When a loving father named James Pannoni disappeared without any trace in 2019, it became a reason for distress for his family and friends. They were left devastated when his dead body was found in the flower garden in his backyard. The mysterious case is covered in detail in the episode titled ‘Garden of Horrors’ of ‘Evil Lives Here: Shadows of Death.’ Apart from delving deep into the investigation and capture of the perpetrator, it also consists of interviews with the victim’s loved ones and officials involved in the case.
How Did James Pannoni Die?
A native of Bristol County, Massachusetts, James A. Pannoni was welcomed by Peter C. Pannoni and Zillah (Burgess) Pannoni into the world on March 5, 1956. Aside from the love and care of his parents, he grew up amid the support of his siblings — eight sisters and five brothers. Sometime in his adulthood, the resilient James joined the United States Air Force and served the nation for years. He was on active duty during the Vietnam War. Following his retirement from the Air Force, James took an interest in fishing and eventually adopted it as a full-time profession, which he carried on for 25 years before retiring for good in 2006.
James spent many years living in Somerset in the Bay State. A few years before his death, he had moved to North Carolina. Though not much is known about his wife, we know that he was the proud father of three kids — daughters Kellianne Pannoni and Christina Pannoni and son Nicholas Smith. At the time of his death, the 63-year-old was a resident of 101 Chasity Way in Hubert. He was in the autumn of his life and spent most of his time with his family and grandchildren and reminiscing about the old days. James was loved by all, which is why the news of his death shocked everyone who knew him.
In the second week of April 2019, the Truro Police Department received a call from James’ daughter who was worried sick about her father’s well-being. Unable to find any information about his whereabouts and fearing for his safety, she turned to the authorities for help and filed a missing person report. On April 9, officers with the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office were summoned to James’ abode at 101 Chasity Way in Hubert. When they entered the residence, the authorities discovered a horrific sight — the 63-year-old was discovered dead with multiple stab wounds on his body.
Upon initial inspection of the home, the officers determined that all of James’ belongings were in their designated spot, and nothing seemed to have been missing or misplaced, indicating it wasn’t a case of a robbery gone wrong. Moreover, they also figured that the driveway had no vehicles belonging to the owners or others. In the autopsy report, it was stated that James was stabbed in four places in his chest. It also mentioned that he got two cuts on his forearm while trying to defend himself from the killer/s. It determined his cause of death to be excessive bleeding from his four stab wounds. The authorities quickly launched an investigation into the homicide of James Pannoni.
Who Killed James Pannoni?
When the authorities tried to get in touch with James via phone, it went straight to voicemail. Then, they contacted her daughter Kellianne, who told them about a woman he had been dating, Saundra Wagner, who was “significantly younger than him.” Meanwhile, the investigators were able to find James’ truck left abandoned in a trailer park, a mile away from his home. Not only was the vehicle’s driver’s window rolled down, the key was still in the ignition.
With a new suspect on their list, they paid a visit to 504 Mattocks Road in Maysville and knocked on Saundra’s home on April 8, 2019. Just the previous night, she told a sheriff’s deputy that she had not seen James, only to change her story and tell them that she was with him that night. While the authorities searched through her residence, she alleged that her boyfriend had fled out the back door when the deputies came to question her the previous night. Outside, he was picked up by an unknown female.
As for the abandoned truck the police found, Saundra admitted that she planted it in the trailer park where it was found as per the instructions of James, who allegedly wanted to change his identity and leave the area. According to her, she had been dating him for some time and they were planning to move in together. But when the detectives went through her texts with James, the conversations began on April 1, 2019. Upon going through the conversation further, they discovered that he was planning to leave everything to her, even his credit cards. The reason for his desire to change his identity was that he was involved in a hit-and-run case in Swansboro, as per Saundra’s claims.
Just when the investigators were pushing Saundra for more details, she “began breathing heavily and rubbing her head, and stated that she had trouble with dates and times while declining to write a statement.” Even when they interviewed friends and family of the victim, they found out that the couple had broken up and only recently got back together. Moreover, the detectives learned that she had obtained his bank information and used his credit cards. Upon getting confronted by James who allegedly ended the relationship again, she threw a fit and damaged his laptop, according to his family and friends. In light of the developments in the case, on April 8, 2019, the police managed to obtain a search warrant for James’ residence at 101 Chasity Way in Hubert.
While the interior of the house was spotless and organized, the detectives noticed something strange about a flower bed in the backyard that seemed rather new compared to others. So, they excavated the suspicious flower bed and found James’ body, which was wrapped in plastic. Soon, the authorities learned that Saundra had recently shopped at the Walmart in Swansboro, buying all the materials necessary to prepare the flower bed. What made the police certain that Saundra had something to do with the murder of James was when they were approached by a witness who testified that on March 31, 2019, the suspect had called him and told him about misusing James’ credit cards. The next morning around 6, she visited the witness’ house and confessed to stabbing her boyfriend to death.
Furthermore, the witness even claimed that on April 9, 2019, Saundra told him that she had decided to leave town and asked for some money. Failing to locate the prime suspect, the police received a tip from her brother who was told by her that she was running out of gas. Finally, they were able to locate Saundra in Dothan, Alabama, after which they got involved in a high-speed car chase. The chase ended with her car crashing, leaving her in critical condition in the hospital. Upon scouring through her phone, the investigators discovered that she had searched “what if you just mix bleach and acetone,” “do I need a passport to travel to Mexico,” and “place an order to expedite your passport application.” Once Saundra recovered, she was charged with the murder of 63-year-old James Pannoni and arrested on May 1, 2019, and then transported to the Onslow County Jail.
Where is Saundra Wagner Now?
More than three years after James Pannoni’s murder, on July 5, 2022, Saundra Wagner pled guilty to second-degree murder. The North Carolina defendant was later sentenced to 20-25 years in prison for the same charge. As of now, the convict is serving her sentence behind bars in Anson Correctional Institution at 552 Prison Camp Road in Polkton, North Carolina.