The Murder of Denise Leuthold

It’s Valentine’s Day, and as such, our story takes place on Valentine’s Day. I’m sure we are familiar with the infamous Valentine’s Day massacre that took place in 1929 when seven members of Chicago’s North Side Gang were killed at a Lincoln Park garage . The four unknown assailants lined them up against a wall and shot them. This led to a struggle to control the organized crime in the city between the Irish North Sides, headed by George “Bugs” Moran, and the Italian South Side Gang, headed by Al Capone. While nobody ever found out who perpetrated the act, everybody believes Capone was to blame.

We are also familiar with Oscar Pistorius and is Valentine’s Day murder of his girlfriend, for which he is serving 13 years in prison. So I would like to present to you another Valentine’s Day murder. This murder also took place on February 14th, 2013, the same day Pistorius murdered his girlfriend.

A former missionary, Nathan Leuthold was often described to be a “good person,” but that persona was ripped to shreds when he decided to kill his wife. Nathan and his wife Denise were very active in their Lithuanian oriented church, and before they had children, would often travel the world doing missionary work. They also brought Lithuanian women who had escaped abusive relationships to the US to help them live a better life.

The day begin just like any other. They had their Valentine’s tradition. That morning, Nathan woke the kids up and got them bathed and ready while Denise made breakfast for the family. After they were ready, the kids were allowed to enjoy a Valentine’s treat  and Nathan surprised Denise with chocolate and flowers waiting on the table before they sat down for breakfast. After breakfast, the kids were taken to school and Nathan headed to church while Denise stayed home. But in 2013, things went awry.

Nathan didn’t go to the church. While it has never been shared what, exactly, Nathan did that day leading up the major events, here is what we have learned:

  • He drove Denise’s car to a park where, as he told the police, he often visited, and tossed the keys into a trashcan.
  • He returned home after he knew that everybody except his wife would be gone for the day and killed her.
  • He ransacked the house, even taking things out of the house including two guns, and broke one of the windows to make it look as if somebody had broken in.
  • He opened the garage door and left.

We don’t know where he went, though.

Later on, Janelle’s daycare called Nathan to tell him Denise had not come to pick her up. Nathan then phoned his in-laws to see if they had heard from Denise, and they told him that she hadn’t answered her phone and offered to pick up Janelle. Nathan said he could do. He picked up Janelle and went to their home to “check on Denise.”

This was when he called 911. It was around 3:15 when he calmly called the police as soon as he got to the house. His daughter stated that it looked like somebody had broken in. He said that a window had been broken and the garage door was left open. He told them that he wouldn’t go inside. At no point during the 911 call did he voice concern about his wife. Once police arrived a secured the property, Nathan went inside, but only went into the areas where his wife’s body was not. Police, at first, believed that there had been a robbery because electronics had been removed and how everything had been thrown about. This was when Nathan told them that he owned three guns, two of which were missing. A .22 caliber Beretta and a .40 caliber Glock, the same gun that had killed his wife.

During their investigation, the police decided to look in the trunk of Nathan’s car. This was likely after the discovered the body and started to suspect that he might be involved. Inside, they discovered foreign currency, different security boxy keys, and multiple fake passports. After they checked his phone, they found that he had been texting a women named Aina about being robbed and she had responded with “Interesting :)”. That served as enough evidence to bring Nathan in for questioning. Once they had him in the interrogation room, they told him that his wife had been killed by a gunshot to the head. Nathan didn’t even try to feign interest in this news, nor was he the least bit surprised.

After a six hour long interrogation, Nathan was charged with first degree murder.

Let’s back up for a second. Who is this Aine? Nathan had met Aina while he and his family were on missionary work in Lithuania. Aina and her mother were heavily involved with the church and Aina often helped out with Leuthold children. When they were to return to the states, the Leuthold’s sponsored Aina as an exchange student interested in music and ministry work. Leuthold soon became obsessed with the young woman and had an extended relationship with her. They used the emails he had sent to her as evidence in the prosecution of the case. The trail last six days and had more than 40 witnesses.

