A man who traveled the world as part of a Christian ministry has been arrested for murder in connection with the Valentine’s Day death of his wife during an incident allegedly staged to look like a burglary.
Nathan Leuthold was apprehended about 8:15 a.m. Wednesday during a car stop in Pekin. Police had been monitoring him and took him into custody after he left a home in the area where he had been staying.
He was booked into the Peoria County Jail on a charge of first-degree murder, though he was not formally charged. Nathan Leuthold will have to make an initial appearance before a judge Thursday to be charged and have his bond determined or be set free.
“We believe the husband committed this murder, and it was staged to look like a burglary,” police Chief Steve Settingsgaard said Wednesday at a news conference announcing the arrest.
Few additional details were released Wednesday morning because the investigation still is active, the chief said. Authorities, however, are not pursuing any additional suspects and are working with the Department of Children and Family Services on appropriate accommodations for the three Leuthold children.
A Baptist missionary who traveled frequently to Lithuania over the past 15 years with his family to start churches and sports- or music-centered outreach efforts, Nathan Leuthold called police about 3:15 p.m. Feb. 14 to his in-laws’ home at 700 W. Mossville Road.
The incident was initially reported as a burglary, but police found 39-year-old Denise Leuthold’s body just inside the front door with a single gunshot wound to the head.
Some items were missing from the home, and Denise Leuthold’s vehicle was gone, though it was recovered shortly afterward about a quarter-mile away in a parking lot of Robinson Park.
It appears police suspicion landed on Nathan Leuthold at the very beginning of the investigation.
“There were indications early on that he may have been involved,” Settingsgaard said. “We found his behavior and his actions to be a little unusual at the time.”
The first outward acknowledgement of suspicion came the day after the death, when Peoria County prosecutors filed a sealed request blocking Nathan Leuthold from getting into safety deposit boxes at JP Morgan Chase Bank, 124 SW Adams St., and South Side Savings & Trust, 4520 N. Sheridan Road.
In asking for the injunction, prosecutors wrote “immediate and irreparable injury” could result if he was allowed continued access to the boxes because “he may use the contents to flee the country or he may deprive the police of evidence concerning the residential burglary investigation or the murder investigation.”
A two-page affidavit stated the keys to the deposit boxes were found in Nathan Leuthold’s car where a “quantity of foreign currency” was found. The affidavit goes on to state that Nathan Leuthold did not admit to the second deposit box until the key was found.
Criminal defense attorney Thomas J. Penn Jr. was Nathan Leuthold’s attorney of record for a hearing on the safety deposit box restraining order that ultimately was cancelled. Penn confirmed Wednesday that he has been hired to represent Nathan Leuthold but he declined to comment on the murder case.
Law enforcement sources said Nathan Leuthold’s behavior at the scene immediately caught the attention of investigators. He arrived home with the youngest of his three children on the afternoon of Feb. 14 and entered the home through the garage door.
After seeing broken glass from a window at the rear of the home and some items strewn about in the immediate vicinity, Nathan Leuthold said he exited the home and called police. While waiting for officers to arrive, he repositioned his vehicle in the driveway to face away from the house.
Inside the vehicle was the foreign currency, safety deposit box keys and passports. Settingsgaard said those items, along with Nathan Leuthold’s’ connections overseas, made the prospect of an international manhunt a possibility if the suspect fled.
“I don’t know that there was any evidence that he had plans to flee the country,” the chief said. “It was a concern.”
The interior of the home presented other challenges for investigators. Certain details were consistent with a burglary, and some items were missing from the home, including a handgun of the same caliber as the bullet recovered from Denise Leuthold’s body.
Crime scene technicians also collected fingerprints from the home that had to be analyzed over the course of the last three weeks. That forensic work in part contributed to the delayed arrest.
Denise Leuthold’s last known communication with anyone outside the home happened about 11:30 a.m., less than four hours before her body was found. A more precise time of death has not been publicly revealed.
The Leutholds had been back in the United States for more than a year, living with Denise Leuthold’s parents at the Mossville Road address, while Nathan Leuthold traveled the country raising money from various churches for additional missionary work overseas.
The grisly discovery of her body after an apparent daytime burglary in a relatively prosperous, low-crime part of the city sparked tense days in which nearby schools were on “soft lockdown” in case the slaying had been a random encounter.
Fifth District City Councilman Dan Irving said he was inundated with calls and emails in the first few days after the death from constituents who were taking to heart the police chief’s warnings to lock doors and be wary of strangers.
“People were wanting to know if they needed to be worried if there was a killer on the loose,” Irving said.
After a few more days, however, the tenor of the calls changed in a manner that foreshadowed the arrest on Wednesday.
“Most of the people who called me later said (the theory of a random burglary) just didn’t sound right,” Irving said.