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Crime News Snapped

Woman Who Cared For Best Friend With Cancer Then Hires Hitman To Kill Her In House Fire

What looked like an accidental death in a house fire turned out to be an elaborate plot for Linda Leedom to kill her next-door neighbor Lula Young.

By Caitlin Schunn

In the ultimate act of betrayal, a beloved next-door neighbor turned on her best friend, setting up a trap to kill her in a house fire and collect the insurance money.

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Linda Leedom masterminding the murder of Lula Young is at the center of the latest Snapped, airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.

“What I never understood though is how you can go from friendship to that,” Randy Welch, Lula Young’s brother, told Snapped. “You know, it just —t hat’s the part I never understood.”

Young died in a fire in her home in Horn Lake, Mississippi, about 20 minutes south of Memphis, in the early morning hours of Dec. 19, 1994.

“The term we got was that the house literally exploded, so I was trying to figure out how the house could blow up,” said Mike Young, Lula’s son, to Snapped. “Nothing in the house was gas, so how could the house explode? She was scared of fire. That was her biggest fear.”

Linda Leedom

The 47-year-old was known by everyone in the small town.

“Everybody that knew Ms. Young thought she was a good person,” said William Bayne, former reporter for The Commercial Appeal. “People were really sad that she had died. A good neighbor, literally gone.”

Young was found between the foot of her bed and the wall, unconscious. After she was pulled out by firefighters, with first- and second-degree burns on her chest and stomach, she died of smoke inhalation at the scene.

After marrying her high school sweetheart, Young became close with her neighbor Linda Leedom, who moved next door in 1978, and also had two kids about the same age as Young’s children.

“Linda and Lula was two people, if you seen one of them, you seen both of them,” Welch said.

Young’s son agreed the two friends were inseparable, especially after Young divorced her husband of 15 years.

“Linda was somebody Mom confided in,” Mike Young said.

After her divorce, Young began working as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), then started volunteering with the Horn Lake Fire Department as a bookkeeper, before eventually getting her Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) license. But then she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the late 1980s.

Leedom helped out during chemotherapy treatments, buying groceries for Young and helping her around the house.

“Nobody had looked after her the way her friend Linda Leedom had,” Bayne said.

After six long years, Young and her family got the news she was cancer-free. But shortly after, she died in her home.

An autopsy report showed Young’s cause of death as carbon monoxide poisoning, or smoke inhalation, and ruled it an accidental death. But firefighters were immediately suspicious that the fire was set deliberately, after a heater and propane tank were found close together inside.

“The valve had been turned and left cracked,” Leroy Bledsoe, former Horn Lake Fire Chief, told Snapped. “That means your gas is coming out. So that put a key indicator right there something strange is going on."

Sleeping pills were also found in Young’s blood. Some questioned if the fire was a form of suicide.

“One has to wonder, did Lula take these herself? And actually set the fire herself? Or did someone give them to her?” said Chris Sheley, district attorney criminal investigator, to Snapped.

But her son insisted Lula Young would never commit suicide.

"She wasn’t depressed at all,” Mike Young said. “This was a lady that was looking forward to life the next day.”

As police looked for answers, within two weeks of Young’s death, they got a break. A woman named Brenda Driver came forward to share she sold a new insurance policy just four months earlier to a woman she believed to be Lula Young. But after Young’s death, she saw the same woman, alive and well, in Walmart.

The woman who bought the policy as Lula Young turned out to be Linda Leedom, and the new policy, worth $700,000, named Leedom as its beneficiary, according to police. The policies were so large they required a physical — and police discovered Linda Leedom posed as Lula Young in the physical to get the policies.

Leedom told police she was Young’s best friend, and said she was home with her family at the time of the fire. When questioned, she said Young was in on the insurance policy scam.

“Linda says that Lula had asked her to do this and asked her to take the medical exams because she’d had cancer, and she knew she could not complete those exams and obtain those policies for that value,” Sheley said. “The intention was to defraud the insurance company about the cancer, and for Linda to take care of her [Lula’s] kids with that money.”

