, just about everybody knows where they were, that awful day, like the glamorous trio that was traveling north through California's Yosemite National Park, even as the rest of the world's attention was focused on New York City. They were intent on their own urgent needs, their desires, their fears, their deadly love triangle. So they probably didn't appreciate the passing one. There's the astonishing cliffs, the waterfalls, the giant sequoias, any more than the one in the back seat through fading eyes.
So anything at all.
His name was Larry McNab Knee, and he was a tall, handsome man, a well known and respected attorney from Nevada, a personal injury specialist made buckets of money, love the big life, love being in control. There was never a hair out of place. There wasn't dust on his desk. His pen was always in the same spot.
His daughter Tavia was crazy about him in all of his type. A personality is joy of life, his courtroom presence.
I loved to go to the courtroom and watch my dad. It was mesmerizing to me to come into this place completely confident, not an ounce of shyness. He commanded the courtroom.
I've been a trial lawyer for over 20 years, a good attorney and perhaps as important, very good at the business of law. Larry's long time friend, Fred Atchison, he could open 50 files a month in personal injury litigation, which made him a rich man. But nobody's perfect, of course, and for all of Larry's unquestioned talents, the man carried around with him a raft of corresponding demons. I know he had a difficult childhood and that a lot of your personality is shaped when you're a child.
And as an adult, Larry struggled with alcohol and women. Married and divorced several times. It was like a void he was trying to fill and he never could fill it. In fact, from time to time, Larry had gone on benders and just vanished weeks at a time. Everybody had worry and wonder and sure enough, he'd show up again.
I had a t shirt made up once yellow with black letters saying, where is Larry McNabb? Then finally, very well into his forties, seem to get his act together for real. He set up a new office in Las Vegas. Everything clicked, possibly for an attractive reason, as Tavia discovered.
I went by the office one day and he said, I have someone I want you to meet. He said, This is Elisa.
Elisa, 17 years younger than Larry. And he was in love. And he said she's just fine and vivacious and she's young and it's just we have a good time.
Tavia didn't stand in the way. She wanted her dad to be happy and welcome the new person in It's My Dad, so I didn't want anything that would inhibit me from spending time with him.
And he really cared for this woman.
He did, Larry and Elisa thrived both personally and professionally. They got married. Elisa became his office manager.
They opened up a firm in Sacramento, California, another big success. So they hired a young, attractive college student named Sara Dutra, the outgoing daughter of deeply religious parents who soon became a friend, as well as a sort of personal and office assistant.
And together, Elisa Larry enjoyed the high life.
She was into the same thing that Larry loved and style, and they went out and bought VIPR cars together.
They also shared Larry's newest Passion Quarter horses. Larry would show horses and show himself, which fit in with with Larry looking good and feeling good. Larry could do more of what he liked. Well, young Sarah pitched in to help Alisa run the business end of Larry's law practice. Just about perfect, though. Larry's friend Fred was a bit of a stick in the mud about it.
The fact that she took control of his business, allowed him to engage in drinking and partying, which is not really what Larry needed. No, he didn't need that because his appetites would run run amuck.
So when after nearly seven years of marriage, Larry suddenly dropped out of sight, close friends were extremely alarmed at first. After all, Larry had gone on drunken benders before. But this time, as days stretched into weeks, it seemed different. Extremely odd. Ginger Miller started working at the law firm as a secretary in September 2001, just about the time Larry went missing. Elisa kept the business going in his absence, but couldn't seem to settle on what the staff should tell people about Larry.
I was told to tell his kids and different people in his family different things. So I was told that he was golfing or skiing someplace that probably couldn't get a hold of a man.
It was all obvious. Yes, yeah, yeah.
Because and then if it was a client, I would have to say that he was working on the deposition. He was with another client to fly out.
Larry's kids didn't know what to think. And I said to my brother, this doesn't sound right. Why do the stories keep changing?
October, right? Still no, Larry. Thanksgiving and December. He was always with family on his birthday, but still no sign of Larry McNabb.
