Murdered Sheridan Woman Was Found Under Gasoline-Soaked Blankets

The Sheridan woman discovered dead in her home Jan. 7 was found under a pile of gasoline-soaked blankets, according to court documents. Her 22-year-old son argued with her loudly the day before and has been charged with second-degree murder.

Clair McFarland

January 16, 20246 min read

Israel Melvin
Israel Melvin (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A woman killed Jan. 7 in Sheridan was found under a heap of blankets and laundry that had been doused in gasoline, court documents say.  

Sheridan County deputy attorney Christopher LaRosa on Jan. 10 charged Israel Melvin, 22, with second-degree murder in the death of his mother, Leonila Melvin. The charge is punishable by between 20 years and life in prison.  

Opening A Door 

The evidentiary affidavit filed in Sheridan Circuit Court says Israel Melvin got out of jail in December 2023, after being charged with a sex act against a 15-year-old the year before. 

His parents, Paul and Leonila Melvin, were trying to save money so they could get him into a group home. Israel caused problems in their home at 945 Gladstone St., and his mood could change “as quickly as opening a door,” Paul Melvin later told police.  

The affidavit says Israel was often upset with his parents because they refused to buy him alcohol.  

The Spat 

At about 6:12 a.m. on Jan. 6, a Saturday, Leonila and Israel got into an argument loud enough to prompt a police response.  

Israel had reportedly eaten a photograph of a religious icon that held sentimental value to his mother.  

Police learned the two had been arguing “a lot recently,” says the affidavit.  

Paul Melvin left work early that day to diffuse the mother-son argument after law enforcement had been notified of it, the document adds. Once things cooled down, the rest of the Saturday was fine, he recalled in his later interview.  

One Last Pizza Dinner 

Knowing he had to wake up at 4:15 for work, Paul went to bed early Saturday night, says the document. But Israel called Paul at about 11 that evening to ask for a ride from the M and M Center hockey rink.  

Paul went to pick Israel up, and his son said he was hungry, so Paul took him out for Domino’s pizza, the affidavit says.  

Then they went home together, and there were no problems at that time, according to Paul’s interview.  

Why She Won’t Answer 

Paul’s wife woke early with him to see him off to work the next day, says the affidavit. They parted ways at 4:35 a.m.  

He tried to call her from his work phone at 1:58 that afternoon, but she didn’t answer.  

The affidavit says police confirmed Paul’s accounts of his phone calls through the call logs.  

He tried her again at 5:33 that evening, and also tried his own personal cellphone, which he left at home because only his work phone has service in the mine, the document says.  

Still, no one answered the phone.  

At 7:09 p.m., Paul called Sheridan police and told them he was concerned because he hadn’t been able to reach his wife, and when he arrived home, he didn’t see her.  

‘Kid Did This’ 

But just before the police arrived a few minutes later, Paul found his wife – dead under a heap of gasoline-soaked blankets in the living room, the affidavit alleges.  

He went outside and wept out loud.

Sgt. Shaun Gerleman was the first to arrive, and found Paul sobbing.  

“F***in’ kid did this,” Paul reportedly said. He gave officers consent to enter his home.  

The officers found the deceased Leonila face-down on the floor with severe trauma to the back of her head.  

A preliminary autopsy report says she died of blunt-force trauma via a blunt object with sharp corners. Her skull was fractured so extensively, the examiner could not tell how many times the object struck her, the affidavit says.   

She also had two broken ribs.  

With her under the heap of blankets and laundry was a metal stand — a flat base with sharp corners — that had tissue and blood on it; along with other metal fireplace tools, says the document.  

The home reportedly smelled of gasoline.  

Evidence Against A Stray Burglary 

Paul told police that only he, his wife and Israel had been in the home over the past few days. He said his wife kept the doors locked while she was home.  

He also said that a valuable item and cash that were inside were not taken, the affidavit relates.  

Get A Lawyer 

While police were discovering and investigating the death of his mother, Israel was already in police custody, having been arrested earlier in the day on suspicion of drug use. Police found him in a fast-food restaurant bathroom the same morning as his mother’s death, pacing in a cloud of what looked like marijuana smoke, court documents say.  

His mother’s passport was on his person during his arrest, the affidavit says, adding that the drawer where Leonila kept her passport in her bedroom had been detached from its dresser and placed on the floor.  

Two investigators went to talk to Israel at the Sheridan Detention Center after they found his mother dead. 

When they said they wanted to talk about what happened between Israel and his mom, Israel asked for a lawyer, the affidavit says.  

These Acts 

Sheridan Police Department has taken “enforcement action against Israel Melvin for past acts of violence,” says the affidavit.  

The document lists the following: 

  • A Dec. 12, 2023, citation alleging Israel committed unlawful contact against his mother.

  • An Aug. 12, 2022, arrest for a sex crime against a 15-year-old victim.

  • A June 23, 2020, charge on suspicion of assaulting a 12-year-old victim during a dispute in a public park.

  • A May 5, 2019, arrest on suspicion of aggravated battery against his mother. Israel had been swinging a knife toward his mother, and threw things that struck her in the head, says the affidavit.  

Israel Melvin’s case is ongoing in Sheridan Circuit Court.  

Clair McFarland can be reached at

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter