OLD FORGE, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU)— Eyewitness News broke down the six-year-long investigation into Justin Schuback, the man investigators say killed Robert Baron Sr. in 2017.
The following recollection of events is based on the affidavit of probable cause attached in a previous article. Police conducted several interviews from 2017 to 2023 so it is important to note that these interviews did not happen at the same time or even in the same years.
Eyewitness News has taken interviews from the six-year investigation and put all of them into one timeline.
Two Weeks Before the Murder
During interviews with police, several employees at Ghigiarelli’s Pizza told investigators Justin Schuback, 37 from Old Forge, had entered the restaurant two weeks before Baron Sr.’s disappearance to meet with Robert Baron Jr. in the back. Both men left the restaurant since Baron Sr. disliked Schuback’s alleged heroin use and would have been upset by his presence according to police.
Also during this time, officers say Pat Boyle was threatening Schuback over drug debts.
January 25, 2017, The Last Day Baron Sr. was Seen
Police said Schuback “ripped off” Baron Jr. during a drug deal earlier in the day and took his money and never gave him the drugs.
Around 5:00 p.m., the affidavit states Schuback texted Boyle saying, “I’ll have it [drug debts] for you later tonight, I have to do some work.”
Around 10:00 or 11:00 p.m., investigators say Schuback left his home and told his girlfriend he was going to Boyle’s house to work on Boyle’s mom’s car. At 11:08 p.m., cell towers tracked Schuback’s phone to the area of Ghigiarelli’s.
From 11:08 p.m. to 12:15 a.m. on the 26th, Special Agent Michael Sabric says Schuback’s phone was in the area of Ghigiarelli’s.
The Early Hours of January 26, 2017
At 12:15 a.m., police said text records show Schuback texting Boyle to say he wanted to pay off his drug debt and buy $180 more with cash on hand.
Ten minutes later, law enforcement say cameras show Boyle and Schuback meeting behind a UPS Store to purchase heroin.
Interviewers say Boyle told the officers Schuback arrived at the meetup spot with a “wad” of cash from the direction of Ghigiarelli’s. Boyle added that this was odd because Schuback only ever had that much money when he was working, which he currently was not. Boyle’s girlfriend would later tell police they thought Schuback was “up to no good” since he wouldn’t normally have that much cash.
Around 12:30 a.m., Boyle said Schuback went towards his home which also seemed unusual since the two would normally hang out after a drug deal, according to police.
At 1:15 a.m., Boyle said he received a call from Schuback’s girlfriend who asked if Schuback was done working on Boyle’s mom’s car. Detectives said Boyle told her Schuback wasn’t at his house but they had just met up so Schuback could pay off the money he owed. Schuback’s girlfriend asked Boyle where Schuback got the money since they didn’t have enough money for cigarettes; Boyle told her he didn’t know.
From 1:25 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., officers say both Boyle and Schuback’s girlfriend attempted to call Schuback regarding his whereabouts. Both people later told officers it was odd Schuback wasn’t answering since he would normally pick up right away.
At 1:27 a.m., investigators say Schuback texted his girlfriend, “Shhhh” “I’ll explain when I get there.”
The Early Hours of January 26, 2017, Schuback is on the move
From 1:56 a.m. to 2:15 a.m., FBI investigators say Schuback traveled from Ghigiarelli’s Pizza to the wooded area near Connell Street and the pole lines near Pagnotti Park.
At 2:26 a.m., cell tower records show Schuback returned to his home on Foundry Street and would remain there until just after 6 a.m., according to the affidavit. Investigators say Schuback’s girlfriend told them he was covered in mud when he got home that night.
The Morning of January 26, 2017, Schuback allegedly returns to the woods
Special Agent Sabric says the cell tower information showed Schuback returning to the same wooded area near Connell Street and Pagnotti Park from around 6:30 a.m. until 8:30 a.m.
At 8:31 a.m., investigators said Schuback moved from the wooded area to Connell Street, exactly where a Connell Street resident recalled seeing a silver Hyundai Elantra parked around 6:45 a.m. For the next six minutes, Schuback moved to Howard Street where officials would later find the car and determine it was Baron Sr.’s vehicle.
Later in their investigation, the affidavit states Schuback texted his girlfriend saying he fell down a hill and was all dirty again.
