On a warm Sunday afternoon in October of 2003, two bodies were discovered in the back of a white F-150 near Bumble Bee Road. The bodies were soon identified as Lisa Gurrieri and Brandon Rumbaugh who’d both been reported missing the day before. The young couple was found in their sleeping bags, shot multiple times in the head.
Lisa and her boyfriend had planned to celebrate their one year anniversary together by taking an overnight trip to a somewhat popular camping spot in Black Canyon City, Arizona. It’s said the two were headed up to a secluded area to spend the night stargazing, in an attempt to recreate their first date. Unfortunately the two never made it back from their trip, and this would be the first, and last anniversary they would spend together. 17 years later, the killer (or killers) have yet to be caught.
Lisa and Brandon were an average young couple living in Scottsdale, Arizona and by all accounts neither had any known enemies. Lisa was 19, a Mesa High Graduate who worked for SRP and sang often at her church. She had dreams of becoming a wedding planner, and according to those that knew her she was a very normal and well liked young woman. In a 2019 interview her uncle Mike described Lisa as a “wonderful singer” and said “she always had a smile on her face”. It seems the two were very close, and according to Mike he promised Lisa’s father he would look out for her after he passed away. Which he unfortunately did soon after as a result of cancer. This is likely why Lisa felt her uncle would worry over her short trip, and decided to ask her mom not to tell him about it. Not knowing she was on the overnight trip is clearly something Mike still feels guilty about years later. Brandon was 20 years old, an Arizona State University student who dreamt of opening a gym some day, and was loved by many. According to Paula Gurrieri, Lisa’s mother, the couple was engaged, though her mother claimed she never actually saw a ring. Lisa’s mother also stated that “he treated her like a queen” when talking about Brandon and the couple’s relationship. They seemed to be to those that observed them together, a perfect match.
“He treated her like a queen” -Paula Gurrieri
According to the family Lisa and Brandon had planned to drive up to their camp site on Friday and return relatively early Saturday morning. The trip was to be a short celebration, a well deserved overnight getaway for the young lovers. But when the couple didn’t return on Saturday they were immediately reported missing by Lisa’s mother. It wasn’t like her (Lisa) not to come home, or not to let her mom know if plans had changed. Paula stated that she sensed something was wrong early on in the weekend. “A mother knows” she told investigators. Soon after they were reported missing, friends and family of the couple began to search the area they believed them to be. And on Sunday afternoon around 3:30 PM, their bodies were discovered in the back of Lisa’s moms pick up truck.
Upon evaluating the scene police discovered some unsettling items that led them to more questions than answers, and unfortunately brought them no closer to solving the double homicide. The first item found at the scene was a disposable camera found in the rocks near the truck. According to the Yavapai County Sheriff, Lt. Frank Barbaro, the camera looked like it had been tossed away from the truck in an attempt to render it useless. Despite the attempt to destroy evidence, several pictures from the camera were eventually able to be developed. Though what they found on the camera wasn’t very helpful to the investigation. Of the few developed photos, the most unnerving were the last two taken.One of the photos shows Lisa sitting in the back of the truck smiling at whoever is taking the photo, presumably Brandon. The other photo shows Brandon in almost the exact same position, but with less of an obvious smile on his face. These photos are presumed to be the last photos ever taken of the young couple alive. The other photos on the camera showed what appeared to be (according to police), a compact fluorescent light in some kind of building. The photos were blurry and had no recognizable features so at this point no one knows where they were taken, or why. The police on the scene also happened upon a video camera case, but no camera was found in the surrounding area and it has since not been recovered. Though the police had lots of information about the camera including the serial number. Based on the shell casings found the couple was shot with a .25 caliber handgun, an uncommon weapon for this type of crime, and one that was never located. It is assumed that the killer or killers took it with them upon fleeing the scene. Unfortunately the scene offered little other evidence, and no DNA was collected or tested at the time. It is also important to note that the detectives quickly ruled out murder-suicide based on the evidense. In addition they found no evidence of robbery other than the missing video camera, and they can confirm that neither drugs or alcohol were involved. The police at the time said they believed around 1,00 people were staying in the area near the couples campsite, many of whom were investigated and cleared.