It seems as though the interrogation is what really sold the police on the fact that Nathan killed his wife. Let’s take a moment and learn a bit about the psychology of language. In these interviews, they assume that the speaker is “de facto innocent” and that he shares information to be understood. This means that they expect a reliable denial and that they don’t expect to notice in language characteristic that indicate that what he is saying isn’t true. In the case of Nathan Leutold, they expected him to say “I didn’t kill my wife Denise,” and not him repeating what the interviewers said to him. They also want to see the “wall of truth.” This is a psychological barrier that leads an innocent person to use very few words, as they don’t have the need to persuade a person to think a certain way.

Reliable denial is found in the free-editing process, and not repeated language and I made up of three parts. The first is the pronoun “I.” The second is the past tense verb did not or didn’t. The third is accusation answered.

A person who is trying to deceive somebody will alter their denial to avoid a direct lie. Any combination of “I didn’t kill my wife Denise. I told the truth, I’m innocent” is considered to be reliable denial and 99% likely to be a truthful statement.

Every analysis starts out with the expectation of truth, and it is unexpected statements that should possible deception.

After his trail, Nathan spoke to Dateline NBC correspondent Andrea Canning about what happened prior to his call to 911. He said, “My parents called me, ‘You want us to pick her up?’ I said, ‘Denise should be there any minute, she must have been late.’ She hadn’t answered her phone calls, she hadn’t answered her text messages, I said, ‘Just wait a few minutes, let me get Jenelle at the daycare then I’ll let you know, and I finally got the daycare, they said, ‘She still hasn’t come, she hasn’t called,’ I said, ‘Well, I’m right by the house, I’m right by the house and see if she is there,’ and soon as I got pulled into the driveway, the garage door was open. I can see the windowpane was broken, the glass is on the ground, at that point I began to put things together and someone had broken into the home and then, at that point, I called the police, called 911”

After he called 911, the operator asked, “What’s the problem?” He responded with “Uh, we had a break-in.”

“Uh” is something we say when we pause to think. This pause tells us that the question, “What’s the problem?” is sensitive to him.

The order a person speaks shows their priority in subjects. Nathan showed that the break-in was more important than his wife since he didn’t mention her. This is unexpected since Denise had not been answering her calls or texts, and he told Andrea Canning that he returned home to check on his wife.

The operator then said, “Is it going on right now?”

To which he replied, “I don’t know, I… the garage door is open, there’s glass from the back door, somebody broke-in, I’m not going into the house yet.”

Again, he does not mention Denise. Nathan knew that Denise stayed at home, and that she was at risk, but chose not to go inside or mention her. He only shared information on the phone call to 911 that supported the idea of a break-in.

The “I…” before the garage door statement is a broken sentence. It shows self-censoring, which means he is deliberately withholding information. He started to place himself into the sentence, but stopped whatever he was getting ready to say.

Let’s go over some things he said in his actual interrogation. The interrogation took place from 6 PM the 14th to 12:30 AM on the 15th.

Nathan said, “I’m trying to not think about nothing but the kids, about nothing but the ministry. What we do everything is so tight together as a family. One thing, it’s all a house of cards, she is the main one to hold it all together and I’m trying to shut off the thoughts that happens… what happened with this… I can’t go to Europe and hold the kids by myself and be full-time, so everything I’m trying to hold that off. I want to get this done, I don’t want any more long agencies. I want to get this done… I’m trying not to get upset, I don’t mean mad, I mean upset.”

Nathan shows that his priority is to show that he is the “good guy” because he most definitely is not. He is also self focused. He shows no pain for the death of his wife, but talks about the repercussion of her death. He tries to take control over the interview and shows some unexpected verbal aggressiveness. Plus, Nathan never refers to his wife Denise as “my wife Denise” or “my wife” or “Denise,” but only as “she.” Providing a social introduction would show they had a good relationship, but his words show they had a poor relationship.

At one point, Nathan said, “I don’t want to say something that would be misconstrued. I don’t like all these rights warnings.” A reliable denial is hard to misinterpret. An innocent person only thinks to be misconstrued when he has wrongfully been accused, not before the interview. When he said this, he is likely talking more to himself than the detectives. This shows that he was on guard.

He also said, “you can’t tell me things about her. You can’t tell me things about her so…”

He is trying to control the interview.

The detective said, “I’m telling you she is dead.”

Nathan replied, “You told me.”

He didn’t express any emotions when he was told Denise was dead, that’s why the detective said it again, but Nathan gave yet another cold answer.

The detective asks, “Was there anything of extreme value?

Nathan replied with, “In… in the house?”

