Was a man’s obsession with a home renovation a motive for murder?
This story originally aired on September 12, 2020. It was updated on June 5, 2021.
In 2015, Dave Tronnes found the house of his dreams — a gargoyle-adorned home in the upscale Orlando, Florida, neighborhood of Delaney Park.
“The house was beautiful,” realtor Tara Stevens told “48 Hours” correspondent Erin Moriarty. “It was 4,000 square feet. It had a pool, a garage apartment.”
Stevens sold Dave the house for a little more than $600,000 and it wasn’t long before Dave and his new wife Shanti Cooper began remodeling — in their own way.
“Dave just called me on the phone … and asked if I’d come by and take a look at the project, he said that they had done some work,” said local contractor Keith Ori.
But “some work,” didn’t quite describe what he found.
“They had — fully disassembled this house to a degree that — I’d never seen before. It was rather astonishing,” Ori told Moriarty. “It was largely wide open like you’re inside of a giant shoe box.”
“This house became more than just a project to David Tronnes. It was his life,” former prosecutor Ryan Vescio told Moriarty. “He obsessed on it … this house is the center point to the story, and it led to Shanti’s demise.”
Vescio says the story began when Dave called 911 late in the day on April 24, 2018. “Dave … says that he came home and found Shanti floating in the bathtub.”
“Did that story make sense?” Moriarty asked. “Absolutely not,” Vescio replied. “Shanti was extensively beaten.”
When first responders arrived, Shanti Cooper was dead at the age of 39.
“Clearly, Dave Tronnes, from the very beginning, is a suspect,” Moriarty noted.
“Absolutely … Dave was asked to go to the station … and Dave voluntarily remained there for hours,” Vescio explained. “And he just started getting confronted and confronted and confronted.”
DET. TERESA SPRAGUE [TO DAVE TRONNES]: I told you she was murdered — murdered. Someone took her life from her and there’s nothing. You can’t even fake it. That’s how much you could give a s–t.
Dave insisted to detectives he was innocent, but his attorney Richard Zaleski says investigators would not listen.
“It seems pretty clear” attorney Richard Zaleski said, “these two detectives … went into this room, decided that David Tronnes was a murderer, and then went the extra mile to try to put a file together to prove such.”
DETECTIVE BARB SHARP: Did you guys get into an argument? Was she pissed about the house?
DAVE TRONNES: No.
“Is it possible that without this house, Shanti might still be alive?” Moriarty asked Vescio.
“I think that’s completely true,” he replied.
FROM DREAM HOME TO MONEY PIT
Tara Stevens knows Delaney Park inside and out. She’s a realtor who buys and sells homes there.
Tara Stevens: Delaney Park is a well-established neighborhood. It’s been around for over 100 years.
Tara Stevens: … it’s a great place to live, to raise a family. A lot of outside activity, great school system. It’s a great neighborhood.
Ryan Vescio: So, Delaney Park is — a mile or so from downtown Orlando …
Ryan Vescio, a former prosecutor with the Orlando State Attorney’s Office, got to know the area well when he led the investigation into the death of Shanti Cooper in April 2018.
Erin Moriarty: Did Shanti ever indicate to any friends or family … that she was afraid of anyone?
Ryan Vescio: No.
DET. TERESA SPRAGUE [to Dave Tronnes]: So, you guys knew each other approximately 5 years this month?
Vescio and investigators dug in to learn all they could about Shanti and her husband, David Tronnes. The couple had been married for more than a year.
Ryan Vescio: Everybody we spoke to about Dave and Dave’s background said that he was highly intelligent. It’s what made him successful when he worked in business.
Erin Moriarty: How would you describe Shanti?
Ryan Vescio: Shanti Cooper was a hardworking, dedicated mom who cared deeply, deeply about her son. Her son was her world.
Shanti’s son, Jackson, was then 8 years old. She shared custody with his father Jim Cooper, whom Shanti had divorced in 2013. She launched a lucrative financial software business and worked out of her home office.
Erin Moriarty: How did she meet Dave Tronnes?
Ryan Vescio: Dave was outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the time … they met over the internet and started exchanging messages and profiles. And that turned into emails.
Investigators later found a document on Shanti’s computer that shows just how smitten she was: “Dave, I will have to say, I think this will be a delicious detour, amazing, magnificent, life-changing detour… I have had a pep in my step since we started this little email affair.”