The first theory is that someone within the couple’s friend group committed this heinous crime. In fact Lisas uncle Mike thinks that one or more of the men in the initial search group was involved, or at least knows something about the events that took place that night. According to him one of their close friends had strong feelings for Lisa and wanted to be with her, which in his mind gave the friend a motive for the murders. Other members of Lisa’s family also believe this man may be responsible for her death and made their feelings clear to the detectives on the case. This belief was further fueled by the fact that shortly after the murders, the suspect in question quickly packed up his belongings and fled the state. According to Mike his home was completely empty when they found it, and he left no trace of evidence behind. The suspect was later given a polygraph test, which he passed, and as a result was cleared by detectives at the time. Though even Lt. Barbaro has since stated that he wouldn’t have cleared someone just based on a polygraph test, and would like to reinterview the suspect. Barbaro also agrees with Lisa’s uncle, that the scene should have been processed more thoroughly and more evidence should have been collected at the time.
The second theory comes from Debora West, a cold case volunteer who is still working on the case today. Debora feels that the young couple were most likely killed by a stranger during a vehicle robbery gone wrong. She believes that based on the evidence it’s likely someone attempted to steal the truck and was caught off guard by people sleeping in the back and as a result shot the pair in the heat of the moment. She feels this is a strong possibility because a similar crime was committed six months later, a few miles away from where Lisa and Brandon were killed. In this case two men from Yuma, Arizona were shot dead in Crown King and their truck was stolen. Unfortunately the only suspect was unable to be questioned because he was later found in Colorado dead of suicide. Debora thinks this case can still be solved with the help of DNA testing, and is hopeful that one day the family will get the answers they deserve.
Where We Stand Now
As of now this is still an open investigation, but not much progress seems to have been made. The detectives working the case hope that by re-investigating and interviewing those involved, in conjunction with new DNA testing capabilities, the killer or killers will eventually be brought to justice. The family is also offering a $10,000 reward to anyone that comes forward with information. If you know anything about this brutal crime please contact Silent Witness at 480–948–6377. Anonymous tips can also be left on their website at silentwitness.org.
My Final Thoughts
Honestly this case has me torn. Part of me agrees with the family and thinks that someone in their friend group could very well have been responsible for their deaths. Their friends knew the general area in which to search for the couple, leading me to believe that they knew where Lisa and Brandon would most likely be sleeping that evening. Although I find it a bit hard to believe that someone in love with Lisa, as uncle Mike stated, would have killed her. I get why he would have wanted to get Brandon out of the way, but why kill the object of his affection? Unless there was more going on behind the scenes than anyone knew, which is often the case in these types of crimes. It’s also a little suspicious that the assailant left the disposable camera at the scene, but chose to take the video camera. That aspect of this case leaves me with a sick feeling that maybe the killer or killers filmed the murders, and took the camera with them to not only conceal evidence but as a trophy. I believe this may be the case because the disposable camera was merely thrown aside not smashed into pieces to prevent the photos on it from being developed, or simply removed from the scene all together. The other reason I feel that the person responsible may have been someone they knew is based on the gun used to commit the crime. As I mentioned above the police said that the gun used, a .25 caliber handgun, was an unusual weapon in their opinion. Based on my own research I’m inclined to agree. According to multiple sources criminals who use guns to commit crimes generally want a higher caliber, and more lethal gun. Whereas a smaller less powerful gun like the one used here, is more likely to be procured in the name of self defense. Obviously this is just a theory but what if someone around the same age as the couple borrowed or stole this gun from their parents or another relative, because it was the only firearm they had access to at the time? Maybe they were never able to find the gun because said parent or relative covered for the killer, as people do for someone they love.
As for the theory presented by Debora West, where-in the couple was killed in a robbery gone wrong at the hands of a stranger, there is merit to this theory as well. I do see one large flaw in the way she sets the scene though. If it truly was an attempted vehicle robbery why weren’t they robbed of said vehicle? The killer easily could have removed the bodies from the bed of the truck after shooting them and still stolen the truck, but they chose not to. Why? Especially if it is connected to the Yuma victims where the vehicle was actually stolen. It is possible that the two events were not connected at all, and this was actually the work of a serial killer who was operating in the area or simply passing through? According to The National Park Service, eleven severe violent acts and seven full or attempted homicides occurred in 2018 alone. The unfortunate reality of this case is that we may never know what really happened that night, or learn of the events that lead up to two young people being brutally murdered.