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Three suspects charged in Richmond Hill explosion

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Three people charged in a gas explosion that devastated an Indianapolis neighborhood deliberately set up the deadly blast to collect a big insurance payout, authorities said Friday.

The home's owner, Monserrate Shirley; her boyfriend, Mark Leonard; and his brother, Bob Leonard, were arrested Friday and charged with murder, arson and other counts in the Nov. 10 blast that killed two people.

Shirley, 47, was facing mounting financial woes, including $63,000 in credit card debt and worsening bankruptcy proceedings, court documents say. And a friend of Mark Leonard's told investigators Leonard said he had "lost a ton of money" — about $10,000 — at a casino some three weeks before the explosion.

Investigators believe the trio had actually tried but failed to blow up Shirley's home the weekend before the successful timed explosion, according to Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry. The fiery blast destroyed five homes, including Shirley's, and caused widespread damage to dozens of others in the Richmond Hill subdivision in the far south side of the city.

Curry called the explosion a "thoroughly senseless act" that killed Shirley's next-door neighbors. He said the victims, John Dion Longworth, a 34-year-old electronics expert, and his 36-year-old wife, second-grade teacher Jennifer Longworth, were "in the prime of their lives."

Randall Cable, the attorney for Shirley and Mark Leonard, said he was stunned by their arrest.

"I'm just as surprised as everyone else that they've made an arrest. My clients have consistently indicated their innocence," he said.

Shirley and the Leonard brothers face two counts of murder as well as 33 counts of arson — one count for each of the homes damaged so badly that officials have ordered their demolition.

Curry said his office would review whether to pursue the death penalty or life in prison without parole against the three, who are scheduled to appear in court Monday.

Shirley and Mark Leonard, 43, also face two counts of conspiracy to commit arson, while Bob Leonard, 54, faces a single count. Curry said the conspiracy charges stem from the failed explosion.

He said investigators determined that Shirley's home filled up with gas after a gas fireplace valve and a gas line regulator were removed. A microwave, apparently set to start on a timer, sparked the explosion, he said.

On Friday, workers using heavy equipment were removing debris from razed homes in the neighborhood.

Doug Aldridge, the head of the Richmond Hill's crime watch group, said after a neighborhood meeting that the allegations are "more than we anticipated."

"Sometimes money makes people do stupid stuff," Aldridge said.

Investigators found that in December 2011, Shirley's home insurance policy for personal property was increased to $304,000 — an amount that was in addition to the coverage for the home itself, according to court documents.

A probable cause affidavit says Shirley filed for bankruptcy this year but stopped making her court-arranged payments and failed to appear at a July bankruptcy hearing. The home's original loan was for $116,000 and a second mortgage was taken out on the home for $65,000, the affidavit also says.

A friend of Mark Leonard's also told investigators that Leonard would surf online dating sites "and located older, heavier women, wine and dine them," then borrowed money and never paid them back, according to the affidavit.

The friend said Shirley was aware of the scheming "and was OK with it so long as he did not sleep with the women," the affidavit says.

Leonard has a criminal record that includes stalking and intimidation and convictions on dealing and possessing cocaine, according to prison records.

Two men, one fitting Bob Leonard's description, were seen at Shirley's home the day of the explosion, and Curry indicated investigators believe that's when the gas line and valve were tampered with. He said authorities are still trying to determine the second man's identity.

Curry said that the day before the blast, the brothers asked an employee of local gas utility Citizens Energy several questions, "including the differences between propane and natural gas, the role of a regulator in a house and controlling the flow of natural gas and how much gas it would require to fill a house."

Curry said Shirley and her boyfriend had followed the same pattern two weekends in a row, visiting a southern Indiana casino, dropping off Shirley's daughter with a baby sitter and boarding the family's cat.

An affidavit says that when a friend of Mark Leonard's called him Nov. 2, eight days before the successful blast, Leonard told the friend "the house blew up" and that he and Shirley were staying in an efficiency apartment.

