The cold case murder of Kristie Gunderson Lee - Pompano Beach, Florida - March 31, 1994

On Thursday, March 31, 1994, Kay and Joe Petralia made a gruesome discovery at their son Jeff Lee's home, in Pompano Beach, Florida. Jeff's wife, Kristie Gunderson, was found dead in the master bedroom by her in-laws. It was immediately clear that she had been killed by a lot of violence. The police were notified, and they quickly arrived on the scene.

An investigation was immediately launched, hoping to find traces of the perpetrator and to find clues that could explain what had happened. One thing was for sure, little Zachary would have to grow up without his mother.

About Kristie Gunderson
Born in Leesburg, Virginia, on September 4, 1973, Kristie was the youngest daughter of Ellis Leroy Gunderson and Barbara Ann McCoury. She had an older sister named Karla. In 1981, the family moved to Austin, Texas, where Kristie would meet her future husband, Jeff Lee. In 1992 she became pregnant and partly because Jeff had been involved in drugs in the past, the couple decided to start a new life in Pompano Beach, Florida. They moved in with Jeff's parents, Joe and Kay Petralia. The two lovebirds married on March 6, 1993, and continued to live with the Petralia family after the birth of their son Zachary. Life was great... Jeff worked for a travel agency and Kristie made a career as a hair stylist. Joe and Kay babysat their grandson daily so that his parents could provide for their family.

Unfortunately, tensions arose between Kristie and Kay, due to the latter's meddling in the upbringing of her grandson. After Kay pulled her daughter-in-law down by her hair, the peace in the house was over for good. Jeff and Kristie moved shortly after this out-of-control incident, but were forced to still use the Petralia family as babysitters. Kristie's irritations quickly mounted as Kay and Joe's unannounced visits became more and more frequent.

Police Investigation
Pathological examination determined that Kristie had been hit several times on the head with a triangular object and that she had been strangled. The victim was not sexually assaulted. Traces in the house initially pointed in the direction of a robbery. A pillowcase with some stuff inside was found near Kristie's body. However, it would soon turn out that the contents were not worth much, and that nothing of value had been taken from the apartment at all. It strongly seemed that the perpetrator wanted to make it look like a burglary that got out of hand...

The police looked at Jeff almost immediately. Traces, according to them, pointed to a crime of passion.. But the fresh widower had a solid alibi. He had been at work all morning, and colleagues vouched for it. He was ruled out as a suspect.

A neighborhood investigation turned up several witnesses. A local resident had seen Kristie open the door around 8:30 that day for Joe and Kay to pick up their grandson. At 9:00 a.m., two female roommates next door heard a scream coming from Kristie's apartment. They didn't think much of it because they'd heard a fight between Kristie and Jeff before.

The police now began to focus on the Petralia family. Could they have had something to do with the murder of their daughter-in-law?

Alibi Petralia family

Their alibi was explained by them as follows. According to them, they were indeed at the door around 8.30 to pick up Zachary. At 9:30 they then left for Walmart to buy an Easter outfit for their grandson. Since she realized there that they had forgotten their money, they then drove to their own apartment. There, little Zachary spilled water on herself, forcing Joe and Kay to go back to Kristie's apartment to change his clothes. They entered through the back of the house by 10:30 AM, where they found the sliding glass door open. Kristie didn't answer to their calling. According to Kay Petralia, she then saw blood on the carpet, and ran screaming through the apartment looking for Kristie. She found her on the floor in the bedroom, where she said she had performed CPR and called 911. 

According to their own alibi, the two grandparents were still in the apartment when the two neighbors heard screaming from the house at 09:00. This, plus the fact that Kristie's best friend told the detectives that the in-laws had been more of a problem within the family must have certainly made Joe and Kay suspicious to the police. In addition, Jeff also mentioned that he had to come between Kay and Kristie at some point to prevent them from running into each other. 

Kristie's work friend revealed that Kristie, Jeff, and their son were planning to move back to Texas. It had made the Petralias very angry. Detectives asked Joe and Kay to take a polygraph test to prove their innocence, but the couple refused.

After his wife's murder, Jeff and his son moved back to Texas. His parents, who remained at large despite the suspicions, followed him to the state. Jeff eventually moved in with Kristie's parents, which infuriated Kay. Shortly thereafter, she informed CPS of Jeff's alleged abuse of his son, and that he was using drugs in front of him. An investigation was launched, but nothing was found, so no charges were filed. 

Jeff found out one day months later that Joe and Kay were planning to take little Zachary out of town without his permission. It was against the agreement, and besides, his own parents had lied to him. Jeff then severed all ties with his parents.

Tips and Information
In August 2004, an attempt was made to obtain a DNA profile using the latest technology, but to no avail. Perhaps it is a good idea to do it again now, almost twenty years later.

Sadly, Kristie's murder is still unsolved after all these years. We hope that there are people who know more about this case. Is that you? If you know anything, even a small detail, please let us know now. Don't hesitate and get in touch now (anonymously) using the form below.

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