The Explosion that Rocked Indianapolis

This post will be quite a bit different as this is an ongoing case and is yet to go to trial.  This may seem unusual if you have read my last blog and my criticism of the media and their reporting, considering at this point in this investigation there are not trial transcripts or a lot of documents to depend on.  Most of the information is based on media reports, although some is based on interviews with law enforcement, as well as victims and suspects of the crime.

This case interested me from the beginning.  I grew up in Indianapolis, although not near this crime scene and although I no longer live there I am close enough to obtain their local television stations, as well as I attempt to keep up to date on the happenings there due to family still residing there.  

On the night of November 10, 2012 around 11 pm there was an explosion in what is known as the Richmond Hill subdivision on the south side of Indianapolis.  I quickly learned of it from notices on Facebook as well as notices being sent by news stations applications and I turned the television on.  Obviously no one really knew anything at that moment other than it appeared that whatever had happened had completely destroyed and flattened at least two homes, damaged several others and a raging fire burned.  As with most stories initial reports were conflicting.  Due to the size of the fire and the reports by people who saw, heard, or felt the explosion, there were early speculations that ranged from a plane crash (Indianapolis saw that in the late 1980's when a plane crashed into a local hotel), to a meth lab explosion, to a natural gas leak. Residents reported sitting in their homes (many in bed already) and feeling their homes shake.  Those closer to the impact had widows shatter, garage doors seemingly blown in and other extensive damage to their homes.

The plane crash theory was quickly set aside as investigators made it clear there seemed to be no debris to indicate this.  They also fairly quickly ruled out the meth lab theory.  Based on what I had heard and seen myself, while others still argued this point, I too did not believe that it was a meth lab.  There just seemed to be too much damage.  Within a few days investigators were outwardly stating they felt that natural gas was somehow involved despite the utility company denying that any reports had been made, as well as stating there appeared to be no leaks in any lines anywhere.  

It took quite some time before investigators announced any injuries or deaths. I recall stating early on that with the magnitude of damage it would be amazing if there were not any deaths and/or serious injuries.  Soon they were reporting one death and by the next day were reporting two.  While that is a sad situation I was personally surprised there were not more, especially considering they were only reporting less than 10 people sought treatment at a hospital and none were serious.

The reports of damage and information over the next few days were sketchy and contradicting at best.  I have tried to come up with some accurate numbers but I admit they may be off due to reports as things still are not exactly clear.  Apparently they have stuck with the fact that two homes were all but gone to the point there was nothing salvageable, and other than the fact of the debris, one would barely be able to know a home once stood there.  They later said five homes were "completely destroyed" and I assume this was not to the full extent of the initial two homes.  From what I can tell, not counting the first two homes, 33 homes were determined to be uninhabitable and irreparable while another 12 homes suffered significant damage. Many of the 33 homes ordered to be demolished by the state were so because the explosion had been so fierce that it had damaged the foundations of the homes, hence even with other repairs the homes would remain unsafe.  

Investigators quickly determined that the explosion had occurred at the home owned by Monserrate Shirley.  She lived in the home with her boyfriend, Mark Leonard, and her 12 year old daughter.  They also quickly learned that no one was in the Shirley home at the time of the explosion.  However, it had also completely destroyed the home next store, owned and occupied by John Longworth and his schoolteacher wife, Jennifer.  It was also determined that the Longworth's had perished in the explosion.  So where were the occupants of the Shirley home?

Of course everyone is an armchair detective (and I often put myself in this category) and speculation began.  It was learned that Shirley and Leonard were at a casino in southern Indiana while her daughter was spending the night with a friend.  On the surface, and without anymore information, that seemed plausible.  It was a Saturday night, are people not allowed to go out and do things?  It was a fairly upscale neighborhood so one may not question as much that in today's economy someone is at a casino.  However, the surface began to crumble quickly.  

First came a report from Shirley's ex-husband, John.  He stated from the onset that his daughter had contacted him the week before saying that the furnace in the home was not working properly and that she, her mother, and Leonard were staying in a hotel.  You could tell through the interview there was little love lost between the Shirley's, however, John stopped short of accusing his ex-wife of purposely causing the explosion.  He stated he thought the source was likely this furnace his daughter mentioned and that it probably was not fixed or fixed properly.  Still, this seemed like an awful large explosion from a faulty furnace.

The second thing that began raising the internal radars was when Monserrate Shirley was interviewed by a news station.  As with many other cases people accused her emotions to the situation to be fake.  I personally did not take that into consideration.  However, she had stated during the interview that her cat had been boarded for the weekend.  People, including myself, found this odd.  There are few animals more resourceful than cats.  By this time there had already been a few whispers that Shirley and Leonard had some financial issues (which raised a few eyebrows when knowing they were at a casino).  The fact that the cat was boarded just a suspicious ring to it.  Even if the financial issues were rumors only, few people would spend the money to board a cat when they were just being gone for overnight.  Shirley responded to those speculations saying that her cat had separation anxiety but it still had that "icky" feeling to it.

By November 19th, nine days after the explosion, the police and fire departments announced that while an exact cause was either not known, or they were not saying, that this was now a criminal homicide investigation.  And of course the speculation went on and on.  This tends to happens when there are no answers or law enforcement will only throw out a few bones.  

Early on there was talk about a white van being in the area. It was initially reported that investigators were looking for the van and the owner, but within a day or two it was said that not only did Mark Leonard own a white van as they described but that law enforcement had already located it.  It was later said that the white van had been at the Shirley/Leonard home for quite some time, then was later at the home of his brother, Bob Leonard Jr., but had been seen on the afternoon of the explosion at the Shirley/Leonard home with two men inside.  One man has since been described as being Bob Leonard Jr.

On November 21st, media reports again were conflicting.  First it was told that two people were in custody for the explosion, without names being released. Later it was said that two people were only questioned but not in custody.  Again names were not released.  However, a neighbor of Bob Leonard Jr. recorded on his cell phone and released to the media showing that the SWAT time had surrounded Leonard's home that day.  Neighbors had also reported that the now infamous white van had been parked at Leonard's home for some time before the explosion and that he had told them that it belonged to his brother.  And this is where the investigation sat (at least from a media standpoint) for about a month.  

Then on December 21, 2012 it was announced that Monserrate Shirley, Mark Leonard and Bob Leonard Jr. were arrested in connection with the explosion.  Initial reports (as it is possible that they may change) of charges were as following: All three suspects were charged with 2 counts of murder, 33 counts of arson (Class B felony) for eh 33 homes that were to be demolished and 12 counts of arson (Class A felony) for the homes significantly damaged.  Also, Shirley and Mark Leonard were charged with 2 counts of conspiracy to commit arson while Bob Leonard Jr. faces one count. The district attorney conducted a press conference to announce the charges and to give details on how they came to this conclusion.  Keep in mind that this is the prosecution theory and since there has been no trial as of yet, nor has anyone seen any evidence at this time, it is a theory only.  

The prosecution believes that the explosion was obviously intentional.  They have stated that early on they knew the initial point of origin of the explosion was a microwave in the Shirley/Leonard home.  They claim that the brand of microwave they owned could be set with a delay timer up to 24 hours. They also claim that a valve on the gas fireplace and a gas line regulator were deliberately removed.  

According to prosecutors this was the second attempt by Shirley and Leonard, hence the face they face two counts of conspiracy to commit arson.  Authorities have stated that on the weekend prior to the explosion the couple had followed the exact same routine, including boarding their cat.  It is their belief that the idea that there was an issue with the furnace was likely to blame.  A gas utility employee has come forward and stated that not long prior to the actual explosion that both of the Leonard brother had asked some interesting questions concerning how natural gas works.  It was after this that the thermostat at the home was changed from a digital to one with a sliding controller.  It is said when those types kick on they cause a spark.  

The theory is that around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, the day of the explosion, Bob Leonard Jr. and someone else who has not been identified went to the home.  It is believed that at this time they had set things up so that the home would fill with gas and likely set the microwave.  Also at some point, maybe then, items such as photos and important documents were removed from the home and placed in the van.  For the next 8 to 9 hours the home filled with gas and at 11:00 when the microwave kicked on the explosion occurred.  The defendant of course pleaded not guilty at their first court hearing December 24, 2012.

Since the arrests many things have come to light.  Monserrate and her husband John had only been divorced for a short time.  The home had been put up for sale with the price reduced several times but was never sold.  There are at least two mortgages on the home.  Authorities claim that in December 2011 insurance on the home was raised from $75,000 to $304,000 and the day after the explosion Mark Leonard stated he was shopping for a Ferrari and may buy one with his insurance proceeds.  Also, the girlfriend of Bob Leonard's son has come forward and said she saw items that her boyfriend stated his father told him came from the home the morning after the explosion.  These things would have had to have been removed prior to the explosion due to the facts that a) there was absolutely nothing left of the home and b) even if there had been authorities were not allowing anyone near the properties at that time.

It has also been discovered that Mark Leonard has a long criminal history.  Authorities have stated his history including scamming women of money, stalking, intimidation and dealing drugs.  A search of the Indiana Department of Corrections website finds a Mark Leonard matching his age has served time for stalking, intimidation and possession.  He served short stints in jail for these (mind you these are prison records, not county jail records) and his last release was in January of 2009.  It has been said that he advertised on dating websites, would meet women, get money from them, sometimes to perform jobs, and then never provide the service or return the money.  Supposedly Shirley knew he was doing this and was ok with it.  In fact, he was to go to court on January 4, 2013 to answer to one of the women he scammed (I have been unable to find out if this court date remained and/or what happened). He was also facing trial the day before (Jan. 3) for driving while suspended, again I have found no information on this court date.

One thing that I find a bit odd at the moment is all the information that has been released already about this case and the prosecution theory.  Investigators generally do not give out all their information or even the best of what they have against defendants prior to court.  Based on this theory there is much more evidence proving the guilt of the defendants.  

Shirley has been in the news the last few days, first the state Attorney General has filed to suspend her nursing license and for the fact that she has hired a local prominent defense attorney (both of the Leonards were granted public defenders). Only time shall tell how this story ends but it does not look good for the defendants.  Paper Mate Write Bros. 0.7mm Mechanical Pencils, 12 Colored Barrel (Google Affiliate Ad)OfficeMax Just Basics Economy Woodcase Pencils, #2 Medium Soft 72/pk (Google Affiliate Ad)


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