There’s really no skirting around the regrettable lack of information about this case. I won’t be able to explore it from as many angles as I have with some of the other cases I have covered, simply because there is very little background available to me. However, I think this is a story that needs to be told, and I hope that you will agree after reading it.
Lila Leach was 96 years old when she passed away in the hospital on September 6th, 2010 (in fact, she would have turned 97 later that same month). However, unlike most people that age, her death could in no way be considered a result of natural causes. Lila had lingered in the hospital for weeks, apparently without the ability to communicate effectively, ever since she was attacked and left for dead on July 16th of that year. Her attacker entered her home at some point during the afternoon, between the time one family member brought her lunch and another family member brought her supper. This happened during daylight hours on what has been described as a “quiet street” in a small community.
There is not a lot of information available about Lila Leach’s earlier life, but there is some information about her personality. She was being very friendly and outgoing, to the point where she would even hold long conversations with telemarketers when they called her home, all without buying anything. She loved to take car trips, and she had a thing for butterflies and dragonflies. In fact, her family puts a butterfly or dragonfly Christmas ornament on the tree each year to remember her.
Lila was the mother of two daughters as well as being a grandmother. She was very close to her family, and they had a regular schedule of checking on her. She was living alone at the time of the assault, and needed a walker to get around. When a family member found her on the afternoon of July 16th, she had been beaten to the point of being unrecognizable, and “every bone in her face was broken.” There were bloodstains throughout the bedroom and living room. It appeared that the assailant had ransacked the home, although the only item ever actually determined to be missing was Lila’s cellular phone. The signs of violence in the home appeared more extensive than a physical struggle with one frail elderly woman could account for, leading investigators to suspect that someone had been searching the residence in a hurry.
As baffling and brutal as the crime scene was, Lila’s attacker did leave some evidence behind. DNA was recovered from the home, described as “potentially skin or hair.” Nineteen persons of interest would be eliminated through later DNA testing, and the sheriff’s department has confirmed that the assault involved at least one male. In May of 2017, local law enforcement walked through all of the surrounding neighborhood, distributing fliers and requesting information from residents.
Lila’s home was located in the 2600 block of Northwest 3rd Avenue in Newberry, and, for what it’s worth, I’ve included a link to the satellite view in the resources below. Lila’s family said they checked in on her and came over to assist her at regular intervals each day, and implied that someone observing the home could have learned their schedule. The assault against Lila Leach would have taken place during the middle of the day, and one wonders why the attacker wouldn’t wait until after dark, when there would be less chance of detection. One possibility is that the door was locked at night, but was not always locked during the day, when Lila’s family had to let themselves in and out. Another is that the assailant did not want to avoid the home owner, but actually wanted to threaten her into telling them the real or supposed location of cash or valuables. The attacker may even have been let into the home under some kind of legitimate pretext of the “I’m here to fix the sink” variety.
The only valuable item that we actually know was taken from the home was Lila Leach’s cell phone. However, I should point out that we have no way of knowing how much cash she had on hand or where she kept it, and it’s possible that no one else did either. If this cash was taken by the assailant, no one would know. The cell phone might have been considered valuable in and of itself, and stolen for that purpose. It also occurred to me that if there had been any prior telephone contact between Lila and the perpetrator, the phone might have been taken in an attempt to conceal this fact. In reality, cell phone records can usually be accessed without the presence of the physical device, but the attacker may not have known this and there has never been a statement indicating these records were ever checked.
I’ve been using the words “assailant” and “attacker” because adding an s in parentheses each time I write it just seems obnoxious, but I do consider it entirely possible that there was more than one attacker. This would by no means be a necessity, but there is evidence that could be interpreted this way. First there is the degree of disturbance at the scene, and, if this was a crime planned in advance, it would make some sense to bring two people. One person could physically control Lila and keep her from trying to summon help, and the other could search through the home. Regardless of what was actually removed from the residence, I think it is most likely that the attack on Lila Leach was motivated by the desire for money or valuable items. The intruder may or may not have found what they were looking for, but I think that this the reason they entered the home and attacked Lila in the first place. Similarly, Lila may or may not have known her attacker, but this attacker did know about her and at least believed she had large amounts of cash or valuables in her home.
Lila’s daughter, Elaine May, has spoken about how the case has vacillated between flurries of development and long stretches of stagnation. Her granddaughter, Karen Black, stated: “A lot of nightmares, a lot of fear for my family, and a lot of concern for the community, because this crime occurred in Newberry. Someone knows something, and it’s not anything to be taken lightly.” A sheriff’s spokesman, Art Forgey, echoed these words, saying that assistance from the community would be needed to solve the case. I found a municipal report from the sheriff’s office from 2018 saying that the case was “no longer cold”, although the long-term implications of this statement remain unclear.
Today, Lila’s photograph is displayed on a local billboard on State Road 26, next to the reward being offered by the sheriff’s department. Anyone with information on the case is asked to contact Investigator Kevin Allen at 352-384-3323, or to call Crime Stoppers at 352-372-STOP(7867).
Resources and Further Reading
Newberry murder case: 19 suspects eliminated, new billboard, a bigger reward
The Lila Leach cases remains unsolved 10 years later
Facebook Memorial Page for Lila G. Leach
Family still searching for answers 7 years after grandmother’s murder
New Evidence Found in Cold Case Murder
Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Municipal Report, First Quarter 2018
Eight Year Anniversary for Lila Leach
9 Year Anniversary of Lila Leach’s Murder
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