In Minnesota, Dave had just ended a long marriage. But within months of meeting Shanti online, he moved to Orlando. Dave fell in love with Delaney Park and the house at 218 East Copeland Drive — a house that came complete with its own gargoyles.
Tara Stevens: We sold it to him for $607,500, which was a really, really good deal.
Erin Moriarty: How did he pay for it?
Tara Stevens: Cash.
Dave put the house in trust for himself and his mother. And soon introduced Shanti to Tara.
Tara Stevens: … they seemed very happy. She was a beautiful, very nice person, I enjoyed meeting her.
Tara did not feel quite the same about Dave.
Tara Stevens: Dave’s personality — changed a little bit after … the contract was signed … just saw a very different side of him … He was — like— a guy … or a child who wants to get their way, and they don’t stop until they do.
Erin Moriarty: You were glad when the deal was over?
Tara Stevens: Absolutely. I was [laughs] very glad.
Cindy and Dan Dow are Shanti’s relatives by marriage. They didn’t like Dave at first, but it wasn’t long before Cindy had a change of heart.
Cindy Dow: I didn’t get a good feeling from him … I love her. So, I grew to love him. We absolutely adored him … the first time we had lunch, he walked in and he said, “How lucky am I? I get to have lunch with two of the most beautiful women that I know.” I mean, that’s charming …
In 2015, Dave and Shanti moved into their new home and attempted to remodel it with Shanti footing the bill.
Erin Moriarty: What did Dave do all day?
Ryan Vescio: It’s a great question … if you ask Dave he says that he worked on the house, and worked on the renovations, and took care of the property, and cleaned the pool.
Contractors came and went, demolition went on and on, but the renovation was an expensive failure. By 2018, the main part of the house was unlivable. Shanti was reduced to working and sleeping above the garage in a small apartment.
Erin Moriarty: Where did Dave sleep?
Cindy Dow: I think he slept downstairs with the dogs. Maybe not all the time. But — I’m pretty sure he was down there.
Desperate to resolve the housing situation, Dave turned to Keith Ori — a local house renovator who also appeared on a reality TV show called “Zombie House Flipping. “
Erin Moriarty: What is “Zombie House Flipping”?
Keith Ori: “Zombie House Flipping” is a house flipping TV show where we take houses that are the worst of the worst.
Keith Ori: And … what we do is bring ’em back to life. … I looked at the house. I realized that the structure was — suspect. And — politely stepped outside [laughs].
An engineer discovered the only thing holding up the house was two inches of stucco.
Keith Ori: It was rather astonishing. They took away all the interior dividing walls and basically what was left was a two-story shell.
Erin Moriarty: Weren’t you tempted to just run for the hills?
Keith Ori: Yeah [laughs] … but at the same time … you rarely come across a challenge that’s that — that bold.
Ori was up for the challenge and began shoring up the interior. And then he got the go-ahead to use the house in the next season of “Zombie House Flipping. “
It was mid-April 2018, and filming was set to begin in early May. But there was a problem.
Keith Ori: … getting Dave and Shanti together to talk … in person — was proving to be really difficult.
Ori went to the house to meet with the couple one last time to be sure they were on board.
Keith Ori: And they both said, “Yes, we understand.” And then she took off immediately. Just — and left … I — got a sense that she was pissed off at him.
Vescio said Shanti had been trying for years to get her name on the trust that owned the house, but Dave never followed through.
Ryan Vescio: And it seemed like things just sort of culminated to a boiling point.
It was only days before Shanti’s murder. She desperately wanted stability in her life but was living in a house that was anything but. Her name was not on the deed and she had already spent a lot of money on what was essentially Dave’s house.
Ryan Vescio: Shanti was the bankroll, the sole bankroll to almost a quarter million-dollar renovation.
Erin Moriarty: What did she get for her $250,000?
Ryan Vescio: Well, a lot of headaches and heartaches.
Shortly after Shanti was pronounced dead, Dave Tronnes went to Orlando Police Headquarters where he remained, without a lawyer, for 14 hours.
DET. TERESA SPRAGUE: We got to figure this out together, OK?
DAVE TRONNES: Of course.
Richard Zaleski is Dave’s attorney.
Richard Zasleski: He didn’t attempt to conceal anything. … He gave the law enforcement access to everything that they needed, everything that they wanted, and he laid himself out there for examination by all.
