Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Unholy Homicide, Part One

The Minister from Hell

Photo: Hazel Gleese
Hazel Gleese

On January 5, 1995, Reverend John Nelson Canning presided over the funeral of Leo and Hazel Gleese.  The elderly couple had been murdered just three days prior and the good reverend had always considered them his surrogate parents, often referring to them as "Mom and Dad."  During his heartfelt eulogy at Pinecrest Cemetery in Sebring, Florida, Reverend Nelson described the couple as kind, giving and full of love for those around them.  "The first thing you can say is that they loved," Nelson told the small group of mourners.  "They loved God, and they loved their fellow man.  Secondly, they were caring people.  They cared about others, perhaps too much.  Thirdly, I would say, they gave." It would take a bit of investigation to determine just how much and to whom they gave.

Photo: Seebring Police Department
Seebring Police Department

A&E and 24H.com reported that the Gleeses were both slain in their home on January 2, 1995.  The killer beat Hazel unconscious with her walking cane and then choked her to death.  Her husband Leo suffered a similar death.  The next day Reverend Canning walked into the Sebring police station and reported the deaths.  He told Federal Agent John King and Officer Steven Carr he discovered the bodies that morning, but had panicked and did not know what to do.  "I couldn't feel a pulse or heartbeat," Canning said as he wept.  "I just sat there and then I got scared.  It was stupid.  I thought, 'I'll call an ambulance,' but I sat in my car for a few minutes and the longer I waited the more fearful I got.  So I panicked and went to church."

Book Cover: For I Have Sinned
Book Cover: For I Have Sinned

During later interviews with John Glatt, author of For I Have Sinned, Agent King said he immediately considered Canning a suspect.  "He [Canning] went to the church to help clean up and then took his wife to the beach for the day," King explained to Glatt.  "These were not the actions of a panicked man and that set off a red flag.  When I first interviewed him he appeared to be acting out a number of emotions, which did not appear to be genuine.  He sounded very emotional, but there were no tears in his eyes."

Unfortunately, King and Carr had little evidence to go on and Canning refused to take a polygraph test.  He told investigators the results would not be accurate because of emotional trauma he suffered as a result of discovering the Gleese murder scene.  Nonetheless, investigators were able to obtain samples of his blood, hair and saliva.  During the physical examination King made note of scratches on Canning's arms and observed a tan line on his wrist, which indicated he normally wore a watch.

On January 3, 1995, police searched Canning's home and found a broken wristwatch, which appeared to have blood on it.  Regardless, it would be at least two months before a police lab would be able to complete DNA tests on it.  In the meantime, King decided to take a look at Canning's past. 

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