It wasn’t stated at what time it happened on January 26, but police say Jason Cistola sold $300 of heroin to Schuback which was the most he ever sold him. During his interview with police, Cistola told officers Schuback had a wad of cash which was unusual because he never had that much cash unless it was a payday.
In total, police say Schuback bought $480 worth of heroin on the 26th despite not having enough money for cigarettes the day before.
January 26, 2017, Baron Sr. missing
Around 9:45 a.m. January 26, 2017, police said Maria Baron, Baron Sr.’s wife, called the police to tell them her husband did not show up for work. She told officers his daily routine was consistent and would not miss work without letting anyone know.
While searching the scene, police said they found what they thought to be blood inside the restaurant. Old Forge police called in state police to assist with forensics.
State police say they used luminol to uncover blood evidence that was cleaned up. The investigation led police and troopers to realize a brutal attack took place in the restaurant. Once investigators saw all of the cleaned-up blood, Baron Sr. was declared a missing person.
The early investigation into Baron Sr.’s disappearance
The day Baron Sr. was reported missing, police say they asked Baron Jr. who may want to hurt his father.
Investigators said Baron Jr. immediately responded, “Justin Schuback.”
Officers say they went to Schuback’s home following Baron Jr.’s statement and spoke to him about the situation. Schuback told officers he did rip off Baron Jr. in a drug deal the day Baron Sr. was last seen but refused to tell officers anything more than that, as stated in court papers.
Three days after being reported missing, police say they found Baron Sr.’s silver Hyundai Elantra in the 100 block of Howard Street, the same area Schuback was tracked by cell towers. Detectives searched the car and found blood stains and mud in the vehicle.
On March 17, 2017, state police got their DNA test results back and say they learned the bloodstains were from Baron Sr.
The investigation over one year later
Detectives said they took a swab of the silver Hyundai Elantra’s inner driver-side door handle in an attempt to find more DNA on May 31, 2018.
On July 5, 2018, investigators say they obtained the cell tower information that allowed them to track Schuback’s movements on January 25 and 26, 2017.
The investigation over two years later
On October 24, 2019, researchers from the DNA Evidence Interpretation Unit for Cybergenetics Corporation said they found that the DNA swab from the inner door handle was a match to Justin Schuback’s DNA.
Specifically, they said Schuback was 536,000,000 times more likely to be a match than a coincidental match of another caucasian person.
The investigation over three years later
On November 25, 2020, researchers from the DNA Evidence Interpretation Unit for Cybergenetics Corporation said a DNA swab from the Hyundai’s steering wheel was 5,740 times more likely to be from Schuback than an unrelated caucasian person.
The investigation six years later
On March 23, 2023, officials say Special Agent Michael Sabric from the FBI met with detectives to map out exactly where Schuback may have been between the night of January 25 and the morning of January 26.
March 24, police said they spoke with Schuback who denied ever being in the silver Hyundai Elantra. Police also said Schuback confirmed he met with Boyle at the UPS but claimed to be in completely different areas than the cell towers indicated before and after their meetup.
During this interview, investigators say Schuback told them he would watch Baron Jr. climb through the second-story window of Ghigiarelli’s Pizza to steal small bills from the register.
Law enforcement said this proved Schuback would know how to do this if he wanted.
March 28 and March 29, the search is rejuvenated
From March 28 to March 29, officers say members from several agencies searched the area near Pagnotti Park where Schuback’s phone was located the night Baron Sr. disappeared. With the assistance of the New York State Police and their cadaver dogs, investigators located various human bones in the wooded area.
The bones were sent to a state police DNA laboratory which confirmed they had found Baron Sr.’s bones, according to the affidavit.
The coroner told investigators he would be amending Baron Sr.’s death certificate to declare his death a homicide by trauma.
March 30, Schuback is arrested
Schuback now faces one charge of homicide, one charge of robbery, one charge of burglary, one charge of abusing a corpse, and one charge of theft.
Schuback is currently being held in the Lackawanna County Prison without bail.
During a Friday afternoon press conference, District Attorney Mark Powell said Justin Schuback is the “one and only responsible person for this murder.” When asked if any other arrests are expected, Powell responded, “At this stage, no, but we will continue to investigate and determine if other arrests are warranted.”
As Powell stated during the press conference, the investigation is not over. Law enforcement will continue to investigate in order to determine whether they have found everything they possibly can to prosecute this case.