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Dateline (NBC) Full Episode - "Deadly Valentine"

"Deadly Valentine"

Missionaries Nathan and Denise Leuthold, along with their three young children were back home in Peoria, Illinois after years of overseas work in Lithuania. But on Valentine's Day, 2013, husband Nathan reported a daring midday burglary that would rock this quiet community to its core.

Transcript

HERE'S ANDREA CANNING. >> Reporter: IT HAPPENED ON THE LEAST LIKELY DAY IMAGINABLE, A DAY DEVOTED TO LOVE AND AFFECTION -- VALENTINE'S DAY. AND IT HAPPENED TO THE LAST PEOPLE ON EARTH YOU WOULD EXPECT, A RELIGIOUS FAMILY DEDICATED TO GOD AND MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE. >> WE GOT A BREAK-IN. >> IS IT GOING ON RIGHT NOW? >> I DON'T KNOW. THE GARAGE DOOR IS OPEN. THERE'S GLASS FROM THE BACK DOOR WHERE SOMEBODY BROKE IN. MY WORLD HAD JUST BEEN SHATTERED >> Reporter: THEIR PERFECT WORLD BROKEN BY AN ACT SO EVIL IT TORE A FAMILY APART. >> THE WORST DAY OF MY LIFE. >> Reporter: AND PUT AN ENTIRE TOWN ON EDGE. >> BE EXTRA CAUTIOUS, LOCK YOUR DOORS, LOCK YOUR WINDOWS. PAY ATTENTION TO STRANGERS IN YOUR AREA. >> Reporter: THEY DEVOTED THEIR LIVES TO OTHERS. WHO WOULD EVER WANT TO HURT THEM? >> THIS IS JUST ABSOLUTELY A DESPICABLE ACT. >> Reporter: FOR A DAY THAT ENDED SO TRAGICALLY, IT BEGAN IN A HAPPY WAY WITH FLOWERS AND EXPRESSIONS OF LOVE. NATHAN AND DENISE LEUTHOLD HAD MET 30 YEARS EARLIER, BACK IN THE '80s WHEN THEY WERE BOTH STUDENTS AT A SMALL BAPTIST SCHOOL IN CENTRAL ILLINOIS. EVEN AT THAT YOUNG AGE, NATHAN KNEW THERE WAS SOMETHING TO THIS SPARKLING LITTLE GIRL. >> I WAS IN THIRD GRADE, AND SHE WAS IN FOURTH GRADE AT THE TIME. AND I DOUBT SHE EVEN KNEW I EXISTED, BUT EVEN THEN I THOUGHT SHE WAS THE CUTEST GIRL IN THE SCHOOL. >> WHAT WAS IT THAT YOU LIKED ABOUT HER SO MUCH? >> IT WAS THE CURLY HAIR AND THE BOUNCY CURLS AND JUST THE HAPPY-GO-LUCKY SMILE. IN JUNIOR HIGH, I BEGAN TO SEE HER CHARACTER AND SEE WHAT KIND OF PERSON SHE WAS THAT WAY. >> Reporter: IT WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL THAT NATHAN AND DENISE GOT TO KNOW EACH OTHER BETTER, THOUGH THEY DIDN'T DATE AS MOST TEENS DO BECAUSE THEY BOTH CAME FROM RELIGIOUS FAMILIES. >> OUR PARENTS DIDN'T REALLY BELIEVE IN DATING, SO WE WERE JUST GOOD FRIENDS. AND I WENT TO HER CHURCH ACTIVITIES AND SHE CAME TO MINE. AND SAW EACH OTHER AT SCHOOL AND THAT'S HOW IT ALL STARTED. SHE WAS MY FIRST GIRLFRIEND AND MY ONLY GIRLFRIEND. >> Reporter: NORM ULRICH JR. GOT TO KNOW NATHAN AND DENISE WELL WHEN HIS WIFE TAUGHT AT THEIR HIGH SCHOOL. NATHAN WAS A BASKETBALL PLAYER THEN, DENISE A CHEERLEADER. >> THEY WERE INSEPARABLE. THEY WOULD JUST, YOU KNOW, GOOF AROUND WITH EACH OTHER, YOU KNOW, JUST IN A LOVING, YOU KNOW, MAYBE PUPPY-LOVISH WAY. AND IT JUST GREW INTO SOMETHING SPECIAL BETWEEN THE TWO OF THEM, AND WE KNEW THEY'D BE TOGETHER. >> Reporter: WHAT'S MORE, NATHAN ADMIRED DENISE'S PARENTS AND WAS INSPIRED BY WHAT HE SAW AS A PERFECT MARRIAGE. >> AND I LOOKED AT DENISE'S MOM AT THE TIME, AND I SAW WHAT SHE WAS AS A WOMAN, AS A WIFE, AS A MOTHER, AND I SAW THAT DENISE REALLY FAVORED HER MOTHER. AND SO I SAID, THAT'S WHAT I WANT. >> Reporter: FOR DENISE'S MOM, DIANE NEWTON, THE FEELING WAS MUTUAL. WAS HE OVER ALL THE TIME? >> YES. YEAH, HE PRACTICALLY LIVED AT OUR HOUSE. >> Reporter: WHEN DENISE WENT OFF TO COLLEGE IN MINNESOTA, NATHAN -- A YEAR YOUNGER -- SOON FOLLOWED. TO NO ONE'S SURPRISE, THE COUPLE GOT ENGAGED A YEAR LATER. DIANE KNEW IT WAS COMING. >> I WASN'T