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Indianapolis blast: house owner, 2 others accused of deadly plot

December 21, 2012|By Andrew Khouri
  • Debris litters an Indianapolis neighborhood the day after a blast leveled two homes and damaged many more.
Debris litters an Indianapolis neighborhood the day after a blast leveled… (Matt Kryger / Indianapolis…)

The woman who owns the house that exploded last month in Indianapolis,  leveling much of the neighborhood and leaving two people dead, was arrested Friday along with two others, authorities said, and all three were charged with murder.

Monserrate Shirley, 47, her boyfriend, Mark Leonard, 43, and his brother, Bob Leonard Jr., 54, are accused of intentionally leaking natural gas into the house and then using the kitchen's programmable microwave to trigger the blast.

They were arrested six weeks after the fiery blast rocked the Richmond Hill subdivision, damaging 33 houses so severely that the city ordered them razed.

Killed in the blast were Jennifer Longworth, 36, and her husband, John “Dion” Longworth, 34, who lived next door to Shirley. The explosion injured 12 other people and caused an estimated $4 million in damage.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said Friday that investigators believe the Nov. 10 explosion at Shirley’s home, which blew from the inside out, was ignited by the microwave after gas was intentionally leaked into the home for hours.

“We are here today to discuss a thoroughly, thoroughly senseless act which has resulted in the deaths of two young adults in the prime of their life,” he said at a news conference.

Shirley and the Leonards were also charged with multiple counts of arson and one count of conspiracy to commit arson. She and Mark Leonard were charged with an additional count of conspiracy to commit arson in connection with what prosecutors say was an earlier failed attempt to blow up the same house.

About a week before the blast, Mark Leonard told a friend over the phone that “the house blew up,” according to court documents. Later that day, Leonard allegedly told the friend in another call that he was scanning Craigslist to buy a Ferrari with money from an insurance policy.

Last year, Shirley increased the coverage limit for her personal property inside the home to $304,000, according to the court documents.

Randall Cable, the attorney representing Shirley and Mark Leonard, said he had not reviewed the documents laying out the charges against his clients. But he said they have always maintained that they are innocent. Cable also said that if the explosion was intentional, someone else was responsible.

“Most of what I heard in the press conference was opinion and conclusions,” he said. “They have got to be able to back their opinions and conclusions up with some type of evidentiary proof.”

Prosecutors, however, contend that on the weekend of the blast as well as the weekend of the alleged failed attempt, Mark Leonard and Shirley took identical steps, including boarding the cat, leaving Shirley’s daughter with a baby-sitter and spending the weekend away.

A neighbor told investigators that the day of the blast he saw two stocky men he did not recognize get out of a van that belonged to Mark Leonard, according to court documents. The men entered the house and then within minutes “hurriedly” got back in the van and drove off, the neighbor said.
Court documents also say that the neighbor's description of one of the men fit Bob Leonard.

Shirley and the Leonards are scheduled to appear in court on Monday.

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