INDIANAPOLIS — Three people charged in a gas explosion that devastated an Indianapolis neighborhood deliberately set up the deadly blast to collect a big insurance payout, authorities said Friday.
The house owner, Monserrate Shirley; her boyfriend, Mark Leonard; and his brother, Bob Leonard, were arrested Friday and charged with murder, arson, and other counts in the Nov. 10 blast that killed two people.
Shirley, 47, was facing mounting financial woes, including $63,000 in credit card debt and worsening bankruptcy proceedings, court documents say. And a friend of Mark Leonard’s told investigators that Leonard said he had ‘‘lost a ton of money’’ — about $10,000 — at a casino some three weeks before the explosion.
Investigators believe the trio tried but failed to blow up Shirley’s home the weekend before the timed explosion, according to Terry Curry, prosecutor for Marion County. The fiery blast destroyed five houses, including Shirley’s, and caused widespread damage to dozens of other houses in the Richmond Hill subdivision in the far south side of the city.
Curry called the explosion a ‘‘thoroughly senseless act’’ that killed Shirley’s next-door neighbors.
He said the victims, John Dion Longworth, 34, an electronics specialist, and his wife, second-grade teacher Jennifer Longworth, 36, were ‘‘in the prime of their lives.’’
Randall Cable, the attorney for Shirley and Mark Leonard, said he was stunned by their arrest.
‘‘I’m just as surprised as everyone else that they’ve made an arrest. My clients have consistently indicated their innocence,’’ he said.
Shirley and the Leonard brothers face two counts of murder as well as 33 counts of arson — one count for each of the homes damaged so badly that officials have ordered their demolition.