BRADENTON — One day in July, investigators say, Michelle Haney came home to a grim discovery.
She found her 40-year-old roommate, Jon Christopher Leonard, dead in the mobile home they shared at 5023 Windmill Manor Lane, in the Windmill Mobile Home Park off State Road 70, according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
Instead of reporting the discovery, Haney stashed Leonard’s body in a closet, then moved it to a trash can, sealed it up, and left it at a next-door neighbor’s home, detectives say.
“She admitted to doing this so she could use his Social Security benefits after he died,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a news release Wednesday.
Investigators say the scheme unraveled when the neighbor, who thought the 55-gallon can contained only personal items, opened it Tuesday and was hit with a foul smell.
Deputies arrested Haney the next day on a charge of abuse of a human body and confirmed that the man in the container was Leonard. An autopsy was scheduled for Wednesday but investigators believe he died of natural causes. The Sheriff’s Office said Haney may face more charges.
When Haney found Leonard dead, he was in bed, Manatee Sheriff Rick Wells said Wednesday during a news conference covered by Spectrum Bay News 9. Haney moved the body to her closet and left him there for about three weeks, and then moved the body to the trash can, Wells said.
When Haney moved out of the park in early September, she asked the neighbor to store the can at his home.
“When she never returned, the neighbor decided to open up the trash can, which he did yesterday,” Wells said. “He was going to remove the items and just put them out on the road. That’s when he discovered Mr. Leonard’s body inside.”
The body was wrapped up and badly decomposed. Wells said Haney admitted she hid the body so she could collect his $1,200 in monthly Social Security benefits.
“She treated him like a piece of garbage,” Wells said. “This is a despicable crime. Mr. Leonard has a family. Even though he was homeless at times, he has a caring, loving family.”
Records show Haney was being held in the Manatee County jail Thursday in lieu of $7,500 bail.