Details of Disappearance
Montgomery was last seen at her home in the 100 block of Palmora Boulevard in Leesburg, Florida on June 15, 2016. She has never been heard from again. A neighbor reported her missing on June 22. When police arrived at her house, they found bloodstains and other evidence of foul play. After her disappearance, her blue four-door 2005 Chevrolet was found abandoned at a park near Lake Harris, a few hundred yards from her home.
Police arrested Jeremy David Gentry after Montgomery's disappearance and charged him with grand theft auto; a neighbor had seen him driving Montgomery's car two days after her disappearance. A photo of Gentry is posted with this case summary. He had previously served time in prison in Tennessee for forgery. When asked where Montgomery was, he said he couldn't remember because he'd been using drugs.
In April 2016, two months before Montgomery disappeared, deputies from the Lake County Sheriff's Office had visited her at her home to investigate reports that she was being exploited by two convicted felons who were helping her maintaining her home. One of the men had a prior conviction for exploiting the elderly, and the girlfriend of one of them was attempting to become Montgomery's legal guardian.
An employee at All About Water and Solar, a local business, had filed a police report in March, saying clients at the business had been paying for work that was never done. Montgomery had paid $26,000 for unspecified work and $5,000 to have a bookcase built. The employee thought the charges were suspicious and said she was worried about Montgomery because she knew she had no family in Florida. Gentry was employed as a laborer at All About Water and Solar at the time of his arrest.
Montgomery refused to press charges against the two men; she told the deputies she wasn't being taken advantage of and she believed the men only wanted to help her. She said she had little money and lived off Social Security benefits, and that she planned to leave all her property to the Morrison United Methodist Church, which she'd been attending for nearly forty years.
She appeared to be capable of making her own decisions. The deputies left their phone numbers with her in case she felt she needed help. A pastor from Montgomery's church also agreed to keep an eye on her to make sure she was safe.
In July, less than a month after Montgomery's disappearance, David Adam Mariotti was charged with second-degree murder in her case and Tracie Jo Naffziger was charged as an accessory to second-degree murder. Photos of them both are posted with this case summary.
Both defendants knew Montgomery and they have several prior arrests each, but they are not the two felons suspected of exploiting Montgomery prior to her disappearance. The charges against Mariotti were later upgraded to first-degree murder; the prosecution intends to seek the death penalty against him.
Both suspects reportedly confessed after their arrests. Mariotti stated he attacked Montgomery and strangled her with a rope after she caught Naffziger stealing items from her home and threatened to call the police. Naffziger reportedly admitted that she and Mariotti kept Montgomery's body concealed in her home for days after her death. His confession cannot be used as evidence against him in court, however.
The pair allegedly drove around in Montgomery's vehicle, using her credit cards and pawning her belongings, including jewelry, cuff links, and silverware. They kept using her credit cards until the cards were blocked due to the suspicious transactions. The pair eventually dumped her body in a wooded area along State Road 19 in the Palatka, Florida area, 75 miles north of Leesburg.
In March 2018, Naffziger pleaded no contest to accessory to second-degree murder after the fact, and credit card fraud in exchange for a pretrial intervention sentence. She agreed to testify against Mariotti at his trial. Naffziger stated she wasn't present when Montgomery was killed, but admitted she used her credit cards, helped pawn her stolen belongings, and helped dump her body.
At Mariotti's trial in April 2018, he tried to blame Naffziger for the murder. He was convicted of first-degree murder and burglary of a dwelling with battery. Eleven members of the jury voted for the death sentence, but one voted for life, and a death sentence must be agreed upon unanimously, so Mariotti was sentenced to life in prison.
Montgomery was the president of the Leesburg Garden Club and a prize-winning floral arranger prior to her disappearance. She and her late husband were childless and had few relatives. Foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.