In another call that day, Leonard told his friend he had been surfing Craigslist "looking for a Ferrari to buy" and explained that he could afford the luxury car because Shirley had jewelry insurance and "they expect to get $300,000 and he would get $100,000" in the insurance payout, according to the affidavit.

It's not clear whether investigators think Leonard believed the first explosion attempt had succeeded. Curry's spokeswoman, Brienne Delaney, said the office could not comment beyond what was in the court documents.

The day after the explosion, Bob Leonard allegedly called his son and asked him to retrieve from a white van items he said he had salvaged from Shirley's home after the blast.

"That, of course, is impossible because everything in the house was destroyed," Curry said. "Plus no one was allowed access to the property after the explosion."

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  • Life without parole
    Nothing but an insurance scamj gone wrong, resulting in loss of lives and destuction of properties and displacement of many families. Lock all three in prison for life without parole. Cruel greedy crooks with no regard for others' lives or property.
  • You will pay for them regardless.
    I note the commentary on the death penalty...if you think it is cheaper to pay for a death penalty prosecution than it is to pay for life in prison, you are likely wrong. Our county had a guy on Death Row in Indiana for 26 years...all of his appeals have cost our county (and the state, who reimburses some of the costs) a fortune...millions...and his most recent appeal resulted in his negotiating an agreement that will eventually allow him out of prison. Every dime of that in 26 years was on the back of county and state taxpayers. It may make a good headline to charge the death penalty, but in most cases, it costs a lot more to try a Death Penalty case and the subsequent appeals than it does to pay for life or a long sentence in prison. I understand that no one wants to pay to house these buffoons whose intentional lawlessness, carelessness, and stupidity left several people either dead, homeless, or facing significant hardship before their living space is restored...but don't delude yourself into thinking the death penalty is a cheaper alternative...it rarely ever is.
  • Gheez
    they blow up a house, kill 2 people, make 33 people instantly homeless and now I (we) have to pay for them for the rest of their lives in prison?! What's wrong with this picture...?!!!
  • House
    How much of a brain do you need to know if you blow up a house someone may be hurt or killed. What did they think would happen. The houses are so close together of course it is going to cause more damage than just thier house.Bunch of idiots.
  • OOPS?
    So does that mean that if I just want to blow up the storage barn in back of the house so that I can collect insurance money on the John Deere, but I mistakenly blow it up to hard & happen to kill my ex husband who's in the house...that would just be an OOPS!?
  • Microwave
    Anyone that has ever been in jail knows that it just takes a tiny piece of aluminum foil to start a spark. Thats how they light cigearettes...with a little toilet paper and any metal object to start the fire.
  • Great job to Terry's investigative team
    After reading the probable cause affidavit from start to finish, I commend Terry Curry andhis investigative team for doing their job, thoroughly--andrestoring some credibility to the prosecutors office. From Tim to Carl to this, it is shocking how easy it is for a small amount of money or repeated bureaucracies asleep at the wheel to thoroughly tap the corruption genes in weak, wanna be individuals. It is unfortunate the investigators at all those insurance companies did not step forward to prosecute Mark Leonard eons ago--but that is very similiar to what happened with Tim Durham--both those guys knew one thing to be true: Bureaucrats are incessantly lazy and never bother to do their own due diligence, or to take a baby step to follow up. That is a base ingredient in fostering an environment for hese types of crimes to happen.
  • Message for Defense
    Attention Defense Attorneys: Stupidity is not a viable defense.
  • My Gosh! What a Trail
    My gosh, they certainly bungled everything and left one whale of an evidentiary trail pointing to arson bombing to try to collect the insurance proceeds. Not very bright individuals. Just pure greedy idiots. I am sure that lady homeowner Monserrate Shirley (sp?) never thought that her two neighbors would get killed. She was probably just hoping for only her home to blow up into pieces so she could hot foot it to her insurance company to pick up a large check. Monserrate trusted her boyfriend Mark Leonard and his brother Bob to do everything just right and they screwed it all up. For a nurse, one would have thought she would have used a little better planning and care in the execution of their scheme. Now she is sitting in the Marion County Jail which is a hell hole. My guess is that she will commit suicide at the first opportunity.
  • Irony
    Anyone else see the irony in the fact that Monserrat is a volcanic Caribbean.
  • Blows my mind
    OK, so you've made the idiot decision to destroy your house to collect insurance money... Do you: A.) Deep fry a turkey for the holidays and "accidentally" tip the rig over lighting the house on fire. Wait until the fire is going really, really well before calling 911. B.) Rig your gas lines and electrical appliances and turn your house into a gigantic bomb Board your cat, and act suspiciously both before and after the explosion. I mean c'mon... arson has to be the easiest felony to get away with.. and they did everything they could to draw attention to themselves. These idiots not only deserve life in prison or worse, they deserve some kind of award..
  • Sad
    It is sad that people think they have no other alternative than to commit insurance fraud to get out from underneath whatever hole they have dug themselves into....people just need to think way before they act....having said that, if these folks are guilty of what they are being charged with I hope they serve long healthy sentences so they can sit and think about what they have done and how they have created so much disaster in many people's lives....just stop and thing before you act...it's not that hard.
  • No death penalty
    I don't know for sure, but I think that, if convicted of felony arson, no intent to commit murder is needed. That's "felony murder" as I understand it, though I could be wrong. Whether either conviction could result in the death penalty is unknown to me. Anyone know?
  • Something still bugging me...
    I am happy for the remaining residents of Richmond Hill who suspected this outcome form the beginning. Their intuition was correct. Now, the name Monserrate Shirley had been in the news several years ago for some reason. I can't recall what for. Any help here would be great.
    • No death penalty
      I don't think there will be a death penalty in this case. I very much doubt they intended to kill anyone, so first degree murder is off the table. They just wanted some insurance money.
      • future
        all three have paved their way to a death penalty....murder....arson... forgery and a commitment to defraud an insurance company... plus injurys to others
        • mmmm
          this oughtta be interesting!

