Richmond Hill Explosion

I remember the night that this crime occurred.  Although I no longer lived in Indianapolis, the town in which I grew up, I still lived in an area in which I could obtain their local programming.  It was a Saturday night and I was in my office watching and episode of 48 Hours I am sure (it could have been Dateline but I doubt that).  My husband does not watch many of those shows with me so I tend to watch them alone.  The episode was running late that night or else it had just finished because suddenly the local news station broke in with breaking news.  A home had exploded (that they knew) in a subdivision on the southeast side of the city called Richmond Hill.  

Of course, as is the case with every story little was known right away but there were still homes on fire as the news crews hit the scene.  No one knew then what for sure had happened, if anyone was hurt, or even killed.  I remember the scene looked so chaotic.  The news talked to neighbors, many of who were already in bed when the explosion occurred just after 11 pm. Some were headed to bed but a vast majority of those that were still up, and home were just enjoying a quiet late night only to be jarred by their houses shaking. Some homes had obvious damage right away and it was very clear just where the explosion had originated from.

The explosion had occurred at the home of Monserrate Shirley.  She lived there with her boyfriend, Mark Leonard and her twelve year old daughter.  Her home was completely leveled.  The home next door was owned by John "Dion" and Jennifer Longworth.  John worked for a tech company and Jennifer was a 2nd grade teacher.  Their two story home no longer looked much like one.  One neighbor described it as saying by the time the blast hit there was no 2nd level to the home.  While no one knew for sure if anyone was home at the Shirley home, they had to have known there could not have been survivors if there had been.  

The blast had obviously jarred people out of their homes.  Some were looking to see what happened; Some felt it would be safer outside their home and others were looking to help people.  Two neighbors were near the Longworth home and could hear someone yelling.  They approached the home and could see and hear John Longworth calling from the basement of his home.  He was trapped inside and his home was still on fire too.  He asked one of the neighbors about his wife, saying she had been in an upstairs bedroom.  The neighbor was quoted as saying he did not have the heart to tell him there was no upstairs anymore.  As the firefighters arrived on the scene one of the neighbors with John ran to grab someone to help.  One of the first firefighters on the scene would later say that he and another firefighter attempted to help John but he was truly trapped and the flames were getting closer and closer to him.  As they were attempting to get the fire hose out the entire house went up in flames.

It would be determined later that seven other people suffered injuries from debris and what not from the blast. As sad as it is that John and Jennifer Longworth lost their lives, it is truly amazing there were not more fatalities. Another neighbor had received a call from Monserrate Shirley about fifteen minutes after the blast, apparently after seeing it on the news.  She sounded hysterical on the phone according to the neighbor.  Shirley told the neighbor that she and Leonard had gone to Lawrenceburg Indiana, a few hours south east of Indianapolis to a casino and that her daughter was staying with a friend. The first reaction from the vast majority of the community as well as just the every day viewer was thank goodness no one was in that home.

A medical examiner would determine that Jennifer Longworth died almost immediately due to the blast.  The pressure alone could have caused a significant skull fracture, not to mention the fall that would have occurred as the home collapsed.  As far as John went, he died from inhaling the hot gas fumes and flames and the smoke.  His body was burned over 90% of his body and while investigators still knew who the victims were they needed dental records for positive identification.  

It was not long before that thankfulness turned into suspicion.  I think the first thing that raised eyebrows was the information that while they were simply going to be gone for the weekend at a casino they had boarded their cat. Now, I have been an animal, both dog and cat, owner for decades. Yeah, you kennel your dog if you're going to be gone for a few days and you have no one to care for them and cannot take them.  But a cat? No.  Cats are self sufficient.  You make sure they have extra food and water, and access to to even more in case of emergency.  You may even make an extra litter box.  You do not put your cat up at a kennel.  Fire investigators all but that night knew that this was a natural gas explosion but it would take a few days before they could get inside the home to see where it started.  In the meantime with all of the speculation going around and after speaking briefly to the media, Monserrate Shirley and Mark Leonard retained an attorney.  He was on the news every day trying to quiet the suspicions and maintaining his clients innocence.

