Man accused of decapitating 2 women, torching house to cover up crime
The prosecutor described a gruesome scene for jurors Monday, as he made an opening statement in the trial of an Olympia area man accused of decapitating two women in Tacoma last year and burning the home where they were killed.
“This is a case about anger and savagery,” Pierce County deputy prosecutor Greg Greer said.
Matthew Ryan Leupold, 34, is charged with first-degree arson and two counts of aggravated first-degree murder in the deaths.
Conviction for aggravated murder will mean a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole, for the deaths of 31-year-old Theresa Greenhalgh and 22-year-old Mary Buras.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Leslie Tolzin said Leupold told investigators he did it only after police said his sister and 15-year-old nephew could take the fall for the crime.
“The cops have made it clear, it’s him or it’s them,” Tolzin said. “And he doesn’t want it to be them.”
Charging papers state the sister and nephew were at the house in the 3700 block of South Yakima Avenue when Leupold killed the women and did not call for help.
Firefighters were called to the two-story craftsman-style home about 2:30 a.m. Jan. 6, and the women’s bodies were found burned in an upstairs bathroom, Greer told jurors.
He said the victims, who were close with Leupold and his family, were “defenseless, unsuspecting and completely caught off guard.”
The women had been living upstairs in the home, which Greenhalgh’s boyfriend had been hired to renovate, the prosecutor said.
Leupold apparently attacked Greenhalgh in one of the upstairs rooms, because he believed she had spoken to police about something, Greer said.
Leupold called her a snitch, punched her, knocked her to the floor, bound her hands with a belt and ultimately pounded her head with a hammer, Greer told jurors.
Then he dragged her to the upstairs bathroom, and returned to the room of the attack, the prosecutor said. Leupold was covered in blood and “smiling, almost laughing,” Greer said.
Leupold used a hammer to attack Buras, who had seem him attack Greenhalgh, and then decapitated her while she was still alive, Greer told the jury.
Leupold and his sister smoked methamphetamine while the nephew was freaking out, the teen later told investigators, according to Greer.
The prosecutor noted that everyone involved in the case had been “heavy drug users,” and the victims “were surviving the best they could as hard drug users.”
After the killings, Leupold returned to his Olympia-area home and later picked up the nephew, Greer said, adding the two returned to the Tacoma house, spread a gasoline-type accelerant in the home and set it on fire.
After the teen was arrested, he took detectives to a place where he and his uncle had allegedly abandoned evidence, including a backpack containing one of the victim’s heads.
“Thankfully officers found it before a kid or a citizen,” Greer said.
He said investigators also found a hatchet and a carpet knife in the bathroom, and that Leupold had a deep cut to his thumb, likely from his struggle with Buras.
Defense attorney Tolzin told jurors that Leupold was not allowed to use a restroom after he was arrested, which forced him to defecate in his pants while in custody. He was also denied a water break and a cigarette break as investigators spoke with him, the attorney said.
Tolzin said Leupold told investigators, as they questioned him about the crime, that he didn’t know what they were talking about, until they threatened his sister and nephew.
Tolzin also told jurors the investigators didn’t find Leupold’s DNA on the hammer, or the backpack, and argued that the accounts the sister and nephew gave made no sense, and were given to protect the nephew.
“They have not proven, cannot prove, that Matthew actually committed these crimes,” Tolzin said of the prosecutors’ case, which he said relies on the nephew’s testimony.
The sister, 38-year-old Lindsey Leupold, pleaded guilty to first-degree rendering criminal assistance, and was sentenced to 90 days in jail last year, according to court records.
Her son was charged with that in juvenile court, as well as first-degree arson, according to News Tribune archives.