Murder of Leo and Hazel Gleese by the Rev. John Nelson Canning examined on Where Murder Lies

Mugshot of John Nelson Canning
John Nelson Canning pleaded guilty to killing Leo and Hazel Gleese. Pic credit: FL Dept. of Corrections

Where Murder Lies is examining the tragic murders of elderly couple Leo and Hazel Gleese, who were both strangled to death at their home in Sebring, Florida, by the Rev. John Nelson Canning.

The Gleeses had been parishioners in Canning’s church, and the couple, who were aged in their 90s, had trusted their pastor to look after them. However, the preacher was intent on stealing their money and resorted to murder in an attempt to get away with the theft.

Canning was originally from Maine and had been a preacher at multiple churches throughout New England. He moved to Florida in the 1980s, where he set up his new ministry, the Fountain of Life Church in Sebring.

The Gleese couple were founding members of the church and developed a very close relationship with Canning, to the extent that he called them Mom and Dad.

When Leo and Hazel fell into ill health in 1994, they gave their pastor power of attorney, and this was when everything started to go wrong. The police believe that Canning began stealing money from the elderly couple.

Hazel and Leo Gleese knew their money was missing

The Gleeses told a friend in January 1995 that money had gone missing from their bank account. The next day they were found strangled to death in their home. It was Canning who actually reported finding their bodies.

The cops subsequently learned that Canning had secretly sold their second home for $28,000 and had already transferred $8,000 to his account. It’s thought he strangled the couple when his lies were uncovered.

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Financial problems and irregularities had dogged Canning for many years. In 1992, approximately half his congregation left the church after it emerged he had diverted money from the church’s funds into his account. Former parishioners from New England also spoke about how Canning had struggled to manage finances.

The cops found more damning evidence against Canning; the Gleeses blood was found on his watch, and on a trash pile near the church the police also uncovered a walking stick and bloodstained foam from a chair belonging to the victims.

Initially, Canning claimed he was innocent, but as his trial date neared, he changed his mind, and pleaded guilty to the murders. He was sentenced to serve two life terms consecutively without the possibility of parole. By pleading guilty, he avoided a possible death sentence.

More from Where Murder Lies

Follow the links to read about more horrifying crimes profiled on Where Murder Lies.

Sharon Myers wanted her husband, Gary Kenney, dead. So, she persuaded their son, Darryl Kenney, to murder him in an elaborate murder scheme that was utimately badly botched.

Janet Ray was another murderous wife who shot dead husband Russell Ray and then told family friends that he had gone fishing. She told the cops that she expected him home any day, but his corpse was later found near the couple’s home.

Where Murder Lies airs at 9/8c on Investigation Discovery.

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