SURPRISED WHEN HE WAS THE FIRST ONE THAT SHE DATED AND THEY ENDED UP GETTING MARRIED. >> Reporter: THAT WAS IN JULY 1995. >> I WAS ALWAYS VERY HAPPY BEING A WIFE AND A MOTHER, AND SO I WAS HAPPY FOR HER THAT SHE HAD FOUND SOMEONE TO LOVE AND TO SHARE HER LIFE WITH. >> RIGHT BEFORE WE DID OUR VOWS, DENISE HAD A PREPARED A SONG TALKING ABOUT EVERYTHING THAT SHE WANTED WAS IN ME. AND THAT OUR MARRIAGE WAS GOING TO BE THE KIND THAT SHE HAD ALWAYS HOPED FOR AND HAD DREAMED FOR AS A LITTLE CHILD. AND IT WAS A WONDERFUL DAY. >> Reporter: AFTER THE YOUNG COUPLE SETTLED IN THEIR HOME TOWN OF PEORIA, ILLINOIS, DENISE WENT TO WORK AT AN INSURANCE COMPANY WHILE NATHAN STARTED A CAREER IN SALES. BUT HE COULDN'T SHAKE A HIGHER CALLING. FOR SEVERAL YEARS HE HAD DREAMED OF BECOMING A BAPTIST MISSIONARY. IN 1998, HE FINALLY SEIZED THE OPPORTUNITY WHEN ANOTHER YOUNG COUPLE AT THEIR CHURCH BEGAN THEIR OWN MISSIONARY WORK IN LITHUANIA. >> AND SO I APPROACHED THE FELLOW AND SAID, WHAT WOULD YOU THINK ABOUT DENISE AND I COMING AND HELPING YOU GUYS? HE SAID, THAT WOULD BE GREAT. >> THEY MOVED IN WITH US FOR SIX MONTHS, SOLD ALL THEIR POSSESSIONS. TRIED TO SAVE UP MONEY. >> WE DIDN'T KNOW ANY LITHUANIAN AT THE TIME. WE DIDN'T KNOW THE LANGUAGE. WE WERE STUDYING IT, TRYING OUR BEST, BUT IT WAS DEFINITELY A SHOCK. >> Reporter: THEY RETURNED HOME AFTER A YEAR AND SOON WELCOMED A SON, SETH, AND A DAUGHTER, JULIA. IN 2002, THE FAMILY WENT BACK TO LITHUANIA, WHICH BECAME THEIR SECOND HOME ON AND OFF FOR THE NEXT EIGHT YEARS. THAT'S A BIG UNDERTAKING TO -- >> RIGHT. I THINK IT WAS VERY HARD FOR DENISE TO LEAVE HER FAMILY, TO LEAVE EVERYTHING SHE'D KNOWN AND TO GO OVER TO A STRANGE COUNTRY, YOU KNOW, WITH A TODDLER AND A BABY. IT WAS A TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE FOR HER, I THINK. >> THIS IS BECAUSE REALLY NATHAN WANTED TO DO IT? >> RIGHT. SHE WAS SUPPORTING HIM. IT WASN'T REALLY HER CALLING. I MEAN, SHE WAS BASICALLY BEING A WIFE AND A MOTHER. >> Reporter: BUT DENISE ALSO BECAME VERY DEVOTED TO THE CHURCH THERE. >> DENISE WAS VERY MUSICAL, AND SHE PLAYED THE PIANO FOR THE CHILDREN AND TAUGHT THEM SONGS. TAUGHT THE LITTLE GIRLS, ESPECIALLY, BIBLE STORIES. >> Reporter: THEY GREW PARTICULARLY CLOSE TO SOME OF THE CHILDREN AND THEIR FAMILIES. >> WE HAD HELPED WOMEN WHO'D BEEN IN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS. WE HAD BROUGHT SEVERAL LITHUANIANS TO THE UNITED STATES OVER THE YEARS FOR CULTURAL REASONS, FOR MUSICAL PURPOSES, FOR SPORTS. >> Reporter: THEIR GENEROSITY EXTENDED TO A YOUNG LITHUANIAN THEY HAD GOTTEN TO KNOW WELL, AINA DOBILAITE, WHO EVENTUALLY CAME TO THE U.S. AS A COLLEGE STUDENT. SHE EVEN LIVED WITH THEM FOR A WHILE IN PEORIA. >> NATHAN HAS A VERY BIG HEART FOR PEOPLE. HE JUST LOVES TO HELP PEOPLE OUT AND JUST WANTS TO DO THE LORD'S WORK. >> Reporter: BY THE FALL OF 2010, NATHAN AND DENISE WERE LIVING BACK IN THE STATES. BY THEN THEY HAD A THIRD CHILD, JENELLE. THEIR DAYS WERE FILLED WITH SHUTTLING KIDS TO SCHOOL AND DAY CARE AND RAISING FUNDS FOR THEIR NEXT OVERSEAS MISSION. LIFE WITH THREE YOUNG KIDS WAS BUSY, HECTIC, NORMAL. BUT THEN CAME VALENTINE'S DAY, 2013. WHEN NATHAN PULLED INTO THEIR DRIVEWAY MID-AFTERNOON AND DISCOVERED SOMETHING TERRIBLY WRONG. >> I CAN SEE THAT THE WINDOW PANE WAS BROKEN. THE GLASS IS ON THE GROUND. AND AT THAT POINT I BEGIN TO PUT THINGS TOGETHER AND SOMEONE HAD BROKEN INTO THE HOME. AND AT THAT POINT I CALLED THE POLICE, CALLED 911. >> 911. WHERE IS THE EMERGENCY?

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