Woman’s Disappearance Echoes Earlier Mystery in Nevada Desert
Down a dead-end road, behind the glitter of the city’s casinos, the fading pink garage doors of a storage business stand closed, their interiors hidden from the desert sun.
Police Det. Mark Reddon has stared at the row of doors, wondering.
He has read the investigative reports, the witness statements. He knows what people have told police about the owner of the storage business and about three people who have vanished.
He wonders if that mystery will ever be unraveled.
“More than likely,” he says, “we’re not going to be able to solve this until we find a body.”
At first, Diana Leone’s disappearance in February 2000 was hardly noticed. After all, she had left the man she lived with, David Lee Morgan, many times before, but always came back. Months went by and no one seemed to care that the mother of two was gone.
Reddon got the case eight months after the 36-year-old woman was last seen.
Something was off. Morgan, owner of the storage business where he and Leone had lived for years, didn’t want to talk. He told friends his girlfriend had run off with another man.
But as Reddon delved deeper into Morgan’s background, he uncovered a startling mystery: Morgan’s second wife, Marie, had disappeared in 1980 and her lover hadn’t been heard from since.
What had happened to them? And why, 20 years later, did another woman disappear?
As a businessman, David Lee Morgan was tough, said Keith Grimes, his former business consultant. “When somebody missed their rent he’d take their stuff and throw it away,” Grimes said.
Morgan was a big talker, but Grimes never quite knew if he was serious, especially when he mentioned there was a reason why there were so many bumps in the desert.
Although police said they are investigating Morgan, they aren’t naming him as a suspect.
Morgan didn’t return several phone calls seeking comment. His lawyer, Tom Pitaro, said neither he nor his client would comment.
Diana Leone first met Morgan when she was 17. He was 50. Her sister’s boss introduced the two and soon Leone began working for Morgan at Aabacus Storage, collecting rent and answering the phone.
When she was 19, she moved in with him and his two children from a previous marriage. Soon, the couple had two children of their own. After a few years, the family moved from their home to the second floor of the storage business, not far from the Las Vegas Strip.
Morgan’s company was doing well and he had a furniture moving service, which took him away from home for weeks at a time. Police believe that he is worth $2 million.
The relationship between Morgan and Leone was rocky, said Leone’s best friend, Patty Killian, and her sister, who spoke on condition that her name not be used. Leone had to have reconstructive surgery several times from beatings, they said.
In 1989, Morgan was charged with attempted murder--accused of beating Leone after accusing her of infidelity. She was hospitalized with two broken bones in her right leg, a fractured arm and facial bones.
“David Morgan returned home unexpectedly from an out-of-state trip, and upon entering their residence he hit Diana Miller [Leone] on the right side of her face with a metal pipe,” a police affidavit reads. “David Morgan stated over and over that he was going to kill her.”
But Leone refused to cooperate with the prosecution, and the case was dismissed.
Morgan was arrested again in 1999, charged with battery against Leone.
“Diana stated that David became enraged and slapped her in the face, causing a cut to her left ear,” a police report reads.
Diana told police another fight erupted the next day and “David punched her in the face.” Police found no visible marks on Leone that time.
“Diana stated she had been drinking and was severely intoxicated,” the report said. Again the charge was dismissed, this time after Morgan completed anger management counseling.
Each time Leone and Morgan would fight, Leone’s sister and friend said, she would seek shelter at their homes. But always she returned to Morgan.
Not much was said, or asked, about the whereabouts of Morgan’s second wife, Marie, who vanished in 1980. His first wife is living in Southern California.
But Leone had her suspicions. She told police investigating the 1989 domestic violence case that she was told by David and Marie’s children that Marie was dead.
“The son . . . told me major stuff about where he thinks she’s buried and all the time he used to beat her up,” Leone said in the taped interview.
Leone’s sister used to remind her of Marie’s disappearance, but “she said, ‘I’ll take care of him,’ ” the sister said.
Though they were together 18 years, Leone would never marry Morgan, although he asked.
“Part of it was Marie,” Killian said. “She was a wife and she was never heard from again.”