I didn't get a good feeling. And what I worried about was had something gone wrong and dad was scared and he took off and Larry offended the wrong person.
Tavia had a friend in law enforcement who told her, you have to look at it two ways.
Either if he's in hiding, he's not going to be happy. You found him because obviously he's hiding for a reason or something's happened to him.
Meanwhile, back at the office, Ginger was hearing things, worrisome things, until she just couldn't keep it in anymore. I went to the sheriff's department. I wasn't sure what to do. So I just asked for a piece of paper and I slid it under the window.
Detectives got her note. All right. And that's figured they should have a chat with Lisa MacNab me. But by the time they went looking for her, just like Larry, she was gone. Coming up, investigators begin to fill in the missing pieces about the mysterious and now missing Elisa.
He called me up and said, Fred, I don't know who she is, if her name is what she says it is or anything. By the dawn of 2002, while the rest of us were getting used to a post 9/11 new normal, it seemed pretty clear that something very abnormal must have happened to that successful personal injury attorney Larry McNabb. Nobody had seen him in five months. He'd never been on a bender for this long. And now his wife, Alisa, was missing two.
By this time, Ginger had dropped off her note at the sheriff's office and detectives were poking around in the abandoned remains of Larry's law practice, talking to employees like Sara Dutra, the attractive 21 year old art student from Sacramento State who worked at the MacNab law firm as an office secretary. She brought her little dog, Ralph, with her to the sheriff's office. Sara told the detectives that she and the Lisa had become close friends.
And so she, Sara, certainly noticed how erratic Elisa became after Larry went missing or work all day long.
Sara confirmed what Ginger Miller said, that Elisa kept changing her explanations for Larry's whereabouts. And Sara said she saw Elisa signing Larry's name on checks and day to day business transactions.
I figured she'd feel a home for sale.
In early January 2002, Cesira Elisa planned a trip to Arizona to attend a horse show. And in the absence of Larry, invited Sara to go along.
Oh, all pay for all. But when Sarah got to the airport. The ticket was not paid for.
You know what, if you get a call and that was that, said Sarah, she hadn't heard from Alisa since she called them on the phone, was all about Thomas test was the San Joaquin County prosecutor.
He'd handled a number of missing persons cases. And so when he heard about the case of Larry and Elisa McNevin, he gravitated toward it.
He was an attorney with a caseload who just disappeared. This isn't someone who's a homeless person who just vanishes. And you think maybe they took a Greyhound and went to Nevada test.
It began by taking a good, hard look at Elisa. She was a person out of a 40s film noir movie in that she was a stunner physically. Everyone said that, but more importantly, she had a control over man that just amazed me. She was able to say jump. And the men would say how high.
It certainly seemed true for Larry. So is that his old friend, Fred Atcheson, she was controlling him to the extent that she was keeping him away from his family and his former friends. Does that include the relationship he had with you?
No question about you. Find yourself shut out. Yeah. So did Larry's daughter, Tavia, Elisa completely cut me out of the picture and I was devastated.
But why? Why was Elisa keeping Larry away from his family and friends? What did she have to hide?
He called me up once on the phone and said, Fred, I don't know who she is. And, you know, I thought he meant well. We don't really ever know who our spouses are deep down. And he said, no, I don't even know if this is who she is, if her name is what she says it is or anything by then, said Fred.
Mary had discovered ample reason to stop trusting Lisa.
He couldn't keep his wallet in his pants.
He told you that, yeah, she would steal money out of his wallet. He had to hide his wallet in his own house.
Turned out she was also stealing from the law firm.
She'd ripped him off for how much? I mean, I did over a hundred thousand dollars.
Larry told Fred all about his troubles with Elisa. And yet he kept her around, not like he hadn't divorced women before, but not this one. Tavia didn't get it.
I mean, he always said she has this hold over me and I never understood what that meant.
And Larry's comments to Fred about not knowing his wife, well, his suspicions turned out to be true. A little research told detectives that the real woman behind the name Elisa MacNab name had a considerable criminal rap sheet, including stolen property, credit card fraud, grand theft.
