Police say that the three people responsible for the deadly southside explosion had tried unsuccessfully to blow up the home a week earlier.
The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office charged Monserrate Shirley, 47, Mark Leonard, 43, and Bob Leonard, 54, with two counts of murder, conspiracy to commit arson, 12 counts of Class A felony arson and 33 counts of Class B felony arson each.
Investigators believe they removed a natural gas valve on the fireplace, let gas build up in the home for six to nine hours and ignited it with a spark from a microwave that could be set on a timer, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said.
Shirley and Mark Leonard lived in the home on Fieldfare Way that exploded but weren’t home at the time.
A CLOSER LOOK
“Monserrate Shirley advised that she never leaves her cat alone because he gets nervous and vomits on the carpet so she always boards him. ... However, Snowball (her cat) only shows (being) boarded the weekend of the explosion and the two prior weekends.”
“(The federal arson investigator) noticed several abnormalities during his examination.”
“Examination of the gas meter by the utility company has shown an extremely large volume of gas was introduced into the home preceding the explosion.”
“The gas line leading to the gas fireplace set should have an on/off valve which is missing and examination of the gas fireplace set shows an extremely high rate of discharge outside the norm for a gas fireplace set.”
“After an exhaustive investigation of possible sources of ignition no accidental ignition source has been found at this time, and the damage to the microwave suggests that it could have been used as a timer to arc and/or ignite a flammable item.”
“Mark Leonard said he was ‘surfing on Craig’s List looking for a Ferrari to buy’ and when asked how he could do that he said, ‘Moncy (Monserrate Shirley) has jewelry insured, and they expect to get $300,000, and he would get $100,000’ of it.”
SOURCE: Charging documents
Police also still are looking for a fourth suspect who was seen entering the house with a man believed to be Bob Leonard the day of the explosion.
Curry said that the case was mostly circumstantial but that forensic tests were pending at two crime labs and that the investigation was ongoing.
He said he hoped justice would be done for the victims, Greenwood Southwest Elementary School teacher Jennifer Longworth and her husband, Dion Longworth. They lived next door to Shirley and Mark Leonard and were killed in the blast that also injured 12 and caused $4.4 million in damage to dozens of homes.
Curry described the explosion as “a thoroughly, thoroughly senseless act which resulted in the death of two young adults in the prime of their life.”
“We have to acknowledge that we are helpless to alleviate the pain and anguish of such innocent victims and their families,” he said. “However, what we as a public safety community can do and must do is devote our best efforts to see that justice is served on behalf of those victims.”
Shirley and Mark Leonard had hoped to collect insurance money and were deep in debt on the house Shirley owned, Curry said. Court records showed that Shirley’s original mortgage on the house was $161,000, and she had a second mortgage for $65,000 and $63,000 in credit card debt. She had filed for bankruptcy earlier this year but stopped making payments on the debt. The proper paperwork wasn’t filed, and Shirley didn’t attend a court hearing in July.
Randall Cable, an attorney representing Shirley and Mark Leonard, said that he hasn’t talked with them since they were arrested Friday but that they’ve consistently denied that they were involved in anything criminal. He had said earlier in the week that the couple had been staying in temporary housing provided by Shirley’s insurance company and were living off disability, since she took a leave of absence from her job as a nurse.
Cable said that criminal charges were not a surprise but that he hadn’t had the opportunity to review them. He said he hoped to meet with his clients as soon as possible to discuss what to do next.
“They’ve protested their innocence the whole time and continue to,” he said. “They would plead not guilty to the best of my knowledge.”
Shirley and Mark Leonard also were charged with an additional count of conspiracy to commit arson for a failed attempt to blow up her home on the weekend of Nov. 2.
On Nov. 2, Mark Leonard told a friend that Shirley’s house had exploded when gas built up in the gas fireplace. He later told the same friend he was searching for a Ferrari online because he would be getting $100,000 of a more than $300,000 payout from Shirley’s insurance company, according to court records.
Boxes of items, including photo albums, were taken from Shirley’s house about a week before the explosion and were stored at a home where Mark Leonard’s nephew stays.
A day before the fatal blast, both Leonard brothers had talked to a Citizens Energy Group employee about how much gas it would take to fill a house. Shirley had increased the amount of coverage for contents in her home insurance policy within the past year, Curry said. Relatives told investigators Mark Leonard had been involved in insurance scams before, including taking a relative’s truck, who reported it stolen, and then setting it on fire, according to court records.
Death penalty possible
Police arrested Bob Leonard at his Indianapolis home and Mark Leonard and Shirley in their vehicle Friday morning.
All three potentially could face life in prison or the death penalty. Curry said the case would qualify for the death penalty since more than one person was killed.
No decision has been reached on whether the death penalty would be pursued. Curry said his office automatically reviews all cases with aggravating factors to see if death or life in prison would be appropriate but always waits 30 days after charges are filed so as not to rush to any decision.
Shirley and Mark Leonard weren’t home when the explosion at 11:11 p.m. on Nov. 10 tore their house and their neighbor’s home apart and damaged 88 more houses in the Richmond Hill subdivision. They said they went to the Hollywood Casino in the Cincinnati area, left her child with a baby sitter and boarded their cat. The baby sitter told police she typically watched the girl at Shirley’s house but had started baby-sitting at her own home in recent weeks, court records said.
They had done the exact same things a week earlier, Curry said. He declined to answer questions on why the house didn’t explode the first time. Mark Leonard also recently had replaced a digital thermostat with an older, cheaper sliding-scale thermostat, which would cause a spark.
Investigators had immediately found evidence that the blast at 8349 Fieldfare Way was a criminal act and not an accident, Curry said. The microwave had exploded from the inside out, suggesting it was the source of the bigger explosion that could be felt miles away.
Arson investigators determined the microwave provided the spark that detonated the blast, Curry said. The microwave was a model that could be programmed 24 hours in advance to turn on at a certain time.
No gas leak was found in the lines outside the home, but Citizens Energy records showed that home used a high amount of gas for six to nine hours before the explosion, Curry said.
Experts told investigators that was exactly the amount of time needed to fill the house with gas and trigger a major explosion.
Gas company contacted
Investigators found that a device known as a regulator had been removed from the fireplace, Curry said. The regulator is supposed to limit the amount of gas that comes into the home, and four times as much gas enters if it’s not in place, Curry said.
Bob and Mark Leonard had talked to a Citizens Gas employee, asking about the differences between types of gas and how regulators worked, Curry said. They also asked how long it would take for natural gas to fill an entire house.
On the day of the explosion, a neighbor saw a white van that he recognized as Mark Leonard’s pull up to Shirley’s home, Curry said. Two men entered and then hurried out quickly, he said.
The description of one of the men matched Bob Leonard. A family member later told police that Bob Leonard had boxes filled with personal items, including pictures of Shirley and financial records, that he said he had recovered from the house after the explosion, Curry said.
But Curry said it would have been impossible for him to retrieve those items since the blast flattened the house and reduced everything inside to debris.
Police also had cordoned off the badly damaged homes on that block, and no one would have been allowed in to get anything, Curry said.
Indianapolis Public Safety Director Troy Riggs said the charges followed a thorough investigation, in which detectives worked around the clock and through the holidays. Riggs said he thought the investigation had moved at remarkable speed but that they didn’t cut corners.
The cost of the investigation and response to the Nov. 10 blast was estimated to be more than $300,000, and police and firefighters have put in more than 1,600 hours of overtime.
Shirley, Mark Leonard and Bob Leonard are being held at the Marion County jail without bond.