It happened five years ago on July 10, 2018. A New York woman was found dead at the bottom of a luxury Manhattan building’s trash chute, and while officials have found no signs of foul play in her death, her distraught family believes she was murdered. And they say that after five years, they are still seeking answers — and justice.
Lara Prychodko, 48, died less than a month after she celebrated her birthday in Paris and on the Spanish island of Ibiza with friends. Her body was found at the bottom of the trash chute after it plummeted from the 27th floor of the Zeckendorf Towers in Union Square, where she was living at the time. “It feels like a made-for-TV movie, it’s just surreal,” Lara’s sister, Talya, told Dateline in a recent interview. We began covering the case in 2020.
Now Lara’s father, Nicholas Prychodko, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that his daughter’s ex-husband, David Schlachet, and an unidentified hit man “conspired to and, through their concerted efforts, did, in fact, murder Lara Prychodko.” In the suit, Prychodko alleges Schlachet installed software on Lara’s computer to track her whereabouts, which enabled the hit man to lie in wait, strangle her to death, then dispose of her body down the building’s trash chute. According to the lawsuit, the couple had been going through an “acrimonious divorce.” Lara’s father claims Schlachet was under “intense financial pressure” and expected to lose millions of dollars to his ex-wife in the divorce settlement.
In a response to the lawsuit filed in June, David Schlachet’s attorney denied the allegations, stating that the hit man (identified only as “John Doe” in the lawsuit) is a “wholly fictitious person.” Dateline reached out to Schlachet’s attorney for additional comment but received no reply.
No criminal charges have ever been filed in Lara Prychodko’s death — against Schlachet or anyone else. Her family told Dateline they are hoping the lawsuit will help change that. When the NYPD first investigated her death, they viewed security footage that showed Lara entering the building at 4:10 p.m. on July 10, 2018, and getting on the elevator by herself.
Dateline first interviewed Lara’s father in 2020, and he spoke at length about his daughter and the circumstances surrounding her death. In that interview he told us that earlier that summer day in 2018, Lara had gone to a nearby bar to watch France play in the World Cup semi-finals.
“Her grandfather is French and she speaks French,” Prychodko said. “So she was a big fan.”
France beat Belgium in the semi-finals match that day, and Prychodko said his daughter was overjoyed.
“The doorman said she was happy. She was high-fiving them,” Prychodko said. “They all loved her because, you know, she was just so friendly and nice.”
A neighbor on the 27th floor later told police that she got home around 4:20 p.m. and noticed nothing amiss in the hallway, which had no security camera, as she walked to her own apartment. Ten minutes later, the same neighbor said she heard loud noises in the hallway and stepped out to investigate.
She said she didn’t see anyone, but saw a purse on the floor outside the trash compactor entrance. Police later identified the purse as belonging to Lara.
Just minutes later, at 4:40 p.m., a maintenance worker checked the trash compactor, which had become jammed. That’s when he found Lara’s crushed body.
After their investigation, the NYPD determined no criminal activity was involved. Lara had a blood alcohol level of .29 at the time of her death, and the NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner concluded that “the circumstances around the death are unclear; however there is no suspicion of foul play.” The manner of death was listed as “undetermined.”
Lara’s father, however, refused to believe her death was a drunken mistake and maintains his feeling that she was murdered, as he and his attorneys now outline in the lawsuit.
“What could have happened to her?” Prychodko asked. “Was it a suicide? It’s not possible. That’s not Lara. Was it an accident? I very quickly became convinced that there was only one plausible explanation for what took place. And that’s homicide.”
He explained that the trash chute at Zeckendorf Towers was about 15’’ by 18’’ with a door, and that his daughter was 5’10,” tall, which he believed would make it impossible for her to just fall in or even attempt suicide.
In 2019, Prychodko sought help from former New York City Chief Medical Examiner Michael Baden. Baden made headlines after concluding that Jeffrey Epstein’s injuries were “more indicative” of homicide than the suicide determination made in the official autopsy report.
