The Chance couple fitted into their community seamlessly. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
After 16 years working in local education, Leslie Jenea Chance was a respected head teacher at Fairview Elementary School, in Bakersfield, California.
Her husband Todd, 45, had also spent over a decade doing a job he loved. He had a passion for vehicles, whether it was cars or motorbikes, so being a truck driver suited him perfectly.
Both were busy with their vocations, but they also loved being parents. Leslie had a daughter, Jessica, from a previous marriage and Todd had helped raise her since she was four years old.
Leslie and Todd had also gone on to have two more daughters during their 17 years of marriage. When Todd wasn’t tinkering with motors, watching sports or playing video games, he loved spending time with his kids.
Todd and Leslie were a regular couple, which is why a grim discovery on 25 August 2013 came as such a shock.
A horrified member of the public discovered Todd’s body dumped in an almond orchard. He’d been fatally shot twice in the chest.
No one could think of a single person who would want Todd dead. Leslie was suddenly a widow and her loved ones rushed to comfort her.
Later that day, Todd’s black Mustang was found abandoned at an intersection about 20 miles away. Police found a gun on the floor of the car, which was unlocked, with the key inside.
It was as if the car had been parked there deliberately to tempt someone to steal it. The gun was the murder weapon, and it belonged to Todd and Leslie.
The medical examiner could see that Todd had put his right palm up in a defensive way when the first shot was fired.
It struck him in the chest – which is where the second bullet also hit. Both were fired at point blank range and either devastating wound could have been fatal.
There were tire tracks near the body, and they belonged to Todd’s Mustang. Someone had driven Todd to the orchard in his own car and killed him with his own gun. But why?
Further investigation revealed that Todd had last been seen alive around 8am that morning, leaving his home with a woman and getting into his Mustang.
A grainy surveillance image also showed a woman leaving the area where the car had been abandoned.
Police had an idea of who it might be. They brought Todd’s grieving widow in for questioning just days after his killing.
Leslie was accused of being the woman who got into the Mustang with Todd and then abandoned it. She denied the allegation, and others failed to identify her in the footage.
Leslie said she was home doing laundry at the time and on her computer working. Without any evidence to hold Leslie any longer, she was released without charge.
Rumours circulated that Leslie had been questioned as a suspect by police, but it seemed incredulous that a head teacher, with no criminal record, would gun down her husband in cold blood. Why would Leslie shoot Todd?
But investigators did have a theory…
Police enquiries discovered that Todd had been sending messages to an ex-girlfriend, Carrie Williams. They’d dated years earlier and they’d once been engaged.
Todd had messaged Carrie on Facebook and their communications became sexual. At one point, he’d asked for a “good pic” and Carrie had sent him nude photographs of herself.
Had Leslie stumbled across these messages and acted in revenge?
Police discovered that a few weeks before the murder, Leslie had attended a CSI convention in Las Vegas with her family. It was an interactive exhibit at the MGM Hotel and Casino and she used what she’d learned to try to commit the perfect murder.
Investigators deduced that Leslie left the house with Todd on the morning of his murder, shot him dead and left his body in the orchard.
Then she dumped his car in a rundown area, left it unlocked in the hope that it would be stolen and made her way back on foot and via taxi in a winding, circuitous route.
Footage showed a woman, who police believed to be Leslie, leaving the area where the Mustang had been abandoned.
The figure seemed to change appearance along the way – one minute in a hat and sunglasses, and another in a different outfit or different shoes – discarding items along the way as part of her elaborate disguise.
Whoever had cleaned the car certainly had an insight into avoiding detection. The police were sure Leslie had wiped it down with bleach which had left no DNA or fingerprints. She’d even used a payphone to call for a taxi to avoid being traced.
Over the years, Leslie made several claims on life insurance policies that totalled close to $500,000. She spent three years avoiding the law, but police didn’t give up getting justice for Todd.
They even called in the FBI to prove that Leslie hadn’t been on her computer at the time of the murder – which undermined her alibi.
In 2016, Leslie was arrested again, and this time she was charged with first degree murder. At first, in June 2019, there was a mistrial – no reason was given – but a new trial started in January 2020. Leslie had remained in custody since her arrest.
In court, prosecutors described how Todd had been sending flirtatious messages to his ex-fiancée.
They revealed that Leslie had been cheated on by her first husband when she was pregnant with her first daughter, and a second betrayal could have triggered the extreme reaction.
Carrie testified to confirm that Todd had reached out to her asking if they could be more than just “Facebook friends”. She admitted that she’d sent naked images – which she said on reflection, she regretted.
“Because we’re here in a murder trial I am ashamed of the photos. If any of that is the reason he’s gone, I regret that,” she said. Prosecutors said that they had also made fun of Leslie.
But Leslie’s defence team said that she had no idea about the affair so there was no motive for murder. Carrie admitted that Todd hadn’t revealed that his wife knew about their messaging either.
They also argued that the woman on the tape wasn’t Leslie. Her three daughters all testified to say it wasn’t her.
Leslie took the stand to say that she always wore glasses and the woman in the video wasn’t wearing any – and at the time, she didn’t wear contact lenses. But the prosecution showed proof that she had ordered two boxes of contact lenses before Todd’s killing.
When Leslie was asked if she loved her husband, she replied, “Very much.” And added that she still prefers to be called Mrs Chance. When she was asked whether she’d killed her husband, Leslie said, “No. I’ve been waiting six years to say that.”
During the trial, the prosecution said that Leslie had killed Todd for “financial gain”. They argued that the couple had been spending beyond their means and Leslie had claimed on several life insurance policies after Todd’s death.
But the defence said that Leslie made “six figures” as a head teacher and earned more than Todd so didn’t need the money.
The prosecution said that Leslie had meticulously planned the killing – with information from the CSI convention so she could try to “get away with it”.
They even described in closing arguments, what they believed Leslie was thinking at the scene. Todd’s phone was found about 30 feet from his body in the orchard.
“She threw the phone because she was angry because she knew what was on the phone,” they said, referring to the messages and photos.
“She worked hard to provide for her family, made more money than him and despite that he was unfaithful.”
After almost eight days of deliberations, the jury found Leslie guilty of first-degree murder, but they determined that the killing wasn’t motivated by financial gain.
It was because of his rekindled relationship with his ex. Leslie was stunned by the verdict. She had told her daughters to get her favourite snacks ready at home as she was certain she’d be found innocent and released. Todd’s family gave an audible sigh of relief.
Leslie’s daughter Jessica later spoke about how much she loved Todd and saw him as her father. She tearfully added that she believed her mum was innocent. “My mother did not do it,” she said.
Todd’s mum, Diana Chance, also spoke and described Leslie as “not human” and “pure evil from head to toe”. She thanked the jury but said, “There is no such thing as real justice when a loved one is gone.”
Leslie, 53, didn’t make a statement before she was sentenced to 50 years in prison. The sentence was made up of 25 years for the murder, and 25 years for the use of a firearm.
It had taken a long time to get a conviction for Todd’s murder. Many are still in disbelief that Leslie would kill her husband for being unfaithful. All would agree that a divorce would have been a better choice to make.