Ever since its premiere back in 1978, ABC’s ’20/20′ has been chronicling one hard-hitting, harrowing true-crime case after another to really shine a light upon the dark side of human nature. Thus, of course, its season 45 episode 1, aptly entitled ‘Last Seen In Lakeland’ and delving deep into the brutally tragic 1987 homicide of Michelle Saum Schofield, is absolutely no different. So now, if you wish to learn more about the same — with a specific focus on everything that transpired, its ensuing investigations, as well as its aftermath — we’ve got the crucial details for you.
How Did Michelle Schofield Die?
It was reportedly around 8:15 pm on February 24, 1987, that 18-year-old Lakeland, Florida native Michelle Schofield left work at a local burger joint to make her way home, never to be seen alive again. She did call her husband Leo nearly 90 minutes later, but they allegedly just had a catch-up. Following this, he asked to pick him up from a friend’s with the idea they could then get some food. However, she didn’t make it as promised, driving him to begin a search shortly after midnight — he contacted both their parents, retraced her route, and checked their trailer home, but to no avail.
Michelle’s loved one even spoke to the police, got in touch with nearby hospitals, as well as printed fliers in the ensuing hours in a desperate hope of locating her, yet it still yielded nothing. Her orange Mazda hatchback, though, was identified by a friend on the side of Interstate 4’s exit 44 on February 25, as per court documents, giving both officials and her family a smaller area to focus their efforts on. It’s imperative to note her vehicle’s trunk was unlocked, the rear speakers were missing, and strands of hair were stuck inside the back panel, making the suspicion of foul play rise higher.
The region was thoroughly scoured by investigators and volunteers alike — Michelle’s father-in-law Leo Sr. was the one to ultimately find her cold, bloodied remains on February 27, 1987. She’d been submerged under a piece of plywood in a water-logged canal along the intersection of State Road 33 and Interstate 44, approximately seven miles from the spot her vehicle was located. According to the 18-year-old’s autopsy, she passed away upon being stabbed a total of 26 times and losing five pints of blood; unfortunately, it was not a quick, easy, or painless death.
Who Killed Michelle Schofield?
Considering the sheer heinousness of the crime, detectives immediately approached Michelle’s loved ones to ascertain if there was any trouble in her life, just to learn her marriage was far from perfect. In fact, not only did they receive reports suggesting the couple often got into heated arguments, but witnesses even described bouts of physical abuse as well as threats from Leo Schofield. Then, their neighbor, Alice Scott, asserted she had heard and seen the Schofields fighting on that fateful evening before Leo left with a large object shoved into his vehicle’s trunk.
As if that’s not enough, another witness report seemingly implicated Leo by claiming her car and his father’s truck were together near where her body was recovered the morning after the disappearance. Hence, Leo was arrested and charged with his wife Michelle’s first-degree murder on June 24, 1988, despite no piece of physical evidence tying him to the matter — the case was purely circumstantial.
When Leo stood trial roughly a year later, Alice’s complete narrative came into question owing to her history of mental health issues as well as her timeline of the offense being rather improbable. That’s because Leo was actually with his wife’s father (already ostensibly searching for her) around the same alleged period she claimed the volatile, likely physical fight at their trailer home transpired.
Nevertheless, since many other credible witnesses testified to Leo’s bursts of anger and violent tendencies — 21 in total — it took the jury merely two hours to reach their guilty verdict. Leo was subsequently sentenced to life in prison, yet he maintained his innocence even during his hearing by outrightly telling the court he didn’t slay Michelle. “I’m telling you, you’re making a mistake. I can prove it to you,” he said.
Every one of Leo’s appeals has since been denied, yet we must mention that a fingerprint recovered from Michelle’s car matched a previously unrelated Jeremy Lynn Scott in 2004. Also known as “Bam Bam,” Jeremy is actually a convicted felon with a rap sheet including seven convictions for armed robbery, arson, and battery, as well as an acquitted murder count from when he was 15. Furthermore, he is currently serving a life sentence on the counts of first-degree murder and armed robbery for bashing a man’s head with a bottle before strangling him in 1988.
Though the most significant aspect is that Jeremy once allegedly confessed to being the man behind Michelle’s murder as well — he’d seen her use the phone at a gas station (she was talking to Leo) and asked for a ride. After she agreed, Jeremy allegedly said in 2016, he gave her directions to a lake and then stabbed her to death with a hunting knife while high on prescription pills. However, since he refused to sign an official statement, speak to a detective, and later recanted his confession, it was deemed he lacked credibility. Leo, thus, remains convicted for his wife’s homicide.
Read More: Where is Leo Schofield Now?