She really had a way of ingratiating herself with men and using her female charms. And she was very, very good at it. She was a true and true con artist.
So was Elisa just conning Larry surely thought Fred she wouldn't have done away with him, would she?
It wouldn't make any sense, even for a dedicated polecat to do anything like that, because he was the goose that laid the golden egg. It wouldn't make any sense whatsoever.
It was a farm worker who noticed a flock of vultures or buzzards drifting above grape fields, saw something sticking out of the ground, and soon a missing person's case turned into something much, much worse and considerably more bizarre.
It was February 2002, a remote vineyard up in the northern end of California's Central Valley, a farm worker checking the outer reaches of a giant field of grape couldn't help but see the big birds wheeling round and round something out there.
Vultures are circling. He spotted the vultures, and so he went out to see what they were circling.
Investigator Javier Ramos and Lieutenant Robert Bookwalter worked with the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department at the time. They were among the first on the scene. Must be some dead animal or something. Well, there they believe he said that that's what he figured he was going to find, just some dead animal out there.
But it wasn't a dead animal. The leg that was sticking out of the ground was decidedly human. And soon there, his daughter Tavia heard the news. I got a call from the sheriff's department.
I felt myself get really hot and nauseous. And she said that the body they found the dental records, it was him.
And I remember I never swear. And I yelled out this cuss word and I slammed down the phone and I just started shaking was a moment in time that I've never felt such anguish.
Still raw, even though it is because I thought, I don't know, I thought I guess I was hoping he was in hiding. Very fortunate that the body was discovered and now we can move on and investigate it as a homicide. Homicide. Oh, yes, ample proof now, five months after he vanished, Larry had been murdered and left to rot out in the middle of nowhere. There weren't any stab wounds or any bullet holes.
There were no obvious signs of Larrys cause of death. So they looked further and found something very unusual. The medical examiner was able to find out that the cause of death was poisoning with a horse tranquilizer. Horse tranquilizer.
Yes, that was strange. But get this. He'd been dead for an extended period of time. However, the body had not decomposed, consistent with the time frame that we were looking at. Meaning? Meaning that it was preserved, kept cold.
One of the first things that I thought is where would the person that killed Larry, where would they have access to like a Walk-In refrigerator large enough to hold a human body?
Detectives wanted answers and so did Berry's daughter, Tavia, who sometimes believed she could hear her father in her sleep.
When I would go to sleep at night, I would wake up and I would hear him calling for me to help him. And I didn't know what to do and I didn't understand what was going on.
Sometimes people get a sense of knowing either what or who was responsible. Did you? I knew Elisa had done something. Is much younger wife, Elisa. She vanished a few months after he did, and now that Larry was dead, she was the prime suspect in his murder.
Sheriff's deputies and the FBI finally tracked her down in March 2002 in Florida. She cut her hair short and changed her name. Lisa was now going by the name of Shane Irony and was working as a paralegal at a Florida law firm.
At least I was a very smart person. She had, I believe, one hundred and forty I.Q. She could talk anybody anything. Right.
But now that she was finally exposed to the con artist she was and was in custody, Elisa decided to tell her story starting at long last with her legal name.
And my Ellie are in our in the money is really hard for me, since at least we're going to change Regis. Different name.
You know, I mean, I was like Elisa or Lauren was from Massachusetts and was a mother of two. She was wanted in Florida for violating probation on a burglary and theft charge and had been on the run for nine years. She said she eventually settled in Las Vegas, where she met Larry and by this time had changed her name to Elisa. She told the police that she was at the horse show in Arizona when she found out police wanted to talk to her about Larry.
And so she took off in her Jaguar, drove from state to state, moving in at this point and just the way.
So with the preliminaries out of the way, now came the big question, what happened to Larry MacNab name Elisa without hesitation and without even being asked, spilled the beans.
Yes, I showed up there.
It was no apology, no evasion. She simply confessed to killing her husband, Barry McNatt, mini bar. And this was a pact with a capital B, but that wasn't the whole story. Not even close. Coming up, the rest of the story. Did Elisa have help?
