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A Florida woman stuffed her roommate’s body into a trash can after his sudden death over the summer, then asked an unsuspecting neighbor to hold onto the bin containing the decomposing corpse as a favor, according to county authorities.
Michelle Haney, 48, told detectives that she arrived home in July to discover that her roommate, Jon Christopher Leonard, had collapsed and died in a home they shared, according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
Instead of notifying authorities, Haney allegedly wrapped the dead man in a bedspread and stashed his corpse in the closet for a number of weeks, according to a probable cause statement obtained by Oxygen.com.
“She panicked and placed the deceased in a bedspread and placed the body in a closet,” the probable cause statement said.
Haney moved out of the home months later, and in September allegedly asked her next-door neighbor, Terry Chatlos, if he would hold onto a “garbage can” containing her “personal belongings,” which supposedly included clothes and dinnerware. Haney, who warned her neighbor the bin was "heavy," claimed she’d be back in a “couple of weeks” to retrieve it. Chatlos obliged — and lent Haney a dolly to cart the garbage can over to his garage. For months, police said he stored it on his screened porch.
Two weeks ago, Chatlos observed a rancid, “really bad” smell emanating from inside the trash bin. On Dec. 8, Haney's neighbor eventually decided to throw away the bin, according to police. As he rifled through its contents, however, he made a grotesque discovery. Amid a pile of blankets and clothes, Chatlos found a human arm and hand, the probable cause statement alleged.
“He saw a human hand and arm and immediately called law enforcement,” charging documents stated.
The body was so badly decomposed that officials weren’t immediately able to identify the remains, police said.
Haney admitted she concealed Leonard’s death and told detectives she’d been cashing in on the dead man’s monthly benefits since his death, according to the probable cause statement. The 39-year-old reportedly received $1,200 monthly.
Haney stated that her roommate died over the summer but was adamant she wasn’t present at the time of death. Three weeks after his death, Haney confessed to cramming Leonard into a garbage can, which she later passed off to her neighbor.
“To fit the body in the garbage can, she had to fold, twist, and distort the body,” the probable cause statement says. “She later gave the garbage can to Terry with the belief that she would obtain the garbage can at a later time.”
An official cause of death hasn’t been released. Leonard’s autopsy is pending, law enforcement said.
Haley was charged with abuse of a corpse.
"It's a sad day when you treat someone like a piece of trash, when he deserved a proper burial, and deserved to have his family with him to mourn,” Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells said during a press conference. “Haney's actions were despicable."
She’s being held on a $50,000 bond at a Manatee County detention center, according to online jail records. Haley made her first court appearance on Dec. 10, additional court filings show. She’s requested a court-appointed public defender to represent her.
Leonard’s family, who had been desperately searching for the father of three for months, were horrified to learn what happened.
“He didn’t deserve this,” his wife, Jodi Leonard, told Oxygen.com. “I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. He deserves justice. He wasn’t treated with any sort of dignity and respect and it’s a shame for his kids.”
“We’re all still in shock over all this,” Jodi Leonard said. “It feels like I’ve been turned inside out.”
She added that when she tried contacting Haney after Leonard’s mother’s death she was met with hostility.
“She said that she hadn’t spoken to him in several weeks and then she blocked me,” Jodi Leonard explained.
Jon Leonard had a terminal pancreatic illness, his wife said. The prospect of his death, she acknowledged, had been looming for some time.
“We knew that he was going to pass at some point, and that was hard enough,” she added.
She said the couple separated in 2015, eight years into their marriage.
Leonard, who’s originally from White River, Arizona, worked as a roofer. He loved fishing, sports, spending time with family, and making people laugh, his wife said. He would have turned 40 in November.
“His kids meant the world to him,” Jodi Leonard said.
Other family members stated Leonard was extremely “proud” of his Native American heritage.
“He was so proud to be Apache,” Leonard’s cousin Kyle Ethelbah wrote on Facebook. “He will always be one of our people.”
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