Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Unholy Homicide, Part One

Building the Case

Photo: Leo Gleese
Leo Gleese

By the early 1990s, Leo was left nearly catatonic as a result of Parkinson's disease and Hazel had a difficult time taking care of their finances.  It was during this time that Reverend Canning stepped up and offered to help manage their funds.  Hazel was extremely grateful and within days she gave Canning power of attorney over their bank accounts and real estate properties.  However, Hazel discovered Canning was stealing the couple's money and had also sold one of their homes out from under them.  The day before their murder, Hazel told a neighbor that she was going to notify the authorities later that week. 

Photo: The Gleese home
The Gleese home

As his investigation progressed, Agent King learned that on the day of the murder, Canning had taken some rubbish to the local dump.  When police searched through the refuse, they discovered a bag of bloody clothes, which were later identified as Canning's, and also a piece of bloodstained fabric, which the killer had cut away from Leo's recliner.  While this evidence alone was highly incriminating, investigators also received the DNA results from Canning's watch, which contained specks of blood from both Hazel and Leo.

Photo: John Canning
John Canning

On March 3, 1995, Agent John King arrested Reverend Canning on two counts of first-degree murder.  "Trail Leads to Pastor in Slaying: Police Have Charged a Sebring Minister with Murder in the Deaths of Two 90-year-old Parishioners He Called 'Mom And Dad'" reported the Orlando Sentinel.  Dubbed "The Minister from Hell" by The National Enquirer, Canning became known all over the country.

Photo: John Canning in prison
John Canning in prison

Reverend Canning initially refused to admit any guilt in his crimes. But on March 27, 1996, he pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain to escape the death penalty.  He was then sentenced to two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole.  As of this writing, John Canningis incarcerated at the South Florida Reception Center in Dade County.  Inmate # 165147 maintains his innocence and reportedly helps provide religious services to other inmates.  The Fountain of Life church has since been renamed to Living Waters Church of God, and the Gleeses' home was converted into a Pentecostal church.

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