And I was trying to control my life. Yes. And I was freaking out.
She who was. She went continues. There is a purity to confession, a real cleansing of the soul. And now, after months on the lam, Elisa MacNab, a.k.a. Larin, Rene, et cetera, et cetera, was finally in custody and offloading the secrets of a lifetime, didn't hold back. Yes, she killed Larry, her husband of nearly seven years, she said, but it wasn't her idea.
During closing, she said, who was this other woman who pushed Elisa to commit murder?
Turned out detectives had already talked with her. Remember Sarah Dutra, the young secretary, Elisa's friend, who came in with her little dog and had been so helpful to detectives after Larry and Elisa disappeared? Now, Alisa was saying that killing Larry was Sarah's idea and. Elisa told the story this way, Larry was a heavy drinker and drug user, he was abusive, she claimed, and she feared for her life. One day, she said she confided in her young friend Sarah.
And Sarah said there was just one thing to do.
Kill Larry. McDiven, now in a three hour long interview with Lisa went into detail after gruesome details of how she and Sarah did it.
Alisa and Larry were at a horse show in Los Angeles, she said, and Sarah flew down to meet them or rather to meet Alisa. Since Larry didn't like Sarah, said Lisa only did you guys decide to do with Lisa.
If you become a Muslim, were you going to do it like that day or are you going to put some other time in the future? When were you guys planning on doing it? Right then. Right then and there. Yeah. That was September 9th, 2001, according to Elisa. Larry had already passed out after imbibing a little horse tranquilizer on his own for fun.
So Sarah decided, according to Elisa, to just give him more and no one would ever find out.
It seemed like a good idea to try to make it. So we're willing to take some advice.
Well, Larry slept, said Elisa. She and Sarah squirted drops of horse tranquilizer into his mouth, but Larry didn't die. Instead, the next day on September 10, Larry got up, showed his horse and then went right back to bed.
Next morning, he's like, when I was 10 years old, I always say. And he said, and she pushes him.
But he was so heavily drugged he couldn't walk down the street. And I got him dressed in a wheelchair, multilateral approach. And I'm a messenger.
And you do this, by the way, was September 11th, 2001. Everyone else in the known world preoccupied elsewhere? Well, Elisa and Sarah drove north through California with Larry slowly dying in the back seat of the truck stop somewhere in Yosemite. And Sarah started digging a hole. OK. And I tried to swim in the hole. Yes. And I was freaking out. I said, no, he's alive. And we can't do.
So she said they drove on. They thought Larry would die in the car, but he didn't. So when they finally made it back to Larry and Alisa's home near Sacramento, Larry was slipping in and out of consciousness, still alive at 6:00 a.m., the sun starts coming up.
Zero sleeps and we go there. And he was dead.
That was the morning of September 12 lying here.
So she that he was lying on and we wrapped it around him and took duct tape wrapped around him. And he was like in a crouch position. And in my garage, he had this lying on the ground, but he kept lying. So why out of it from the inside and.
The stuff Larry's body in the refrigerator, well, they decided what to do with it, have them in your little room and you talk about the burning fly, but they couldn't quite decide.
And so they kept Larry's body in the refrigerator for three months and then they decided to take it to Las Vegas, find someplace there to bury it the way he would want to have a hard time seeing you to picking up a little later on down in front of the church or some some time. And back to Jack Question Time. And then it's frozen like that. Much difference. And we just pushed the tire into the ground. Exactly. And he was like of this, you know, Superchunk and his balls and John and Las Vegas en route to Las Vegas with their two dogs in the back seat, Larry, in the trunk, along with two shovels.
Once there, Sara hung out at the hotel with the dogs. Alisa went out looking for a burial place for Larry. But when she started digging, she said the ground was too hard.
And so I want to tell or you can do it this time with Trump and valet parking. It's not good enough. So police said they drove back to California and the next morning at four o'clock, she drove out to a vineyard, dug a hole and buried deep, deep enough.
