Broward County

Woman's alleged suicide now considered a homicide

A gunshot to the head and, hours later, 34-year-old Kelly Leigh Burton, a mother of two, was dead.

Delray Beach police initially thought the March 13 fatal shot was self-inflicted at Burton's home on Lee Road in the Lee's Crossing development.

But that supposed suicide soon was labeled a "suspicious death" and, finally, ruled a homicide. Nine months later, Kelly Leigh Burton's death remains unsolved.

Her 10-year-old daughter — who saw her bloodied mother and the gun on the floor — opened the door for police as they ordered occupants out at 1:46 p.m. that day. Burton's 2-year-old son and her husband also were home when the gun went off.

Burton later died at Delray Medical Center.

Even today, police won't discuss the case or even what they think led to Burton's death.

Delray Beach Police Officer Stephanie Kearney comforted the children that day: She held them as they clung to her, changed the little boy's diaper and clothes and drove them to McDonald's.

Kearney won the city's annual Spirit Award in August for her "exemplary" work on that case.

Burton is survived by her children, Madison Gallo and Tristan Burton; her mother, Janet Bennett; brother, Todd Bennett; and sister, Tammy Williams, according to Palms West Funeral Home. Robert Burton, her husband, was not listed in the funeral home's online obituary.

Burton's mother and brother could not be reached for comment despite attempts by phone.

"Initial information led officers to believe this incident was a suicide," said police spokesman Jeff Messer in a news release on March 15.

Shortly afterward, police called it a suspicious death. Now Burton's death is a homicide investigation.

"All I can tell you is it's an open and active investigation," Detective Troy Baer said. "We're working every lead."

Asked how many unsolved murder cases Delray Beach has, police did not provide the number. The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, for example, has more than 300 open homicide cases.

The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner's Office closed the Burton case on March 14 — the day after she died — ruling it a "homicide by gunshot wound to the head," said its chief investigator, Harold Ruslander.

Still, he said, the medical examiner's ruling does not "indicate criminal activity or no criminal activity." That's up to police, he said.

Either way, this was not Kelly Burton's first brush with violence.

In August 2001, she filed a restraining order under the category of "repeat violence" against a friend who allegedly fondled her and forcibly attempted to have sex with her on four separate occasions over the course of nine months, according to Sheriff's Office incident reports. She declined to press charges.

That year was turbulent for Burton, whose husband died that summer after two years of marriage.

In September 2001, she attempted suicide in her home west of Boynton Beach after fighting depression by mixing medication, alcohol and cocaine, the Sheriff's Office said. She had been prescribed anti-depressants Prozac and Xanax and sleeping pills.

Attempts to contact Robert Burton — to whom she was married at the time of her death — at their Delray Beach home and by phone were unsuccessful. The home they shared is still listed in Robert Burton's name, according to county records.

The front door has a real estate lock box.

The couple had been married since at least June 2006, when Kelly Burton, formerly Kelly Gallo, listed Robert Burton as her husband and emergency contact with her employer, Florida Atlantic University. She worked as a secretary at the General Counsel's Office there for about seven years until her resignation last year.

On the one-month anniversary of Kelly Burton's death, someone who identified himself as Robert Burton, of Delray Beach, posted this on "In honor of the most wonderful wife and mother any one could ever know or meet. She was my best friend and wife I could ever have met. No one could ever replace her for she was the perfect person!"

That online obituary succinctly said: "Kelly was born on April 25, 1975 and passed away on Saturday, March 13, 2010. Kelly was last known to be living in Delray Beach, Florida."

A man who identified himself as Robert Burton's brother at the Club 56 Fitness gym in Waynesville, N.C., said, "I haven't seen my brother since his wife died."

The gym is owned by Myles Burton, according to North Carolina secretary of state records.

Sandy Locigno, who worked with Kelly Burton at FAU, said they were close friends but she became estranged after pairing up with Robert Burton, 43.

Her daughter, Lucy Locigno, thought of Kelly Burton as an older sister and said the Burtons were very much into physical fitness. Robert Burton was a personal trainer, she said.

"To say it was a shock is an understatement," she said, "It was just unbelievable to find Kelly is gone."

For Sandy Locigno, Burton's death is still hard to think about.

"I really loved Kelly like a daughter and I miss her, and think about her just about every day in my life," Locigno said, "And I just want this resolved."

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