What police have is bits and pieces of information, mostly two decades old. Not enough, they said, to bring charges.
In 1980, Marie’s sister, Kim Smith, told detectives what she knew about Marie’s lover, Gabriel Vincent. He disappeared in 1979, when he was 56.
A police search warrant application quotes Smith as saying that Morgan “had confessed to her that he had killed Gabriel Vincent after learning of his affair with Marie.”
“Smith stated that David told her he had waited for Gabriel in the bushes outside the storage units and when Gabriel showed up to meet with him about the affair, David shot Gabriel in the testicles and after making Gabriel suffer, shot and killed him,” the report continues.
“David buried the body and covered it with quick lime,” the police report says, quoting Smith.
Seven months later, Marie disappeared.
Five years later, in 1985, investigators received another account involving Morgan. His sister, Deloris Morgan, told about the brother she had always feared.
One day in 1980, Morgan called her and asked her to meet him at his home, Deloris Morgan said. A police search warrant continues the story:
“David told her he had shot and killed Marie because she was going to leave him. David informed Deloris that he had taken the body out past Indian Springs and buried the body along the highway.
“David then forced Deloris at gunpoint to go back out to where he had buried the body of Marie and move it. Deloris reported she drove with David to the area of mile marker 124 on Highway 95 and they uncovered a dead body that was tied up in a blanket.
“They moved the body further out into the desert area and buried it in a deeper hole that Deloris helped David dig.
“Deloris stated that some months later David again forced her to return to the grave site. David had filled a 55-gallon drum with water in the back of his truck and drove it out to the grave site. David carried bags of cement out into the desert while he forced Deloris to haul buckets of water so he could pour cement over the grave site.”
But when she tried to show the alleged grave site to detectives in 1985, Deloris couldn’t find the location. A search of a two-mile surrounding area found no clues. Recent searches by volunteers turned up nothing.
David Morgan, now 70, never gave a statement to police, and Reddon isn’t sure if police ever contacted him. The case is so old that the original detectives are dead and so is Deloris. She died in 1997.
Diana Leone told her sister that she thought Marie’s body had been relocated to a house they lived in before she and Morgan moved in above the storage business.
“She had told her sister that she thought the house was haunted because David had buried Marie under the house,” Reddon said.
The house has been demolished, but the concrete slab remains. Police said they plan to search with radar equipment.
Despite the detailed statements, the investigation quickly stalled. Morgan was never charged. No search warrants were sought for the house and storage units, police said, because detectives lacked any substantial evidence to support the stories of Smith and Deloris Morgan.
“Back then it was probably harder to convince a jury of a homicide without a body,” Reddon said. “Nowadays you’ve seen it more frequently. It was pretty much unheard of back in the ‘80s.”
In November, police went to Morgan’s home above the storage shed with a search warrant seeking human remains, bloodstains on the carpet and Leone’s car.
Her car was there and blood drops were on the carpet in the house, but there were no human remains. The carpet is being tested to see if the blood belongs to Leone.
While police were there, David and Diana’s 6-year-old daughter, Lea, drew pictures for detectives--a dog, a heart, a girl.
Reddon said: “When she handed the drawings to the sergeant, she said, ‘Do you know where my mommy is?’ ”
The child also told detectives about a fight that her parents had shortly before the last time she saw her mother, according to a police report.
“Lea stated they were arguing over David’s belief that Diana was having an extramarital affair. . . .,” it says. “Lea stated that David shoved Diana through a plate glass window in the patio area of the home and then smashed Diana’s head into the refrigerator.
“After the fight Lea remembers that a large square of carpet was removed from her mother’s bedroom.”
“Lea asked me if I miss her mommy as much as she does,” Killian said. “I told her that wherever she is, I’m sure that she still loves her.”
Wherever Diana Leone is, wherever Marie Morgan is, wherever Gabriel Vincent is, the detective isn’t sure.
“What we’re missing is the body,” Reddon said. “We haven’t been able to find the last one. There’s a good chance we’re not going to find this one.”