Last Updated: 11:30 a.m.
Leonard Lynn, 76, was found dead Saturday evening at 26 Ryken Lane in Palm Coast in what the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office ruled a homicide later that night.
A suspect was arrested overnight: Erick Elom Niemi, 42, of 26 Ryken Lane–the same address. “We developed a suspect almost immediately based on some information we had, and that the victim’s van was missing,” Flagler County Undersheriff Rick Staly said.
Niemi was a boarder at Lynn’s house, and an argument between the two men led to Lynn’s killing, according to the sheriff’s office. Lynn’s body was discovered in his bedroom.
“They found him and the investigative services division interviewed him,” Staly said this morning, referring to Niemi, “and I got an update this morning at 5:30 that they were charging him. The individual we were looking for last night was a former roommate, or a renter, or something like that.”
Niemi was found in the van that belonged to Lynn, and that had been allegedly stolen. Niemi was found “frankly not too far away, and our suspect was in the van,” Staly said.
“After questioning by detectives, Niemi confessed,” a sheriff’s office release stated later this morning.
Niemi has twice been jailed in the last five years in Flagler County. (In those two arrests, his name was spelled “Eric.”) Last November he was charged with grand theft. In 2008, when he was living at 24 Webwood Place in Palm Coast, he was charged with driving on a suspended or revoked license.
Lynn’s daughter in law, Lisa Lynn, along with her husband Steven Lynn, went to the house in early evening Saturday to check on him. “Upon entering, Lisa Lynn observed what appeared to be blood on the floor of a common area,” Niemi’s arrest report states, then found two interior doors locked and called police. “Responding deputies subsequently forced entry into the master bedroom,” the report continues, “and found Leonard Lynn lying in blood on the floor with a pillow covering his face. Further investigation revealed a front bedroom window was now ajar at the house and a neighbor reported seeing the roommate ‘Erick’ returning to 26 Ryken Lane on his bicycle” at about 6 p.m.
Flagler County Fire Rescue had been called in, along with the sheriff’s office. Staly said authorities made a quick walk-through, then backed out, secured a search warrant, and returned.
“It’s going to come down to the medical examiner’s final determination, but it looks like blunt force trauma,” Bob Weber, a sheriff’s spokesman, said.
There were initial reports of a stolen van. A be-on-the-lookout for the van, a 2006 Dodge Caravan, was issued just after 9 p.m. The van was located across the street from 31 Ryapple Lane, less than half a mile from Lynn’s house–essentially, three turns away. Niemi was in the van. The property owners at Ryapple Lane were in no way involved in the incident. Niemi had merely parked in the area, by an empty lot.
This morning, a brown Ford van was on Lynn’s property, wrapped in police tape. The property itself was also taped, front to back. That is not necessarily a van that belonged to Lynn, however.
The property belongs to Lynn, an elderly man who had been facing foreclosure, and may have been renting out rooms in his 1,400-square-foot house to make ends meet. A neighbor spoke of frequent goings and comings by people not seen at the property before in the last several months.
Neighbors were not aware of the crime as they looked on, knowing only that something had gone wrong.
“I know police were here just asking when I’d seen him last,” next-door neighbor Betty Guy said of Lynn. “I didn’t know he was there. I’d been told he’d left, his house was foreclosed on. I don’t know if I’d last seen him on Thursday or Friday.” That day Guy saw Lynn try to move a mattress into his van. A mattress sat on the side of the garage wall today–a garage where, more recently, Lynn had taken to writing out verses from Psalms on the walls.
Over the weekend Lynn had held a garage sale at the house. Signs for the sale were nailed to trees at the intersection of Ryken Lane and Ryberry Drive, and on Ryberry and Ryan Drive.
Guy and Lynn didn’t interact much. “I worried about him a lot. I’ve been here three years. He’s had a couple of incidents,” Guy recalled. Once, Lynn fell and injured his head. Lynn’s daughter took care of him. He refused to call paramedics. Another time, Lynn’s keys had fallen into the garbage disposal. He put his hand down to retrieve them, and was bloodied as a result. Guy’s daughter took care of him that time.
“The last six to nine months he had different people staying there,” Guy said. “I think there was a money issue, and he tried to have people move in there.”
Another couple a few doors down had stood on a driveway, looking on, unaware of the morning’s developments. When informed, they immediately recalled Niemi as “a weird guy” who was often walking up and down the street, talking on the phone. They’d known Lynn for years, going back to his days when he worked for U.S. Blinds, the company, and he went to their house to try to sell them on some blinds. They remember him renting out his house a year or so ago or more, but he returned after the renters had destroyed the place. Lynn had kept an impeccable yard, which looked very good even today, with well-tended plants, trees, a big bird feeder in the back yard. Niemi moved in a few months ago. The neighbors recalled him being involved in a car-washing or pressure-washing business.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s crime-lab unit was at the scene most of the night, and requested the medical examiner after 7 a.m. this morning. The medical examiner van bearing Lynn’s body, and FDLE’s crime lab, left the scene at 9:25 a.m.
The Ryken Lane homicide is the fourth to be recorded in Palm Coast or Flagler County since January, when Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre took over, though two of the four homicides may have been only circumstantially related to the calendar or to Flagler’s geography.
A man was found dead behind the property at 16 Covington Lane in Palm Coast on Jan. 16. Zuheili Roman Rosado was murdered on Feb. 21 as she worked an evening shift at the Mobil station convenience store on State Road 100 in Palm Coast, near I-95. And the remains of Barbara Parchem, a resident of Vermont Heights in St. Johns County, were found on the Flagler side of Flagler Estates in the remote, empty subdivision in the northwest part of the county, on May 1, in a death ruled a homicide.
“One homicide actually occurred in 2012 but was not discovered until 2013, early in January, and that’s still under invesrtigation obviously,” Staly said of the Covington lane killing. “One other homicide we believe occurred in another county and the body was dumped almost on the county line but technically in Flagler County. It’s very unusual for all this to happen in Flagler County. We have a lot of resources working to resolve all these cases, some are easier to solve as you see from the case last night, others are more difficult.” The Sheriff’s Office, Staly said, is using resources from FDLE and other resources to resolve the cases. “I have confidence that with our investigative services division that eventually they’ll all be cleared,” Staly said, noting that “The most important part is to arrest the right person and to make sure they have an air tight case to make sure they’ll go to prison.”
Niemi is being charged with one count of grand theft auto, one count of second degree murder. “He’s on his way to the jail,” Weber said. He was booked in at 10:14 a.m. Bond was set at $5,000 on the grand theft charge. He’s being held without bond on the murder charge.