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Friday, December 12, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Slaying Suspect May Have Fled To Puerto Rico -- Police Think She's Changed Appearance

Seattle Times Snohomish County Bureau

Authorities who have been searching for slaying suspect Teresa Gaethe-Leonard now know where to look.

But they don't know what she looks like anymore.

Gaethe-Leonard, charged in March with first-degree murder in the death of her estranged husband, has been missing since she jumped bail and failed to show up for a court appearance last week.

Now, Snohomish County sheriff's detectives think they've traced her to Puerto Rico, but they say plastic surgery and other changes she's made to her appearance may prevent them from recognizing her.

Traced to Gaethe-Leonard were cellular-phone calls made from Puerto Rico to a local exchange, said sheriff's spokeswoman Jan Jorgensen, who would not say when or to whom the calls were made.

"We do not know the extent to which her appearance has changed, but we do know that she had plastic surgery before she left," said Jorgensen.

Detectives also think Gaethe-Leonard, 34, has changed the cut and color of her hair.

She was out on $500,000 cash-only bail posted by her boyfriend from Hawaii. The bail money has now been forfeited, and Jorgensen said the boyfriend, Maui businessman John Skenderian, is cooperating with authorities.

"We don't believe they're together," said Jorgensen. "And I'm sure he would like to have his money back."

Last week a Snohomish County Superior Court judge ordered Gaethe-Leonard's bail be set at $5 million should she be arrested and returned.

A federal warrant was issued yesterday for Gaethe-Leonard's arrest on charges of fleeing to avoid prosecution. The FBI and Fugitive Task Force in Puerto Rico have been notified, Jorgensen said.

The former Everett woman, who owned a Marysville consignment shop, was charged in the February shooting death of her estranged husband, Chuck Leonard, 53, an Everett middle-school counselor.

Prosecutors allege Gaethe-Leonard shot Leonard because he blocked her from taking the couple's 5-year-old daughter to live in Hawaii.

The girl is now in her paternal grandparents' custody in Skagit County.

When Gaethe-Leonard was discovered missing, her attorney, John Henry Browne, said he was perplexed by her disappearance. He said she was depressed and distraught at not being allowed contact with her daughter.

In September, Gaethe-Leonard missed a court appearance because she was in a coma after taking an overdose of prescription medication. At the time, prosecutors argued for a higher bail, saying the overdose was a suicide attempt that showed her as desperate. Browne said the overdose was accidental.

Christine Clarridge's phone message number is 425-745-7800. Her e-mail address is: ccla-new@seatimes.com

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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