That was Alisa's story. And just a few hours after she finished telling you, California detectives hauled in Sarah Dutra, the alleged driver of the whole plot and her story. Well, it was a little different.
Coming up, is Sarah Dutra a cold blooded killer or an innocent who was just trying to survive?
I don't know, I. When Dateline continues. I'm here tonight to encourage you to let the chips fall where the chips fall, do not protect Lisa anymore. Don't protect yourself either. Just tell the truth.
She Sarah Dutra appeared confused no little dog to keep her company. Now, her close friend, Elisa MacNab, had confessed to murdering her husband, Larry, and claimed that Sarah, just 21 years old at the time, not only helped with the murder, but was actually the driving force behind it.
What do you think Lisa's doing right about now? She's lying about what really happened. Are you a cold blooded killer or are you know, or are you somebody that got caught up in some stuff and made some mistakes?
They confronted her with the written confession, basically says Ilorin. Jordan, along with Sarah Dewdrop, plan to overdose the stabbing with horse tranquilizer. No, no. I mean, I'm not denying that that conversation could have happened. I never thought that she would have carried it out and taken me along with her unknowingly. She's evil and she's trying to do the poor. You deal with it because you didn't tell me. I know she had. Explain that to me then, why is she doing this, make me believe it, Sarah, because she's an evil person anyway.
Are you sure?
You know, Sarah Dutra broke down and told detectives her side of the story. And in this version, it was Elisa, not Sarah, who was the cold blooded killer.
It was Elisa, she said, who dosed Larry with horse tranquilizer. Elisa, who ordered Sarah to bury him in Yosemite even before he was dead.
Get out. Grab the show and go check that out this time.
OK, I want to know, what do you want me to do?
Elisa, who was eerily calm when Larry finally did expire and he was laying there on the ground, then what do you make of the girl who was, you know, is. Susy's. That was the morning of September 12 after the long and harrowing drive home from the horse show in Los Angeles, said Sara, and through her tears, she told the detectives how Larry's body ended up in the refrigerator.
But she says, I read everything. A case, a case like this, like, what are you doing? I to not. We are not going to let you go.
You you said you said this was the heart of Sara's version. She went along with the whole awful, crazy thing for one reason.
She said she was deathly afraid of Elisa.
I didn't want to know. Yes. Was it possible an innocent young woman in the thrall of a con artist and killer, Sara Dutra, seemed so frightened, so emotional, and yet thought the detective?
I felt a little bit over the top. She was a little over the top? Yeah.
You mean she was acting, putting it on?
I believe so. After more than nine hours of questioning, Sara Dutra was arrested and charged with Larrys murder.
It was a classic crime story. Two killers, mutual finger pointing. And prosecutors knew they could use each woman's testimony against the other. An easy checkmate. That is, until Elisa took herself off the board on March 30th, 13 days after her arrest, the jailer found her hanging by the neck in her cell. The suicide. A million questions for Lisa.
And now that door has been slammed shut and now Sarah left holding the bag would face murder charges alone.
Coming up, the prosecutor had to prove that Sarah was equally responsible for Larry MacNab, Annie's death. But with Elisa God, who story with a jury believe when you try only one defendant, it's very easy, as it was for Sarah to try to point the finger at the one who's not there.
It was the winter of 2003, more than a year after Larry and he was poisoned with horse tranquilizer, his admitted killer, his wife, Alisa McNab, chose her own destiny and her alleged accomplice, Sarah Dutra, alone faced the possibility of spending the rest of her life behind bars. You attended the trial every day? Yes, 11 and a half. Why?
Why our D.A. had talked to us about the importance of our family being represented, that my dad not being forgotten, Tavia, believe that her father died at the hands of both Lisa and Sarah.
Abousamra admitted to being there when Barry died.
And in the days and months that followed, she adamantly claimed she never went to the police because she was so afraid of Elisa and of ending up just like Larry, a theory that even prosecutor Thomas Testa found believable.
When I first got this case, people in my office will tell you that's exactly what I was seen walking up and down the hall. Poor Sarah. She's obviously she's she's just an eight are in a better. But as I got deeper into the case, I totally turned around on this, but I started with that very mindset.
