Contradictions abound in explosion case
Monserrate Shirley faces the real possibility of spending Christmas Day inside a cell at the Marion County Jail, separated from her 12-year-old daughter.
If not by planning, her holiday incarceration is an advantageous convenience to investigators probing the explosion that leveled Shirley’s south side house Nov. 10 as they look for a weak link to exploit in building their case in the fatal blast.
Shirley; her boyfriend, Mark Leonard; and his, brother Bob Leonard, Jr., face a Christmas Eve morning initial hearing before Judge Shelia Carlisle In Marion Superior Court #3. Each of the accused faces two counts of murder plus conspiracy to commit arson and dozens more arson charges.
Investigators said they have the physical evidence, eyewitness accounts and anecdotal and historical recollections that could send the trio to prison for the rest of their lives.
A confession from one of the three suspects would tie the evidence together and go a long way toward the healing process that is only just now beginning in the Richmond Hill community where two neighbors died, 12 were injured, 80 homes were damaged and the losses total $4.4 million. Home insurance companies will be expected to make up the bulk of that loss.
Citzens Energy Group, with a natural gas product that was allegedly misused and an employee who unwittingly may have provided technical expertise to the accused conspirators, may face exposure to financial damages.
And Shirley will most likely spend Christmas Eve in the Marion County Jail, her own state of mind described as, “paranoid,” by her boyfriend, according to the Affidavit for Probable Cause filed by the Marion County prosecutor.
Shirley and the Leonard brothers each have their own alleged criminal exposures and histories that will play into decisions to be made by defense attorneys yet to be assigned to the case.
Therein lies the first conflict, which will be addressed Monday morning in court.
Shirley and Mark Leonard are both currently represented by his attorney Randall Cable. Cable has defended Leonard in the past on a drunken driving charge and currently in Warren Township small claims court on a case regarding a disputed automobile title. Cable was also served with a judgement against his client by a woman who told Fox59 News that Leonard stole $71,000 from her in a 2011 scam.
Cable cannot defend both Shirley and Leonard against the Richmond Hill charges. He must pick one client over the other.
Mark Leonard has a history of perpetuating scams on women, according to the probable cause, as well as a reputation as a, “con man,” according to police reports and allegations of past arson and insurance schemes.
One witness told police that Mark Leonard hoped to profit $100,000 from the insurance settlement expected in the wake of the destruction of the home at 8349 Fieldfare Way. Leonard told that witness he was shopping online for a luxury sports car to purchase with the proceeds of the scheme.
Mark Leonard is also known to rack up large gambling debts. He and Shirley spent the weekend of Nov. 9 and 10 at the Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg. That’s where they were when they received word that Shirley’s house had blown up.
Mark Leonard has served time in the Indiana Department of Corrections after conviction on charges of intimidation of an ex-girlfriend and said in an unrelated IMPD report that he would kill himself rather than return to prison to be, “punked” on.
As the boyfriend of Shirley, Mark Leonard is alleged to have failed an attempt to blow up her home the weekend before when he told an acquaintence, “the tsunami winds came down the chimney, blew out the fire in the fireplace and the gas kept running and the house blew up.”
Sources tell Fox59 News that the earlier attempt failed due to an insignificant ignition system and amount of natural gas introduced into the house. Neighbors told Fox59 News that they spotted Moncy Shirley’s furniture in the driveway before the fatal blast as if it was being moved out of or back into the house.
Attorney Cable said the furniture was being steam cleaned. Sources indicate the furniture was being cleaned to remove the natural gas and soot smell from the fabric as a result of the earlier failed attempt. That furniture, along with other personal items inside the home, have never been discovered leading investigators to believe the belongings were removed in an anticipation of the explosion.
The Leonard brothers are alleged to have fine-tuned their plan on Nov. 9 when they struck up a conversation with an employee of Citizens Energy Group. On Nov. 29, 19 days after the explosion, the employee, referred to as “AK” in the probable cause, told investigators that the Leonards spotted him at a south side business before the explosion and peppered him with questions such as, “What is the difference between propane and natural gas?”, and, “How much gas would it take to fill a house?” and whether a gas regulator would continue to dispense gas into a house should a coupling be disabled?
The employee said at the time the questions did not strike him as odd as he is often asked natural gas questions by customers. A little over a day later the house on Fieldfare Way blew up.
In late November, Fox59 News reported that investigators had data from the home’s gas meter indicating an excessive flow of gas into the residence on the afternoon of Nov. 10, at the same time a neighbor said that he had observed two men walking away from the house.