Another early lead into things came from a neighbor of the Shirley home.  They would tell investigators that sometime between two and three on the afternoon of the explosion they had seen a white van in the driveway of the home.  The neighbor would claim to have seen two men who did not seem to be in the home for a long period of time but when they came out they seemed to be in a huge hurry.  Everyone began looking for the white van.

Investigators announced on November 19, 2012 that it was now a criminal investigation but fell short of naming any suspects.  But, as with most cases, that did not stop the public from deciding who was at fault or that something fishy was going on. You now have a white van with two men go into the home some seven to eight hours prior to the explosion, leaving in a hurry and you have the homeowners not just away from the home, but a few hours away, and again, it went back to the cat.

Along with trying to determine the cause of the investigation, as well as those responsible the neighborhood was abuzz because at least 100 homes in the area had some kind of damage done to them and dozens of them suffered significant damage.  Some people were not even allowed back into their homes because they were not considered safe and stable.  

Investigators were not letting a lot out, but the things they did inform the media was not helping in the perception that those from Monserrate Shirley's home were innocent.  In fact, the more information that was leaked, the more guilty the occupants appeared.  Even still, it was not until December 21st, nearly a month and a half after the blast that any arrests were made.

It was then that authorities arrested Monserrate Shirley, her boyfriend Mark Leonard and his half brother, Bob Leonard.  Among their charges were two counts each of murder and thirty-three counts of arson.  The thirty-three counts pertained to the thirty-three homes in which were ordered to be completely demolished due to damage caused by the blast.  While the community was upset that it had taken so long to secure the arrests against, at least two people, they were sure were responsible within a few days the authorities had done a rather thorough investigation.

First it was discovered that in December of 2011 Monserrate Shirley had raised the personal property insurance on her home significantly to $300,000.  Now, to be clear, this was in addition to insurance that would cover the cost of the house.  The $300,000 was simply for the contents.  Investigators had also learned that between Shirley and Leonard they had over $63,000 in credit card debt; the home was in foreclosure (they had attempted to sell a few times); Shirley had filed bankruptcy but had stopped making payments and had even missed a July court date pertaining to the bankruptcy. Mark Leonard had told people that just a few weeks prior to the blast he had lost $10,000 at the casino. Investigators had also learned that November 10th was not the first attempt made to destroy the home.  In fact, the weekend prior to the blast the same steps were made by the couple, boarding the cat, and leaving town. It was said that had been the second attempt, although I could find no information on the first.

Authorities would learn that the blast had been caused by the removal of a fireplace valve and a gas line regulator that had been removed.  A timer had been set on a microwave to produce a spark once the home was filled with gasoline.  They would also discover that on the day before the blast Mark and Bob Leonard had asked a neighbor who worked for the local gas company the difference between propane and natural gas.  

It had been learned that Bob Leonard was one of the two men in the white van that had gone to the home the day of the blast.  The other man was still being looked for.  They had gone into the home, not just to set the things in motion for the later blast but had also removed some valuables, photos and documents from the home prior to leaving.  The prosecutor let it be known that there would likely be more arrests in the future.

It was not long before the prosecutor announced that they would not be seeking the death penalty against the three defendants, who's number of charges against them would eventually be raised to over 50.  It was the belief of the prosecutor that while yes, the blast had caused the deaths of the Longworth couple, and it was their negligent, albet intentional acts that had caused them, it was not the goal of the defendants to cause a deaths which is a requirement to enact the death penalty.  

While the three defendants sat in jail awaiting trial investigators were still working on the case.  In January of 2015, over two years after the blast, a man by the name of Gary Thompson was charged with the same charges as the previous defendants.  In April of that year a man by the name of Glenn Hults was charged also.  He had kept Monserrate Shirley's daughter on the night of the blast and Shirley was pointing a finger at him as coming up with the initial plan.  

