INDIANAPOLIS — 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 Bob Leonard, 54, Mark Leonard, 43, and Monserrate Shirley, 47, 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.
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 of 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.