DET. TERESA SPRAGUE: We want to say how sorry we are for your loss. [Dave cries]
At the start, Detectives Teresa Sprague and Barb Sharp seem sympathetic.
DET. TERESA SPRAGUE: [Dave cries hard] Take a minute, OK. I know this is tough.
Ryan Vescio: They’re very good at building rapport and have a tremendous amount of experience.
Ryan Vescio: If you have a suspect who’s willing to talk, you just hit play and sit back and let them go on and on and on. And that’s what Dave does.
Dave sticks with his story. He took the dogs to a park in the afternoon and, after he returned, he found Shanti, still wearing her pajamas, floating in the tub.
DAVE TRONNES [to detectives]: So, I could hear the water is running. … I see her laying … one of her legs is kind of sticking out and out a little bit. And it’s just extremely awful.
DAVE TRONNES [to 911]: I need help.
911 OPERATOR: Can you tell me what your address is?
DAVE TRONNES: My wife – I found my wife, she’s not breathing.
He tells the detectives that he tried to perform CPR but couldn’t get Shanti to breathe. She was dead when first responders arrived.
Ryan Vescio: Dave has a lot to say. And a lot to say to try to convince the detectives that he wasn’t involved in his wife’s death.
DAVE TRONNES [to detectives]: I think something went wrong either she slipped, or she fell, or she blacked out.
Erin Moriarty: Why did he agree to sit down and talk to these detectives without an attorney?
Richard Zaleski: Because he had nothing to hide. And he didn’t think it would hurt him.
But the veteran detectives begin to pick at his story and question how Shanti’s bloody cheek and bruised eye came from a slip in the tub.
DAVE TRONNES: I don’t have any explanation. This is what I found.
Ryan Vescio: Somebody who slips and falls doesn’t receive the — amount of blunt force trauma to focused areas in the head.
Detectives also had spotted blood on Shanti’s bed and suspected that’s where she’d been killed. Dave says the blood likely was from Shanti’s period.
DAVE TRONNES: … it did get on the bedspread and it did get on the side of the bed.
Ryan Vescio: There was a lot of other evidence that would be inconsistent with this being blood associated with a menstrual cycle.
Detectives also suspected, and Shanti’s autopsy later confirmed, that she was strangled. But Zaleski says, as frustrating as it may have been to authorities, Dave can’t explain Shanti’s injuries not because he is lying, but because he simply doesn’t know.
Richard Zaleski: He took his best guess based upon what he come to find … He doesn’t know what happened is … the point.
The detectives press on for hours, taking turns and peppering Dave with tougher and tougher questions.
DET. TERESA SPRAGUE: Did you two argue?
DAVE TRONNES: No, absolutely not.
DET. TERESA SPRAGUE: Did you fight?
DAVE TRONNES: Absolutely not.
DET. TERESA SPRAGUE: Did you harm Shanti in any way?
DAVE TRONNES: Absolutely not.
Sharp and Sprague also question his timeline. Dave says that he called 911 about 5 minutes after he found Shanti.
DET. BARB SHARP: You’ve got to help us understand …
But detectives insist that doesn’t match what they found at the house.
DET. BARB SHARP: There’s no splashing of water anywhere in the bathroom. The inside of the tub is dry, completely dry … And she’s damp. She’s not even wet. … So, you’ve got to help us. Can you do that?
DAVE TRONNES: I’ve told you everything.
Richard Zasleski: They’re drawing conclusions based upon observations … And they’re moving forward based upon these assumptions.
They try to zero in on a possible motive.
DET. BARB SHARP: Did she catch you with another woman? Did she have a boyfriend?
DAVE TRONNES: No.
DET. BARB SHARP: Was she p—-d about the house?
DAVE TRONNES: No.
But given the sorry state of the house, detectives begin to wonder if that had something to do with Shanti’s murder.
DET. TERESA SPRAGUE: I can’t imagine how stressful it must have been. You know, not living in the home you want to live in. And it’s taking two plus years, three years.
DAVE TRONNES: Um, I’m sick to death about what happened but nothing happened today because — there was no animosity between us whatsoever.
And he says Shanti wasn’t upset that her name wasn’t on the trust that owned the house.
DAVE TRONNES: So, we had kind of talked about it and debated it and we finally just said it doesn’t really matter. Let’s just move forward.
Ryan Vescio: Teresa and Barb — are tenacious. They don’t stop.
