Nation & World

Mother of four gave homeless man a helping hand. Police say he stabbed her to death

Terry Dunford, 40, has been arrested in Denver in connection with the murder of Jeanna Leslie in her downtown loft. Dunford is described as homeless.
Terry Dunford, 40, has been arrested in Denver in connection with the murder of Jeanna Leslie in her downtown loft. Dunford is described as homeless. Denver Police Department

Family and friends are not surprised that Jeanna Leslie offered a helping hand to a stranger.

But they are shocked that the stranger, a man described as homeless, stabbed her to death with kitchen knives in a bloody attack in her own home, according to police.

She had just moved to Denver from Texas a few months ago.

Police found Leslie’s body in her downtown loft early on Valentine’s Day after she failed to pick up her children to go to a Nuggets game, the Denver Post reported.

The 49-year-old mother of four had been stabbed multiple times. Blood was found on the walls and carpeting of the studio apartment, and it appeared someone had tried to clean it up, police reported.

On Friday, following a tip on his whereabouts, police arrested 40-year-old Terry Dunford. He is being held on first-degree murder charges, according to the Post.

“You always want to do the right thing,” neighbor Antonio Grant told CBS 4 in Denver. “And that’s all she was doing was the right thing.

“That just speaks volumes of who she was. A beautiful soul. Really nice lady.”

Leslie moved to Colorado in November to be close to two teenage children who had moved there from San Antonio, family members said. She had taught English at a San Antonio charter school for about 15 years.

Authorities are not sure how Leslie became acquainted with Dunford, but family members told Fox 31 in Denver it wasn’t surprising that she would try to help someone down on his luck.

The alternative weekly newspaper in Denver, Westword, described Leslie as a “vibrant free spirit.” When she visited Europe last year with her children she took along a small figurine of an angel.

She quickly fell in love with Denver, documenting her new adventure on her Facebook page. She posted photos of her apartment, which she called “decorator heaven.”

“Denver has a unique culture that combines majestic realism with the myth of the untamed West,” she gushed on Facebook last fall.

“It is as beautiful as the people. With change comes growth, and Denver will change anyone for the better.”

Friends and neighbors said Leslie had been working seasonal jobs at Banana Republic and with Uber and Lyft as she made her way back into teaching.

Leslie’s ex-husband reportedly was the one who called 911 the night of Feb. 13 after she didn’t pick up her teenage son and daughter for the basketball game. Police went to her apartment shortly after midnight.

The arrest warrant, released Saturday, said Leslie’s body was inside her apartment for nearly a week before officers found her.

Police and firefighters broke down the door and were overwhelmed by the “smell of decomposition,” according to the police affidavit.

Police found Leslie’s body in a bathroom with multiple stab wounds. Several bloody kitchen knives were found; so were a pair of men’s camouflage cargo pants and a large sweatshirt, both bloodied.

Police also found Dunford’s wallet with several photo ID cards inside, including a Denver Rescue Mission identification card issued on Feb. 7, the day police believe he allegedly killed Leslie. That was the last day she sent a text or made a call on her cellphone.

There were also two empty six-packs of beer in the apartment. Police found a receipt for a liquor store in a pocket of the cargo pants. The date said 5:04 p.m. Feb. 7.

Surveillance video from the liquor store showed Leslie in the store with a man with a goatee. He was wearing cargo pants and a sweatshirt.

Leslie’s oldest daughter, Brittany Leslie, guessed that her mom could have run into Dunford outside her apartment building or nearby sometime in the last couple of weeks.

Westword noted that one of Leslie’s Facebook posts said she had “just got offered the best job on 16th Street,” an area where the homeless are known to congregate.

“She was a very open person,” Brittany told Fox 31 in Denver. “She made friends with everyone. You can’t just trust everyone. It doesn’t matter who they are. It doesn’t matter where they come from.”

Brittany said Dunford took advantage of her mother and wanted to move into her loft with a friend. She said her mother told Dunford no and had confided to a cousin that Dunford sent her threatening messages.

“It’s just really upsetting,” Brittany told the TV station. “I wish she would’ve told us. I really do wish she would’ve showed us.”

Leslie’s family, friends and former students have flooded her Facebook page with grief in recent days. A GoFund Me campaign has been set up to pay for her funeral and burial.

“It’s a shock. It’s surreal,” Leslie’s 20-year-old daughter, Audra, told CBS 4.

“You don’t know where to go from here … she had four kids who are, we’re all pretty young. And you kind of need your mom in your life.”