The detective replies, “In your room, in that room in particular?”

To which he replied, “I… I had… uhm… two watches… uhm… a couple hundred dollar watches, nothing.”

His first reply with a question was to buy time. His stuttering with the word “I” shows that there is a lot of anxiety considering humans are extremely efficient at using this pronoun.

The detective asks, “Do you know why anybody would want to break in there?”

Nathan replied, “I have been trying to ask the same question since I pulled in the driveway.”

Most people would have worded that statement as, “I have been trying to answer that question since I pulled in the driveway.” The way he worded it is deceptive.

When he gets asked about how Denise’s car got to Robinson park, all Nathan can say is, “uhm.” The detective says, “I’m just trying to figure out how many sets of keys are out there because I’m trying to find a set of keys.”

Nathan replies, “I know there is one set of keys and whenever I have borrowed… borrowed… whenever I got the car to go get something fixed on it… I just ask her for the keys and she gives me the keys, or she says they are on the plate.”

When Nathan said, “ I know there is one set of keys,” he is telling the truth, but he doesn’t exclude that he knows that there are actually two sets of keys. If he said, “I know there is only one set of keys,” then that would mean there was only one set of keys. It’s like saying, “I had two glasses of wine, officer,” which is the truth, because a person who had five glasses of wine had definitely drunk two before the others.

There is a lot more to that interview, but we haven’t got six hours to go over it, so let’s move onto some other statements he made. Nathan chose not to testify during his trail, but as mentioned before, he did speak to Dateline NBC correspondent Andrea Canning after he was sentenced. This is where he really shows his manipulative and self-centeredness.

Nathan said, “I was in third grade, she was in fourth grade at the time and I doubt… doubt she even knew I existed, but even then, I thought she was the cutest girl in the school.”

Nathan shows he is a narcissist. He gives us a bit of a glimpse into his personality disorder when he says that even she didn’t know he existed he thought that she was the cutest girl.

He later said, “I looked at Denise’s mom at the time and I saw what she was as a woman, as a wife, as a mother, and I saw that Denise really favored her mother, and so I said that’s what I want.”

His idea of a relationship is “that’s what I want,” is extra evidence that he is a narcissist. He chose to Denise in order to fill his needs and to enhance his idea of a perfect image.

In the rest of his interview with Dateline, he uses first-person words like I and me a lot. This helps prove that he has narcissistic tendency. To add to that, he would use phrases like, “my world has just been shattered,” or “How do I function know?” When he recalled memories from the day of her murder, he would us present tense, such as “I am looking at my four year old daughter.” People who are remembering something that experienced will use past tense.

When asked why he didn’t take the stand, he replied, “I had chosen to testify prior to trail bust as the State continued to take things out of context and continue to throw as much mud as they could on the wall and hoping that some of it would stick, they had moved beyond what I felt were the facts of the case, I wasn’t going to give them anymore fuel or anymore fodder to use or to misconstrue. But things were stolen insurance claims verified they were stolen and paid the claim. It was a burglary. Did it look like a normal burglary? I’m not sure what a normal burglary looks like.”

When a murderer stages a burglary, they will typically take things to make it look believable. Nathan says that he doesn’t know what a normal burglary looks like, it is not up to him to recognize a staged burglary from a real one, and they could tell that from how he staged the house.

While the word narcissistic gets thrown around a lot, it seems that Nathan holds all of the common signs and symptoms of NPD. He did not show any emotions during all of this, even the day of the murder when he is told his wife is dead. During the trail, the video shows he is very emotionless, and even the statement of a fellow missionary proves that this emotionless persona wasn’t something new. Willima Harper said:

“He was a very logical person and very much in control of his emotions. It was rare to see him do anything emotional. That’s one thing that points to him, because he was such an organized person. And when I found out the spent the night together in an apartment, that’s when I thought he could be guilty. We came back for a week or so for the funeral, and spent a lot of time with him during the. That was the only I have ever seen him cry. He talked a lot about the children and about how they were going to miss their mother, especially the girls, who were looking forward to doing things with Denise. I remember him talking a lot about how it would affect his work, how it was going to affect the children, but I don’t remember him saying anything along the lines that he was going to miss his wife.”

Leuthold didn’t how emotions because he lacked empathy, which is a quintessential hallmark of people with narcissistic personality disorder.

While Nathan didn’t take the stand, Aine did. She claimed that the two were not lovers, and called him her mentor and employer. During her time on the stand, she started out talking through a translator, which she got frustrated with, but by the end, she was speaking English without a problem. Nathan met Aine when she was six, and then brought her to the US when she was 18. She said, of her relationship with Nathan, that he paid her expenses, took her on trips to Europe, went shooting, and exercised together, but she claimed they never stayed overnight with each other. She also said that Denise never went with them when they did things together. Aine claimed it was because Denise could talk in Lithuanian, but that was disproven because Denise went on mission trips to Lithuania and did speak the language.

They would go to the spa together. In fact, Nathan, Denise, and Aine went to the spa a lot, but the spa attendant didn’t even know that Nathan was married to Denise because he was at the spa with Aine more.

David D. Smith an inmate who had been serving a 14-year sentence for drug conviction, told jurors, that Nathan had said he had waited in the closet for his wife and then shot her once in the head. He said Nathan had approached him within a few weeks of arriving at the Peoria Jail in March, and sought his advice.

When all was said and done, the jury deliberated for only 90-minutes and returned with a  guilty verdict for first-degree murder. Judge Kevin Lyons offered a gut-wrenching speech before rendering his sentence. “I have to give you credit. You have led a law-abiding life, and for many years, you did good things. But you have poisoned it all.” He went on to say that it was shameful that he killed his wife in her parent’s home, a place that she and her kids had considered a happy place. He also called him a thief for taking Denise away from her children and family.

The worst thing I think about this whole thing is that the murder of his wife got labeled as a “Valentine’s Day present” for Aine. It was extremely well-planned, as was seen by the internet searches for how to silence a .40 caliber Glock. Attorney Jerry Brady alleged that Leuthold was a cold-blooded killer who blew his wife’s head off, staged a fake break-in, and went about his day ensuring that he was caught on camera everywhere he went to create an alibi.

Toner, Nathan’s attorney, said that his client didn’t have a prior criminal record and should only be given the minimum sentence of 45 years since basically any sentence would become a life term because in Illinois a person has to serve 100% of any prison term for murder. Toner then claimed that they had no proof that Aina and Leuthold had a romantic relationship. To which Judge Lyons spat, “Really?” A rather unexpected outburst from a judge. Lyons ended the sentencing by saying, “You will end your life in a cold and gray isolated Illinois penitentiary where you will be more of a number than a name. You’ll be leaving this country to become more of  a nobody and less of a somebody.” He then gave him an 80-year sentence.

There is one last thing I want to share from this case. If what we have gone over didn’t convince you that Nathan deserved the sentence he got, here is a letter that Denise had written to Nathan that the detectives found in their bedroom.

“What on earth could you possibly be thinking? I can’t imagine anything you could tell me that would hurt worse than what you were doing to me now – every day. I really don’t think there is anything that I have done or not done that would cause me to deserve this. I have tried to please you for seventeen years and never succeeded. I’ve never been good enough. Never done enough. I know that you want me dead. I’m not stupid. I suppose it will confirm my worthlessness to you when I write that I am not brave enough to do that job for you. And now all of a sudden, you are taking me with you places. What is that all about? Maybe you think I don’t feel bad enough. You act like you are somehow noble because you won’t tell me why you are doing this. It makes me sick. I have been willing at any time to fall in love with you again, but you reject me every time. I wish I could hate you. I’ve tried to hate you because I thought it would make it easier. I thought it wouldn’t hurt so bad. Of course, I couldn’t do it, so I have failed at that, too. I have been without pride. I have humiliated myself to try to win something that belongs to me. You defraud me, and you don’t seem to care. Well, I quit. I’m not going to try to please you anymore. I will do what I have to do, but no more of that game. You want to humiliate me by running around with a 20 year old? Fine. I won’t grovel. If I haven’t pleased you in seventeen years, nothing I do now will please you. And I refuse to leave my children just because you have decided to do this to me. You are the only person who thinks I am a bad mother. Complete strangers compliment me on them, so Iwill not join you in your obsession with perfection. I am the same person that I’ve always been. I am not weaker and in many ways stronger. I refuse to play to your perfectionism in that, too. I have borne neglect and criticism and kept going. But now this. How long? How long are you going to do this to me? Oh, yeah until I break. That’s what you said, isn’t it? Well, happy waiting.”

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