Richard Zasleski: They’re well versed in interrogation techniques. You know, we saw the good cop, bad cop. We saw manipulation.
Detective Barb Sharp even moves her hand to Dave’s knee and adopts a more subtle tone, before Teresa Sprague begins another attack.
DET. BARB SHARP: It will be OK. We can’t help you until you help us.
DET. TERESA SPRAGUE: She treats you like a landscaper, like the pool boy … Probably because she’s bringing in the money.
As the hours tick by, they try anything they can to get him to confess.
DET. BARB SHARP: What do you want your mom to think about you?
DET. BARB SHARP: Are you religious? [Dave nods yes] Do you want to pray?
Ryan Vescio: This almost became a game of psychological warfare [laughs] in that interview room.
Dave began the interview by saying how happy he had been with Shanti. But almost eight hours into the interrogation, the detectives aren’t buying it:
DET. TERESA SPRAGUE: You claim to love that woman? I would be under the f—-ing table in a ball if I was in love with that woman and she was dead. I would be inconsolable.
Erin Moriarty: Do you think that he was penalized … because he didn’t act the way detectives wanted him to act?
Richard Zasleski Oh, time and time and time again.
DET. TERESA SPRAGUE: You know, you’ve fake cried for about seven or eight hours today. Not one tear came out your eyes, not one.
Richard Zaleski: There’s a lot of conclusions being drawn off of what they considered to be an odd effect of Mr. Tronnes. And I think that that’s a dangerous thing to do … because we all react to stress differently. We all grieve differently.
Dave even agrees to take a polygraph. But, by then, it was the middle of the night and investigators couldn’t find anyone to administer it.
Erin Moriarty: They had to let him go at the end of the interview.
Ryan Vescio: They did … [sighs].
Erin Moriarty: How did they feel about that?
Ryan Vescio: [Sighs]: You always want to make the arrest right up front. You do.
With Dave Tronnes free, police would have to keep digging for clues. But even they were surprised by what they found.
Erin Moriarty: Is it fair to say that Dave Tronnes was living a double life?
Ryan Vescio: At least two lives.
Even though detectives were outright accusing Dave Tronnes of murdering Shanti …
DET. BARB SHARP: She didn’t slip and fall… It’s not a possibility.
DET. TERESA SPRAGUE: You strangled her.
…. some of her relatives, like Cindy Dow, believed him.
Cindy Dow: Are you kidding? I bet my last dollar that it wasn’t him … I thought he was innocent.
Erin Moriarty: You honestly did, Cindy. Why?
Cindy Dow: I think it was just the growth of our relationship and how she adored him, absolutely adored him. And it looked very mutual to everyone.
Erin Moriarty: Did she ever express any concern or fear of Dave?
Dan Dow: Never.
Cindy Dow: Never.
After being questioned by detectives, Dave headed straight to his home in Delaney Park — and that’s where Cindy found him.
Cindy Dow: I stood him up and turned him around and looked at his arms and there was not a scratch on him. There was nothing.
Erin Moriarty: Cindy, did you ever ask him point blank … “Did you have something to do with the death of Shanti?”
Cindy Dow: I did …
Erin Moriarty: What did he say?
Cindy Dow: “No. I would not kill the love of my life.”
Defense attorney Richard Zaleski says the problem with this case is that detectives and prosecutors were convinced from the start that Dave Tronnes was Shanti’s killer. Zaleski says the bias of the investigators is clear from the police report.
Richard Zaleski: … they’ve already suggested that they have it figured out … like a bull in a china shop trying to just make this work at all costs because they’ve done nothing to develop other suspects.
But Vescio denies that. He says detectives checked out every possible suspect and got lucky when an important lead fell into their laps.
Ryan Vescio: A worker from Club Orlando called and … shared that they knew of Dave Tronnes, because he was a patron at the club.
Erin Moriarty: What is Club Orlando?
Ryan Vescio: Club Orlando is a same sex bathhouse.
Erin Moriarty: Did Dave have a membership at Club Orlando?
Ryan Vescio: Several memberships … every six months Dave renewed his membership …
Detectives headed to the club to investigate and found a longtime club employee who — in this police-recorded interview—says he witnessed Dave having sex at the club.
CLUB EMPLOYEE : I was just walking through … and I saw David , uh — he was giving oral sex to this guy.
Ryan Vescio: … from what everybody who knew, Shanti has said … she would absolutely have not tolerated it, put up with it … endorse it, it just wouldn’t have happened.
Richard Zaleski: … there’s a significant possibility that Shanti knew all about it.
Erin Moriarty: And why do you believe that? Because none of her family members seem to know anything about it. And her family members seem to indicate that if Shanti did know she’d be upset.
Richard Zaleski: And I appreciate that. But what you tell your mom and dad about your sex life and what you do behind closed doors, you know…people are people, adults are adults. And life is messy.
But Vescio wonders if Shanti ultimately did discover Dave’s duplicity on the night she was murdered. Had that revelation made Shanti threaten to turn off the money spigot once and for all?
Erin Moriarty: But she would be killed because of a house?
Ryan Vescio: Well … what would somebody do when they were about to lose the most important thing in their life? Because in April of 2018, the most important thing in Dave’s life was that house.
Dave told Cindy and others that he believed Shanti may have been murdered by a burglar, and the defense claimed that $5,000 in cash was missing from the house. Also missing: Shanti’s diamond engagement ring valued at approximately $15,000.
Ryan Vescio: That was highly, highly suspicious. The detectives wanted to get to the bottom of it.
Erin Moriarty: Why couldn’t it have been exactly as Dave said — that he leaves, and someone breaks into the house … beats her, leaves her there, and Dave comes home … Why doesn’t that fit?
Ryan Vescio: Well … the lack of forced entry … the scene did not have any sort of evidence of a struggle … There’s thousands of dollars of valuables that are left in plain sight.
A private investigator hired by defense lawyers canvassed neighbors, asking them about a particular homeless man who reportedly had been seen around Delaney Park. It was said he resembled the actor Woody Harrelson.
Erin Moriarty: What about the transient that everyone describes who looks a lot like Woody Harrelson?
Ryan Vescio: I mean, when you got nothing better, you throw everything against the wall and see if something sticks …
Detective Teresa Sprague tracked the man down and recorded this interview:
DET. TERESA SPRAGUE: You see there’s a large blue dumpster in the driveway … Have you ever been there?
Nothing placed the man inside Dave and Shanti’s home, but Vescio says his interview shows police chased down every lead, including checking out her ex-husband.
Erin Moriarty: Did you look at Jim Cooper?
Ryan Vescio: Yes. Mr. Cooper was — interviewed. And … Jim Cooper was eliminated as a suspect very early on … he had an alibi.
On August 29, 2018, four months after Shanti’s murder, Dave Tronnes was arrested on a charge of first-degree murder and held without bail.
Erin Moriarty: And how did the two of you react when you heard that?
Cindy Dow: I wasn’t believing it whatsoever. I thought they were just trying to solve a murder … easily.
Dan Dow: I always had the suspicion.
Dave’s arrest gave prosecutors another piece of the puzzle: Shanti’s missing engagement ring.
Ryan Vescio: … the — ring is probably one of the most powerful and damning pieces of evidence in this case.
As long as that expensive ring was missing, Dave Tronnes could argue that a burglar had murdered Shanti. But the day he was arrested, police found it among his possessions.
Ryan Vescio: … we searched the room at his mother’s house where he was living. And lo and behold, we found the rings in his suitcase in his bedroom.
Still, Dave’s arrest was not the end of the investigation; it led to a cascading series of new revelations that surprised even a veteran prosecutor like Ryan Vescio.
Ryan Vescio: This was a case that had so many twists and turns I would no longer make assumptions of anything … you don’t learn this stuff in law school.
After the arrest of Dave Tronnes, investigators received a tip that took them completely by surprise. It led them to Minnesota and back in time to when a much younger Dave was married to a woman name Carole. Former close friends of Carole told detectives that they believed Dave may have been poisoning her.
Ryan Vescio: As soon as Carole got married to Dave, she started suffering a bunch of unknown health issues.
That made prosecutor Ryan Vescio wonder if Shanti could have been poisoned.
Ryan Vescio: In Shanti’s case— she had appendicitis and had to have an appendectomy.
Shanti had had that emergency appendectomy eight weeks before her death. Appendicitis and poisoning have similar symptoms and Dave told detectives that Shanti had digestion problems right up to the day she died.
DAVE TRONNES [to detectives]: She hasn’t found, since the appendectomy, a diet that she can eat regularly and feel good.