On Nov. 21, Citizens Energy Group issued a statement that read, “Several media outlets have inquired about reports suggesting the meter at the home which exploded had a high reading on November 10th. (sic) These reports are inaccurate. Citizens’ gas meters do not have the ability to monitor daily usage.”
Said Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry Friday, “The examination of the gas meter at the house determined that there was a large volume of gas that was entering into the home in the six to nine hours prior to the explosion.”
Investigators determined that a metal cylinder was placed inside a microwave oven with a time-delayed start setting. Sources indicate a propane tank was purchased at a nearby camping and hunting retail store and may have been filled with propane to create a small bomb which would have set off the larger explosion that was the home filled with gas. Examination of the damaged tank for evidence of arcing, which in of itself would be sufficient to cause an explosion, is continuing.
The same neighbor who told Fox59 News that he spotted two men at the house the day of the blast told investigators he could positively identify one of them as Bob Leonard, Jr., Mark Leonard’s older brother. The neighbor spotted a second man whom he could not identify.
A longtime Mark Leonard associate, David Gill, was brought in for questioning the same night as Bob Leonard just before Thanksgiving. Gill exchanged multiple phone calls and text messages with Mark Leonard before and after the blast and was spotted in his company in the days after the explosion. Gill is not charged in this case.
He was named by Mark Leonard as the man who beat him at a south side bar, Club Zeus, in early 2011.
Gill’s uncle was also a complaintant in a fraud allegation lodged against Mark Leonard in 2009 over the exchange of a vehicle.
A witness told Fox 59News he spotted Mark Leonard wrecking his Harley Davidson motorcycle outside Clue Zeus, with Shirley on the back, in the weeks before the blast. The wreckage of that motorcycle was discovered in the debris of Shirley’s house.
Club Zeus was also one of the locations where investigators have recovered surveillance video indicating the Leonard brothers met in the days leading up to the explosion. The Leonards told police they hadn’t seen each other since the previous Tuesday.
Bob Leonard’s son, Justin Leonard, told police he spotted personal items from inside Shirley’s house in the back of Mark Leonard’s white van the night before the explosion.
The probable cause indicates Shirley failed in her attempt to emerge from financial difficulties through Chapter 13 and Chapter 7 bankruptcies. Her home at 8349 Fieldfare Way had been unsuccessfully listed for sale as recently as last summer when Shirley failed to come up with $30,000 to finance a short sale. The dwelling carried two mortgages totalling $226,000. She owes $63,000 in credit card debt. Shirely boosted her personal property coverage one year ago with State Farm Insurance to $304,000 in addition to standard home insurance.
In the weeks after the explosion, Shirley and Mark Leonard moved to at least two residences in Greenwood, landing finally at Devonshire Luxury Apartments. Friday morning, tailed by investigators, Shirley and Mark Leonard dropped her daughter off at Our Lady of Greenwood school. According to the probable cause, the couple had been followed by investigators for several weeks, observed taking meetings and parking in secluded places to conduct conversations and make phone calls from inside their car.
It was while driving away from the Greenwood catholic school on snow covered roads that the couple was arrested without incident as a search warrant was sought for their apartment.
Bob Leonard was picked up at his trailer on Indianapolis’ southwest side.
David Gill remains free as Prosecutor Curry indicates more arrests could be forthcoming while the investigation continues.
From the location of Mark Leonard’s white van the weekend of the blast to how long Shirley and Mark Leonard have known each other to suspicious activity at the house on Fieldfare Way the day of the explosion and during the weekends before it, investigators said the stories of the three suspects do not match up. It’s these inconsistencies, along with physical evidence still under review, that will provide the cornerstone of prosecution in one of the largest tragedies to strike Indianapolis in decades.
Assuming Monday morning’s bonds set in Judge Shelia Carlisle’s court are beyond the financial wherewithal of the defendants, all three are expected to spend the holidays, if not longer, in jail awaiting trial.
Bob Leonard, Jr., is accused of walking into the house, with a friend, on Fieldfare Way and setting the bomb. Mark Leonard is accused of putting the plan in motion. Shirley, as the owner of the home under tremendous financial strain, is accused of being the most likely to profit from the scheme.
The 47-year-old single mother will likely spend Christmas Eve in the Marion County Jail, separated from the daughter she last saw walking into school Friday morning. Shirley, on leave as a nurse at Community South Hospital, will have plenty of time to consider her options now that her boyfriend and quite possibly her attorney will be at legal odds with her best interests.
“I cannot sleep. I don’t eat. Everybody’s been asking me questions,” Shirley told Fox 59 News through tears three days after the explosion.
Chances are there are more sleepless nights punctuated by inquring days ahead for the grieving homeowner.