In November of 2012, a small suburb of Indianapolis was rocked by an explosion.
Residents of Richmond Hill said their neighborhood looked like a war zone. Walls caved in. Garage doors crinkled like aluminum foil. Some homes were actually displaced from their concrete foundations. The neighborhood was littered with debris — vinyl siding hung from trees, insulation foam scattered across lawns like a covering of snow.
The explosion decimated the house where it occurred, but no one was home at the time. A couple next door was killed, however. Four nearby houses caught fire, and 200 residents were evacuated while firefighters and city inspectors combed through the wreckage.
Two days later, the owner of the exploded home filed an insurance claim for the damage. Her name is Monserrate Shirley.
Foul Play Suspected
Authorities initially speculated that the explosion might have resulted from faulty microwave circuitry or a problem with the furnace. Shirley had been at a hotel, 100 miles away, when the explosion occurred. She said she had been having a hard time getting the heat to work and thought she smelled gas, so she left.
But after two months of investigation, investigators uncovered the truth. Rather, they didn’t uncover it—a critical valve that limits the flow of gas to a home’s heating outlets was missing from the wreckage of Shirley’s house. The only explanation was that it had been removed on purpose.
Two weeks later, after it was learned that Shirley and her boyfriend were up to their ears in bankruptcy, credit card and gambling debts, police believed they had sufficient probable cause to arrest them.
Murder Charges Filed
A close friend of Shirley’s says that she never gave any clue that her financial problems had reached such a fever pitch. But another source revealed that her boyfriend, Mark Leonard, had a history of turning his dating relationships into sources of ready cash. Only three weeks before the explosion, he’d told a friend that he was looking around for a Ferrari to buy, since Shirley was about to get a payout from jewelry insurance.
A few days before Christmas, the couple was arrested after dropping Shirley’s 12-year-old daughter off at school. They have since accused each other of being the mastermind of the plan.
Shirley and Leonard face charges of murder and arson. Both have pleaded not guilty. Their trials are scheduled for June but are likely to be delayed.
‘We’re Making a Stand’
In the meantime, the real victims of this crime—the residents of Richmond Hill—continue to support each other in their recovery. Many of them suffer from anxiety and PTSD as a result of what happened. Some suffer health problems such as hearing loss. Some have shrapnel from the explosion embedded in their bodies.
They hold memorial services for the deceased, organize meetings to help each other recover and rebuild their houses with each other’s input — often without media attention.
“We’re not letting the devastation and the explosion define our future and our lives,” said neighbor Vicky Koerner. “We’re making a stand and we’re coming back.”
Help for Explosion Victims
If you or someone you love has been injured in an explosion—whether at home, in the workplace or elsewhere—you need knowledge support for your recovery. The legal team at Oshman & Mirisola can help you seek justice against whatever party was at fault, from companies whose negligence led to faulty appliances, to homeowners scamming for an insurance payout. Contact us today at 800-400-8182 for a no-obligation, no-cost consultation, or fill out the contact form on the right side of this page.