Vescio needed more information, so he and Det. Teresa Sprague went to Minnesota in November of 2018 to meet Carole face-to-face and recorded this interview:
CAROLE : I have issues with chronic pain and … immune system issues that are not necessarily definitive.
Carole told Vescio she also “struggled with gut issues” and that Dave cooked most of their meals.
DET. TERESA SPRAGUE: … has it ever come into your frame of thought that your marriage to David Tronnes or him cooking or making you drinks was making you sick?
DET. TERESA SPRAGUE: … have you ever thought that any of your issues related to your health problems, um, was him poisoning you?
Carole said her health issues continued even after her divorce from Dave. Yet, Vescio says he remains suspicious.
Ryan Vescio: It very well could have been a scenario to where Dave was providing both of them with items that caused them to be ill. We just could never have real concrete proof of it.
Vescio wondered if there was another reason Carole seemed to be protecting her former husband and whether it had anything to do with Dave’s finances.
Ryan Vescio: We saw a thousand pages of bank records belonging to Dave Tronnes. One thing that we noticed was that Dave and Carole still had a joint bank account together.
That account at times contained hundreds of thousands of dollars, but Carole said she simply had forgotten to take her name off that account.
Ryan Vescio: … people who are divorcing each other don’t leave assets on the table. And they sure as heck don’t leave ’em together.
It’s unclear where that money came from. Vescio believes that Carole — who was not charged with any crime — could be helping Dave manage his money while he’s in jail.
Ryan Vescio: I think that Carole is involved in David’s finances and has some level of control.
The surprises in the case kept coming. Soon after Shanti’s death, detectives had placed a surveillance camera pointed toward the outside of Dave’s house.
Ryan Vescio: Detective Sprague was interested to see who was coming and going out of the house … And that camera ended up actually turning into a pretty valuable piece of evidence.
That camera captured images of private investigators—hired by Dave’s original law firm—coming and going. Detectives believe that when one of those lawyers, Robert Mandell, realized that the PIs were on camera, he placed a call to Vescio.
Ryan Vescio: I never ever expected that he was going to tell me that he in fact had an item of physical evidence — that he had been holding onto for 11 months. Never would have expected it in a thousand years.
Erin Moriarty: And what was that evidence?
Ryan Vescio: They were a set of purported … bloody sheets. And it literally — literally took my breath away.
That defense attorney — Robert Mandell — told Vescio that the defense team had acquired the bloody sheets from the garage apartment where Shanti was found dead but had never turned them over to the prosecution.
Erin Moriarty: But, Ryan, as shocking as that is, that wasn’t the only evidence that later turned up was it?
Ryan Vescio: No … I ended that call with the defense attorney and said, “Listen, if you have anything else, now is the time to tell me.” … And about 10 to 12 hours later, the next morning, I got another call from him. And that’s when he said … “I have one other item that I think we have to turn over.”
That item turned out to be a green cord. Mandell told Vescio that a private investigator removed it from the house and preserved it in an evidence bag because Dave was threatening to kill himself.
Erin Moriarty: Does that make sense to you?
Ryan Vescio: No, it makes zero sense to me … Why go get the item and then treat it as if it were a piece of evidence?
Remember, the autopsy revealed that Shanti had been strangled and Vescio believed there was a real possibility that the green cord could be the murder weapon.
MORE DAMNING EVIDENCE?
With the prosecution now in possession of that green cord, tests were conducted to see if indeed it was the murder weapon used to strangle Shanti.
Erin Moriarty: Is there any evidence to indicate that, in fact, that cord was used to kill Shanti?
Ryan Vescio: No … that cord did not have any DNA on it.
But the cord wasn’t picked up until weeks after Shanti’s death, and authorities believe Dave had plenty of time to clean it. investigators had spent months examining all the evidence — leading Vescio to craft his own theory about when Shanti was killed.
Ryan Vescio: We found … one single earring that was placed on the nightstand. The other earring was in Shanti’s ear.
Erin Moriarty: And what does that say to you?
Ryan Vescio: That tells me that — Shanti was most likely sitting on the side of her bed, preparing for bed, taking those earrings out and that’s when the attack happened.
The sheets and bed frame did have Shanti’s blood on them, and Shanti didn’t use her phone after 11:30 p.m.
Ryan Vescio: The scene was consistent … with this attack happening somewhere in … the midnight to 2:00, 3:00 … time period.
But Dave had called 911 late in the afternoon, saying he’d just found Shanti floating in the tub. Zaleski says investigators are jumping to unfair conclusions.