I want to talk about Shirley for a moment because she seemed to do a lot of finger pointing throughout the years but she seemed to tend to forget that while she was pointing at someone else, more fingers were pointing back at her.  Early on there was a lot of talk about Mark Leonard, her boyfriend.  It had been discovered that he had a shady criminal past and was known to bilk several woman out of large quantities of money.  It was also learned that he was abusive towards women.  In fact, prior to this had two criminal convictions. One was for possession of cocaine and the other involved the stalking and intimidation of a woman.  Several women came forward saying he had scammed them out of money. One woman had sued him for $70,000 and won, although she received little of the monies awarded to her.  There had also been several allegations of insurance fraud, mostly including stolen or wrecked vehicles, but it seems nothing really stuck there.  Shirley would ultimately claim to be an abused woman who had been manipulated by Mark Leonard.  Now, had she left her allegations there, and yet took some responsibility for herself, as well as shown remorse I think she would have gotten further than she ever did. However, any remorse she showed tended to be more towards herself, rather than her victims for one.  For two, over the next few years she would continually point her fingers at all the others involved and not herself.  That does not mean that everyone likely was not out to get the best deal they could for themselves, as would be expected, but of all the people involved it seemed Shirley, who actually owned the home, came off as the worse of them.  Why?  Well of course because it was her home.  She was not married to Mark Leonard.  She was a nurse, and while surely did not make the money that nurses deserve, she did have a career and from all accounts made more money than Mark Leonard who had been described as a scammer. There are those who believe if she was really abused she had the upper hand in owning the home and could have forced his removal.  In fact, Leonard had no claim on the home itself.  There were stories early on that Shirley's ex husband still had a claim on the house and he was looked into as a suspect and ultimately cleared.  Shirley would claim that Glenn Hults was the one who had ultimately come up with the idea and that Mark and Bob Leonard were the masterminds.  Of course none of the people who were involved, who would later claim little responsibility ever contacted authorities or did anything to stop the scheme that was being cooked up.

In 2013 Mark Leonard had more to worry about than just the murder and arson charges he was facing.  It was discovered that while sitting in the Marion County jail he had approached an inmate about hiring a hit man.  It seems that he was offering $15,000 (that would be delivered upon his release) to have a witness in the case against him murdered.  He even offered an extra $5,000 if it could be made to look like a suicide.  Well, first off, Mark Leonard did not have $20,000. For two the inmate contacted authorities who apparently set up a sting.  A contract was drawn up and Mark Leonard was put in contact with someone he believed to be a hit man.  Oh, and he had one more instruction for the so called hit man.  He wanted the witness to call 9-1-1 before they were killed and recant their story to authorities.  Mark Leonard is facing trial for those charges in January of 2017 as it stands now.

Considering all of the publicity surrounding the case none of the defense attorney's believed that a fair jury could be found in Indianapolis, or even Central Indiana.  Mark Leonard would go on trial first in Northern Indiana in South Bend (yes, home of the Fighting Irish).  His trial would conclude on July 4, 2015 in which the jury found him guilty on all 53 counts that he faced.  The following month he would be given two life sentences without the chance of parole.  I am certain there was more to the sentencing considering the charges but those were the ones that counted.  He has currently appealed his sentence while he is awaiting his trial on the conspiracy charges.  He has argued that the information due to the conspiracy should not have been entered into his trial among other things.  As much as I hate to admit it, I wonder if he will not be granted a new trial, but not because of the evidence being admitted.

I try to keep up with general news as it is and when Mark Leonard went to trial it was a big deal.  He was the first of five people to answer to the explosion that killed two people and devastated so many more.  I at least attempted to keep up with the highlights of his trial and I recall being utterly stunned at the angle the defense used.  I have often said that I would not make a good defense attorney because I would have difficulty defending a guilty person who was pleading that they were innocent or claiming no involvement in the crime.  I am a firm believer in taking responsibility for ones actions but I am also a firm believer in the right to be charged adequately.  Now, to be fair with all of the evidence at hand the defense did not have a lot of options.  Mark Leonard obviously pleaded not guilty in his preliminary hearings or there would not have been a trial.  However, his defense basically got up in court and stated.... Yeah, he did it, but it was only supposed to be a small fire and he did not mean for anyone to get hurt.  At that point the prosecution was just handed their case in my opinion.  All they had to show is that basically by filling the house up with gas and setting the microwave in order to cause a spark the house had become in essence a bomb and when a bomb is detonated the loss of life is highly possible.  I am in no way defending Mark Leonard, nor do I think he is innocent of the charges, but in my opinion if his attorney could not have represented him better than that they should have passed the case to another attorney.