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Police said Leedom received $275,000 from one of the policies before payments stopped during the investigation into insurance fraud. Leedom used the money to purchase numerous rental homes, according to police.

“I never saw any of that money,” Mike Young said. “I never knew anything about the payouts or the reasoning behind it.”

The investigation into what happened to Lula Young continued for two years before police got another break in January 1997, and a friend of Lula and Linda's came forward.

“He confided that Linda had actually approached him on two different occasions asking him to basically kill Lula as a mercy killing — she had cancer, she was dying,” said Sheley, putting suspicion on Lula’s best friend. “He was friends with several police officers, so she asked him about how to burn a house down without getting caught.”

Police asked the informant to wear a wire and try to get a confession out of Linda Leedom, but it didn’t work. Two weeks later, another informant approached police. David Vincent was in jail and trying to get a deal by talking to police. He revealed information he’d learned from a landscaper, Charles Wayne Dunn.

“They’d been working together. Dunn had confided in him one day that he had did something that he regretted,” Sheley said. “Charles Wayne Dunn told David Vincent that he had killed Lula Young, and that Linda Leedom had paid him to do it.”

Vincent said Dunn also had information police had never made public.

“Charles Wayne Dunn told David Vincent that he had to make it look like an accident, because if she died from cancer, the policies may not pay,” Sheley said. “When he was telling the story, what was running through my head was, ‘We got her.’ I mean, this was the break we’d been looking for.”

Police put a wire on Vincent in a second sting operation to try and get a confession from Dunn, but that also didn’t pan out. So, police decided to talk to Dunn themselves — and he confessed to setting the fire.

He told officers Linda Leedom promised him $5,000 to kill Lula Young as a mercy killing because of her cancer. In a third sting operation, Dunn tried to get a confession out of Leedom, but once again, it didn’t work.

When police questioned Dunn again, he shared more information not known to the public, admitting he visited Lula Young’s house and brought a propane tank, with the story that Linda Leedom wanted Young to keep it for her.

“Dunn said he’d given her [Young] medicine to make her fall asleep, so that she wouldn’t suffer during the fire,” Sheley said. “He waited on her to go to sleep before he set the fire. He told it in a way that you got the feeling he’s telling you the truth.”

In a surprise to police, Dunn also confessed that this wasn’t the only time he’d set a fire on Linda Leedom’s orders. He started the fire at a house in South Haven as well.

“That house belonged to Ms. Leedom’s daughter,” Bledsoe said. “That was two years after the initial fire in Miss Lula’s house. They just evidently decided the best thing to do was set it on fire and then get that insurance money also.”

During a search of Leedom’s home, police also found more insurance policy documents with several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of insurance on a man named Robert Stovall.

“We found out she was trying to make arrangements to do him in also just like Ms. Young for insurance purposes,” Bledsoe said. “She already had talked to somebody to actually take care of Robert, as far as taking him out.”

On March 11, 1997, a grand jury indicted Linda Leedom on several counts of capital murder, conspiracy to commit capital murder, and conspiracy to commit arson, as well as fraud.

“Linda Leedom has gone from this person that everybody knew and liked to basically a criminal mastermind," Sheley said.

Leedom went on trial in August 1999, with Charles Wayne Dunn testifying against her.

“Linda’s defense was she was doing what Lula wanted,” Sheley said. “Entertaining those policies fraudulently. The plan was for her to be the recipient of the money because the kids couldn’t supposedly handle the money.”

But a jury didn’t buy it. They found her guilty on all counts, and a judge sentenced her to life in prison with no possibility of parole. Dunn pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit capital murder, and was sentenced to life in prison.

“Linda Leedom was the greediest, [most] selfish, coldhearted person that I ever met,” Mike Young said. “Linda Leedom is exactly where she needs to be. My mom looked at the good in everyone. Mom tried to help anyone that she can, with whatever she could.”

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