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        1. How much you wanna bet, that 70% of the jobs created there (after construction) are minimum wage? And Harvey is correct, the vast majority of residents in this project will drive to their jobs, and to think otherwise, is like Harvey says, a pipe dream. Someone working at a restaurant or retail store will not be able to afford living there. What ever happened to people who wanted to build buildings, paying for it themselves? Not a fan of these tax deals.

        2. Uh, no GeorgeP. The project is supposed to bring on 1,000 jobs and those people along with the people that will be living in the new residential will be driving to their jobs. The walkable stuff is a pipe dream. Besides, walkable is defined as having all daily necessities within 1/2 mile. That's not the case here. Never will be.

        3. Brad is on to something there. The merger of the Formula E and IndyCar Series would give IndyCar access to International markets and Formula E access the Indianapolis 500, not to mention some other events in the USA. Maybe after 2016 but before the new Dallara is rolled out for 2018. This give IndyCar two more seasons to run the DW12 and Formula E to get charged up, pun intended. Then shock the racing world, pun intended, but making the 101st Indianapolis 500 a stellar, groundbreaking event: The first all-electric Indy 500, and use that platform to promote the future of the sport.

        4. No, HarveyF, the exact opposite. Greater density and closeness to retail and everyday necessities reduces traffic. When one has to drive miles for necessities, all those cars are on the roads for many miles. When reasonable density is built, low rise in this case, in the middle of a thriving retail area, one has to drive far less, actually reducing the number of cars on the road.

        5. The Indy Star announced today the appointment of a new Beverage Reporter! So instead of insightful reports on Indy pro sports and Indiana college teams, you now get to read stories about the 432nd new brewery open or some obscure Hoosier winery winning a county fair blue ribbon. Yep, that's the coverage we Star readers crave. Not.

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