Dateline viewed a letter that Baden sent to the Prychodko family after he had reviewed autopsy notes, lab tests, crime scene photos and x-rays.
In the July 15, 2019 report, Baden determined that Lara Prychodko “may have died because of homicidal ligature strangulation and was then placed in the garbage chute.”
The report also stated that the strangulation “may also explain why there was little bleeding from the lacerated viscera and torn blood vessels noted at autopsy.”
Nicholas Prychodko told Dateline that Baden also mentioned a photo from the scene that showed Lara without her shirt.
“Lara’s blouse is torn from her body,” Prychodko said. “And that to him is an indication that there could have been a struggle against the assailant.”
Lara’s father submitted Baden’s findings to the New York County District Attorney’s Office and the NYC Office of the Medical Examiner and requested that her case be reopened.
Despite Baden’s findings, the city’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner told Prychodko in a letter viewed by Dateline, that the medical examiner “found no signs of foul play in your daughter’s death,” and has determined to stand by its earlier findings and not reopen the investigation.
Lara’s father told Dateline that before her death, he was aware of that “acrimonious divorce” described in the lawsuit. Lara’s estranged husband, Schlachet, owns a Manhattan construction company. Lara’s father said the couple fought over millions of dollars in assets, including a home in the Hamptons and two apartments in Manhattan.
They have a son together, who is now 17 years old. Lara had lost custody of her son because of a DUI charge, her father said. He added that before her death, Lara had been granted visitation rights and was scheduled to see her son the day after she died.
In an email sent to Dateline in 2020, Schlachet stated “I can only say that my divorce -- like so many -- was a painful and sad experience to go through with someone I had loved so deeply. But that does not diminish the grief and trauma our son and I have experienced by the tragic loss of our wife and mother, Lara. It is a pain that we are both still learning to cope with and which we will both carry with us forever.”
As he reflected on the tragedy of Lara’s death, her father also recalled the impact she had on so many people.
“She shaped both the beginning of my formative adult life and now she’s shaping how I spend the last years of my life,” he said. “She has made a tremendous impact in my life, and also in so many other lives through the course of her own, all-too-short life.”
Lara grew up in Toronto, Canada where she attended the Etobicoke School for the Arts and then went on to the University of Toronto. Her father said she was very protective of her younger siblings.
“Although you can imagine that she could also be a little bit bossy at times,” Prychodko said, laughing. “She had this happy childhood. I remember spending summers at the lake -- renting cottages by the lake going fishing, canoeing, swimming.”
Right after college, Lara moved to New York City and eventually became an event organizer. She worked with corporate organizations, including WebMD, where she met CEO Wayne Gattinella, whom she was dating at the time of her death, according to her friends and family.
“Lara was extremely sociable,” her father said. “She had great interpersonal skills and networking skills, which is what helped to make her so successful.”
Lara’s sister, Talya, who still lives in Toronto, told Dateline the two were extremely close.
“She was my best friend,” Talya said. “She was kind and generous and found the good in everyone. She was a beautiful soul.”
If Lara were still alive, she would have turned 53 on June 23. Talya told Dateline she has connected Lara’s friends from all over the world to share stories of Lara and to celebrate her life.
“She touched so many people’s lives during her time here,” Talya said. “She was a social person and she strived to surround herself with people of influence, not affluence.”
Talya said she last spoke to Lara on her birthday at the end of June 2018, just before she died.
“I can’t believe that’s the last time I heard her voice,” Talya said. “I don’t know how to live without her. There’s a hole in my heart now that will never be filled.”
Talya said she would like justice for her sister’s death and closure for the family, especially Lara’s son. In June of 2023, Talya told Dateline, “Her only goal was to protect her child. She was kind, smart, dedicated, and courageous.”
“Every day we have the horror and trauma of reliving this -- rethinking her final moments, and how her beautiful life could end in such a monstrous manner,” Talya said. “It’s beyond vile. Nobody deserves that.”