Richard Zaleski: A few hours of time off the grid … doesn’t allow them to shift the timeline.
Even as Dave sat behind bars, prosecutors continued to build their case, listening to anyone who had information about Shanti’s death — no matter how surprising the source.
Edward Gismondi: I met David Tronnes in Three Whiskey.
Three Whiskey is a housing unit in the Orlando jail, where Edward Gismondi shared a cell with Dave Tronnes.
Edward Gismondi: He slept next to me and I slept next to him
After getting out of jail, Gismondi met with Vescio and Sprague. He says that he and
Dave began talking and bonded over a shared interest in obscure hallucinogenics, including sapo, a poison derived from a South American frog.
Edward Gismondi: He said that you could use sapo to put in people’s salsa and kill them quietly.
Killer salsa might sound ridiculous, but not so far-fetched when you consider that authorities suspected that Dave had poisoned both his wives. Gismondi supplied even more information that if true was truly damning: he says Dave admitted that he and Shanti had a fight before she died.
Edward Gismondi: He just said that there was an app on his phone, that there was messages on that she’d found apparently that suggested he was having sex with men. … And she was going to show everybody …
Erin Moriarty: And what did Dave say he did?
Edward Gismondi: He snapped. He said he freaked out.
Erin Moriarty: And did what?
Edward Gismondi: He didn’t specifically say what he did but that he killed his wife.
Investigators were unable to corroborate Gismondi’s story about the app.
Ryan Vescio: We — didn’t have any purchase records of apps … And we did not — see it on Dave’s phone.
Erin Moriarty: I’ve read … your statement … And at no point … do I see anywhere where you had told them that David actually said, “I killed my wife. “But sitting here now, you said Dave told you “I killed my wife.”
Edward Gismondi: Yes, ma’am. … in jail, he said, “I killed my wife,” word for word is what he told me.
Erin Moriarty: But why wouldn’t you tell the State’s Attorney’s Office that?
Edward Gismondi: I did. I told them that he’d snapped. That’s the word that I used. I don’t remember if he’d asked me “did he admit to murdering her” like word for word like that.
One of the few things both the prosecution and the defense do agree on is that neither is sure they can believe Gismondi. He pleaded guilty to one count of lewd or lascivious behavior and is now a registered sex offender and still on probation.
Richard Zaleski: This individual certainly has credibility issues.
Zaleski took over Dave’s defense in early 2020 after the original attorneys withdrew from the case.
Richard Zaleski: It’s outrageous. It’s really is outrageous.
Ryan Vescio: The defense attorneys — have been submitted for investigation by the Orlando Police Department, to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. … for potential crimes of tampering with physical evidence or accessory after the fact to murder.
Those lawyers, Robert Mandell and Gregory Greenberg, say they didn’t break any laws and didn’t do anything wrong.
Richard Zaleski: I think that we have an obligation when we know such things to turn them over.
Ryan Vescio left the State Attorney’s Office in 2019. Today, he represents Shanti’s estate and has filed a lawsuit, so her money goes to her 10-year-old son Jackson. It’s been more than two years since Shanti was killed. Dave remains behind bars awaiting a trial that keeps getting delayed.
Erin Moriarty: Is he scared?
Richard Zaleski: Oh, terrified, terrified. He’s locked up in isolation, and his life is on the line.
But Zaleski thinks some of the evidence — the cord and the sheets — will ultimately be inadmissible. because of how they were recovered, the chain of custody is in question.
Richard Zaleski: Raising doubt isn’t going to be difficult here.
But Shanti’s family has no doubt about what should happen to Dave.
Cindy Dow: He has to be found guilty. He is guilty.
Cindy Dow, who once found Dave so charming, feels very differently about him now.
Cindy Dow: He should be sentenced to death … I want him to remember when he looks at me. I want him to remember every lie. Every lie.
When Cindy remembers Shanti, her heart still breaks.
Cindy Dow: She was a happy, giving, kind, fun … loving person who … had a mission in this life. And she didn’t get to fulfill it.
Shanti’s son Jackson lives with her ex-husband Jim Cooper.
Dave Tronnes’ trial has been postponed.
Produced by Paul La Rosa and Dena Goldstein. Ryan Smith is the development producer. Marlon Disla, Joan Adelman and Greg Kaplan are the editors. Peter Schweitzer is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.