After a drawn-out trial and extensive press coverage, the perpetrators Mark Leonard and his half-brother Bob Leonard were both given life sentences without the possibility for parole. Three others, including Monserrate Shirley, Mark Leonard’s then-girlfriend and owner of the home that exploded, were convicted for their part in the crime.
Love and Greed in the Heartland: The Richmond Hill Murders, chronicles this crime and the resulting trial that captivated Marion County for years. The authors are Russ McQuaid, a veteran investigative reporter for Fox 59 News, and Robert Snow, a former captain for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
With over 20 years as a reporter under his belt, McQuaid has seen more than his share of heinous crimes around the city. After years covering the Richmond Hill explosions, as well as cases such as the murders of Shaylynn Ammerman and Lt. Aaron Allen, McQuaid is all too familiar with the dark side of Indiana. After sharing boxes of documents and research from the Richmond Hill case with Snow, who has published numerous true crime books, the process of writing the book began. It was published in July, 2017. NUVO talked to McQuaid by phone on Sept. 18.
BREANNA COOPER: There was an abundance of evidence at the site of the explosion, as well as extensive documents that had to be gone through during the course of the investigation. What was your process for sorting through all of it?
RUSS MCQUAID: As you build the case, from the very first note you take, from the first day you’re walking out there, you go through and pull each record of the individuals involved, their financial records, real estate records, you do interviews, you keep logs and notes of interviews and every call you made. This is like assembling a giant jigsaw puzzle, and you look for the interlocking pieces. Once it starts making its way to the court system, you collect every court document you can. Those layout the story in paperwork, but you can also see the strategy of the attorneys developing on how to present it before a jury, and you cover the trial everyday and a log of what everyone says on the witness stand. The advantage you have is when you have two trials, you compare the notes from the second trial to the first trial, to see what’s new and what does or doesn’t add up, and then everything comes together in the end.
BREANNA: After years of crime reporting, did anything from this case shock you?
RUSS: What was the most shocking about this was the arrogance and the narcissism and sociopathic mentality of the people involved. That they think they could get away with this and had no concern for the wellbeing of their neighbors or friends, or even the other co-conspirators amongst themselves. It was almost depraved, it was so shocking that people can do that. What really comes away from this book is that you drive home in your neighborhood, you see your neighbors and say “hi” but you don’t really know what’s going on in your neighbor’s house. You hope all your neighbors are nice guys like you, and you’re hoping your neighbor doesn’t hook up with a sociopath, but the reality is you never know what’s going on next door.
BREANNA: Do you tend to pick up on when stories don’t quite add up?
RUSS: Yeah, and you can usually pick a thread up on that real quick. I knew the first afternoon, I walked out there within 15 hours after the explosion, the first thing I noticed was there was no furniture. I thought “There should be furniture.” It would have been beat up and burnt, but it would have been there. So when I realized there wasn’t any, that didn’t make sense. Then we started learning details about Mark Leonard and Monserrate Shirley, how they had taken their cat and boarded it for the weekend. Anyone who’s ever had a cat knows you don’t board a cat, they’re fine on their own. Then we started digging into her financial records, her bankruptcy and attempts to sell her house. Within 48 hours of the explosion, she went on TV and did an interview with FOX 59, and you can just pick up certain clues from the way people answer or avoid questions. As you sit and watch, a lot of these things become apparent to you if you keep an eye on it and keep asking questions. You start to get this uneasy feeling that the story isn’t adding up, and that’s what we did in this case.
BREANNA: After four years of covering Richmond Hill, along with other notable crime stories, how do you move on from these stories, or do you?
RUSS: You always move on, because there’s always going to be another story. No matter how big the story is, there’s always going to be a tomorrow and something else is always going to come up. What you do is you build on your history. The Richmond Hill case went on for a couple years, so you don’t report that all at once. It’s a continuing thread of stories, but there’s things you do when you investigate and uncover. Writing those stories helps you in the future when you do another investigation, and some of the contacts you make, you run into in other cases. Everybody else’s lives go on, so you just keep moving forward.
BREANNA: When you’re reporting on high-tension and emotional stories such as Richmond Hill, how do you remove yourself from the story, especially when you’re interviewing suspects?
RUSS: You take into account, of course, your outrage as a human being and citizen of Indianapolis, the pain you feel and the questions you have, and you bring that to the table. After you do that, you rise above it. When you’re interviewing victims, or suspects, or investigators, you bring your knowledge and ability and ask your questions. You don’t make it about your emotions, but rather to say “I’m seeking information as to how this occurred,” and then you can answer the same question for your audience.
BREANNA: You cover some of the most difficult stories in Indianapolis. How do you maintain positivity and hope for our city?
RUSS: Well, a lot of these cases end up getting solved, so you have faith in the criminal justice system. Even if they don’t get solved, you draw your inspiration and faith from people involved. People who have lost loved ones, but they keep hanging in there and hope that someone solves their son’s killing. The fact that something crooked is going on in local government or local company, but somebody is giving you information, that there are still people willing to put themselves on the line. Or they recognize something corrupt is going on, and they reach out to a reporter, you just keep going forward with that positive attitude. It’s a long fight, a long year and a long career. You can’t let one story break you. You just keep slinging along at it everyday so that at the end of the year and the end of your career, you can look back and say “we got some things accomplished, we helped some people out,” and that’s what gives you the faith to keep going.
BREANNA: You did comedy radio in college at Western Michigan University. How did you make the decision to do crime reporting in Indianapolis?
RUSS: I’ve always been a reporter, from my radio career, television career in Michigan to Denver, and then back to Indianapolis. I arrived here in 1988, one of the things I’ve always been able to do is investigative reporting, and luckily, I’ve always found a venue and an audience that appreciates that. That’s how you start doing radio comedy in college in 1975 to being an investigative reporter covering the most complex murder case in state history.