Next to go to trial was Mark's half brother, Bob Leonard Jr. He would face trial a few hours north of Indianapolis in the town of Fort Wayne.  He too would be found guilty on all charges.... 51 in his case... on February 24, 2016.  The following month he also would be sentenced to two life terms without the possibility of parole.  It was pointed out in articles on his trial that he was sentenced to an additional seventy years.

The other three defendants would all make a deal with the prosecution of some sort.  Monserrate Shirley's deal required that she testify against all of the other defendants in the case, if needed and that she would be the last person to be sentenced.  Gary Thompson was able to plead all of his charges down to a single count of conspiracy to commit arson.  He received a sentence of thirty years, ten of which were suspended. His earliest release date shows January of 2025. Glenn Hults, who had been accused of suggesting the crime in the first place, knowing about the prior attempts, and carrying for Shirley's daughter the night of the blast would enter a plea of assisting a criminal. He was sentenced to three years, one of which would be served on probation. His earliest release date is shown as September of 2017. Then finally, on December 21, 2016 Shirley was sentenced for her roll.  She had followed through in testifying against both of the Leonard brothers, but again did a lot of finger pointing in my opinion. She pleaded guilty to two felony counts of conspiracy to commit arson (the murder charges were dropped).  The prosecutor and family members of the victims argued for the maximum sentence of fifty years.  Shirley's defense argued she had been in an abusive relationship and she was of the personality of a dependent in which she relied on the companionship of others to guide her. They were arguing for closer to a sentence of twenty years.  In the end the judge sided with the prosecutor and gave Shirley the maximum sentence.

In every case in which I research I always go to the Department of Corrections in the state in which the crime occurred.  I have often discussed the information both available, and not available to be seen.  Indiana has one of the better ones.  Not only does it show the charges, gives the Indiana code to the charges, but shows the sentence received in the conviction of the current case in which the inmate is serving but they also show any past criminal history in which the person spent time in an Indiana prison.  Despite that I have never had a person in which I scrolled as far down the page as I have for those involved in this case.  Well, at least the Leonard brothers.  Keep in mind that EACH count is listed.  So while for instance they faced thirty-three counts of arson, each count is listed with the convicting result.  Some could argue that Gary Thompson and Glen Hults did not receive very much time, and this would be true, but I should point out that neither they (or Shirley for that matter) had any record prior to this, at least not listed in Indiana.  The same could not be said about the Leonard brothers.  I mentioned earlier about Mark Leonard's history in which he had been convicted for possession of drugs and later convicted of stalking and intimidation.  Bob Leonard Jr. (fyi he is listed as Bob and not Robert on the site) had two past convictions, one in 1992 and another in 1996.  Both convictions were for theft or "attempted" theft to which he received a three years sentence each time.  

Do I believe any of the defendants believed anyone would be killed or that as much damage would occur?  Absolutely not.  But stupidity is not an excuse when you break the law. Some would argue that the statue in which we base the law and sentencing is on the word "reasonable."  We hear it all the time "reasonable doubt" is the biggest one.  The prosecutors here could easily argue that a "reasonable" person would know that in turning a home into a bomb and detonating it had the potential to harm others, and possibly kill them.  Let us imagine that this home was not in a subdivision around others but in a community in which the homes were further apart.  If a delivery person takes a package at the door at the time in which the blast occurred, they would have been dead.  Had someone been on the sidewalk, walking down the street when the blast occurred they would have been significantly injured, if not dead.  After two failed attempts at committing arson it seems that they went completely overboard, not knowing what they were doing obviously and the blast likely was 1,000 % larger than they anticipated it to be.  There are those who would argue that the defendants were obviously not "reasonable" people to begin with when they believed this would work and they would get away with it.  But again, stupidity is not a valid defense.





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