Let's test it. Reviewed the evidence. In preparation for trial, he became convinced that Sarah Dutra was, in fact, the woman in charge.
Sarah did not like Larry. She always accused him of being full of himself, talking about himself all the time, self-centered. She didn't like him. So Larry didn't like didn't want Sarah around. Sarah did not like Larry. You know, this sounds to me like two people who both love Alyssa and want the other out of the way. That is what it. That's it. That's exactly it. It was a love triangle and one of them had to go.
Sarah said prosecutor Testa was enjoying a very fancy life with Elisa, and Larry was simply in the way.
If your theory is right, these are two kind of good time girls who have got this great relationship and they're living off the proceeds of Larry. Why get rid of him? They have no motive. Larry was at least this golden goose, but Elisa was Sarah's golden goose, and Sarah was about to be cut out of this whole triangle. Larry had just told her the day before he was killed, two days before he was killed, you know, that he wanted her gone.
He wanted her fired.
So suggested it was Sarah who had the motive to kill Larry. Zahra's lawyer, of course, saw it differently. This seems like a classic instance of, you know, evil sort of wrapping around a sweet young little baby at the trial.
Defense attorney Kevin Climo portrayed Elissa as a black widow, a sophisticated con artist who wanted her husband dead.
And Sara was her innocent and terrified of the whole thing.
I because I want to know because I want you to know that because I want to really.
Now, Prosecutor Testor introduced Ginger Miller. Remember her, the other secretary who worked alongside Sara and Delisa. She said, in the days and weeks after Larry vanished, Elisa and Sara seem to feel anything but remorse. They're laughing together.
They're shopping together. They're eating together. They're sleeping in the same bed together. She's living at her house.
So they were not really working, were they? They were. They would get maybe two hours worked on a day.
And when they do, the rest of the time, just party shop, hang out, sleep late, go flirt with boys, all the while spending the firm's money, Larry's money, a lot of money, at least the red carpet where Sarah got a red BMW. Such close friends or maybe more than friends. They bought matching underwear together. They all know my first week there, like literally they pulled up.
They both are wearing matching underwear. They were best friends.
They were blowing through money so fast they fell behind on rent payments for the law office, got evicted, so they moved the office into Olisa and Buhriz home, which, according to Ginge, now seem more like Elisa and Sara's holed up in their rooms. They had no clothes and Larry's the closet was cleaned out and in the bathroom, hers and Sarah made the sinks.
Hers and hers study his nurse, but they knew he wasn't coming back. Well, she said, yeah, they're pretty much moving in now.
Well, not quite, because all this time, remember, Larry's body was still in the garage, still in the refrigerator. And as for the idea that Sarah was an innocent child, Alisa's puppet, that was nonsense, said Ginger, that everybody knows that she wasn't terrified of her.
Sarah had as much says Lisa had in the whole situation.
But at her trial, Sarah, the daughter of those devout Christians, sat quietly at the defense table. A wide eyed, innocent Elisa wasn't around to be cross-examined, so her videotaped confession didn't get played for the jury. And with no DNA, no prints, no trace evidence, no living eyewitnesses, the case against Sarah was entirely circumstantial. The first degree murder first degree, yeah. But with the jury see it the way he did after four days of deliberations, the jury found Sarah Dutra guilty of voluntary manslaughter and accessory to murder, not first degree murder.
Had she not been a young, attractive, tall blonde whose parents were clutching Bibles crying in the first row. One wonders if this verdict would have been the same.
Sarah Dutroux was sentenced to 11 years, served eight, and in the summer of 2011, at age 31, she was released.
It's painful to know that such little time was given for such a horrific crime and one that seemed so premeditated to me and so thought out and so callous to the end.
Sarah Dutra has not responded to our interview request, and Tavia says she has forgiven Sarah as much for her own sake as anything. Will I ever forget what she's done? Never. But I don't want to have my whole life be their cruelty and the things they chose to do to him. I'd rather remember the loving times we had together, and they're not going to take that away from me.