Unsolved Hernando homicide will be featured on Oxygen's 'Cold Justice'

A veteran prosecutor and detective return to Hernando County to look into the case of Carrie Leonard.
Published March 14
Updated March 14

Almost two decades after Carrie Leonard’s remains were discovered in the woods of central Hernando County, the true crime series Cold Justice is digging into the unsolved homicide, and the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office said it has made progress in the case.

A new episode airing Saturday at 6 p.m. on Oxygen titled “A Mother’s Dying Wish” will explore the case with former prosecutor Kelly Siegler and retired Milwaukee police detective Steve Spingola, who spent time in Hernando County filming the show.

Leonard, who was 21 at the time and lived in Brooksville, was last seen June 19, 1997, leaving a party in the area with a male friend named Anthony “Tony” Ford, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office website. The woman’s skeletal remains were discovered nearly two years later on Aug. 17, 1999, by two teenage boys who were chasing a rabbit near Burns and Powell roads south of Brooksville.

Six weeks after Leonard disappeared, her mother, Ella Leonard, told the then-St. Petersburg Times that her daughter had left home without medication she took for bipolar disorder, and without her needed prescription eyeglasses.

Ella Leonard, who has since died, said at the time that she kneeled by her bed nightly to pray, saying: “Hey, big man up there, you let me know what happened to Carrie one way or another.”

The Hernando sheriff’s office said the investigation is currently active.

“We worked together with Kelly (Siegler) and her team, on site and at other various locations to make progress in the case,” public information officer Denise Moloney said via email.

Asked if she could elaborate, Moloney said, “No, otherwise it would spoil the show.”

A scene from the episode filmed in Hernando County.

The show has led to an arrest in a local case before. In 2015, 72-year-old Merl Mackey, the husband of a Hernando County woman who went missing in 1981, was indicted for her murder. That case broke after Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis invited the true crime show to look at the case. In June 2018, Mackey was sentenced to 10 years after he pleaded guilty to second degree murder.

Cold Justice follows Siegler and a rotating team of investigators who travel to small towns to look into unsolved cases that have lingered for years. According to a news release from Oxygen, the team has worked alongside local law enforcement from across the country to help “bring about 38 arrests and 19 convictions.”

The show premiered in 2013 on its original network, TNT.

Contact Christopher Spata at cspata@tampabay.com or follow @SpataTimes on Twitter.