Last October, Missouri realtor Leigh Ann Bauman stood before the Lake of the Ozarks and recorded a video thanking God for her championship powerboat racing title. “The reason I’ve been having all this success is because I turned my life over to Jesus Christ three weeks ago, four weeks ago,” Bauman says in a Facebook video.
“Life was empty and now it is so full,” added the 44-year-old, who has described herself as an actress and “pistol-packing cheer mom” elsewhere on social media. "We are so lucky and blessed. I sold $1.7 million the next week, and then won two world champion race titles as your local female race girl, and it’s all because of Jesus and just being a good neighbor and friend, trying to be better than you were the day before…”
But six months later, state troopers arrested Bauman for a most unneighborly crime: allegedly seeking a hitman to kill her former mother-in-law. Prosecutors charged the Lake Ozark real estate agent with conspiracy after she allegedly prepared to pay someone $1,500 to make the grandmother’s death appear accidental. On March 1, Bauman allegedly asked a friend for leads on a potential killer and the pal quickly contacted her lawyer, who contacted police. Bauman told the 40-year-old friend “she knew it was wrong as a Christian, but she would go to church and ask for forgiveness after it was done,” a probable cause statement alleges. Bauman is also accused of sending one of her daughters an ominous text message days before her arrest stating that her grandmother would die.
At Bauman’s March 16 bail hearing, the 74-year-old grandmother told the court: “Right now, I’m scared to death that if she would be out she not only would want to hurt me, she wouldn’t hesitate to hurt her daughters to get even with me. And she wouldn’t hesitate to hurt my children because she knows it would destroy me.” The judge initially denied Bauman’s release, ruling she was a safety risk, but the bubbly Trump-loving entrepreneur left jail weeks later on a $400,000 bond.
Soon after, Bauman’s ex-husband filed a petition for an order of protection for himself and his children and accused the real estate agent of making “numerous threats to destroy me, personally and professionally,” drinking and driving, pulling a gun on a pizza delivery driver, kidnapping the kids when they were toddlers, and years of physical and emotional abuse.
“Leigh Ann has always acted like she was above the law,” said the former spouse in the petition for a protective order, which a Miller County judge granted on Tuesday. He added, “My daughters, my family and I have endured so much emotional and psychological damage from Leigh Ann Bauman’s actions over the past 15 years. Now, her most recent actions of attempting to hire a hit man to kill my mother, have proven that she will stop at nothing if she feels/thinks/imagines someone is not doing what she wants.”
The petition also included the specific language Bauman allegedly deployed in the text to her daughter before her arrest: “Just because your grandma WILL die soon, please do not throw your REAL mother under the bus.”
Bauman declined to comment for this story but strenuously denied the accusations in her ex-husband’s restraining order petition.
Her supporters are looking at the same facts presented by police and coming to a different conclusion. As they see it, Bauman’s one-time pal, identified only as “CK” in court records, framed Bauman and secretly recorded her after she’d had too much wine, supposedly in an attempt to gain leverage in her own pending criminal charge of receiving stolen property, for which she’ll face trial in September. In interviews with The Daily Beast, they’ve tried to discredit CK because of her criminal record—something Bauman’s defense attorney, Dean Price, delved into at a preliminary hearing in March.
Price asked CK whether she was convicted of making false statements in 2017 and assaulting a police officer in 2010, and she replied in the affirmative. Price also asked CK whether she ever intended to help Bauman find a hired gun, and she answered no.
Bauman’s friends and family say the accusations don’t mesh with the kindhearted woman they know. “I know she would NEVER kill or pay anyone to kill anyone!” Bauman’s mother, Janis Burgin, said in an email last week. “Leigh finds jobs for people & cooks for her elderly neighbors. She tries to be a blessing to others everyday.” As Burgin sees it, “She asked the wrong person to help pick up some furniture she had bought at an auction.”
“The people that know her know she is not that person being slandered in the papers and news!” Burgin concluded.
Serafino Cazzani, an Italian powerboat racer who’s dating Bauman, says he believes the mother of two was “encouraged, betrayed, and entrapped” by someone “she considered a friend.” As he sees it, CK “didn’t set this up out of the goodness of her heart. Was it money? Was it jealousy?”
Cazzani, 61, believes Bauman was only joking about seeking God’s forgiveness during the conversation with CK. Bauman’s talk of hiring a hitman was only alcohol-fueled complaining between friends, he said, rather than a serious murder plot. “You’re drunk with your friend one night and say, ‘Yeah I hate my boyfriend.’ Next thing you know the friend goes to the cops and says, ‘She’s planning a murder.’”
Bauman’s social media profiles—replete with photogenic selfies and videos, including some with her Havanese Maltese Poodle named Gucci, and hashtags like #norestfortheblessed—betray no hints of family troubles. The twice-divorced mom even touted her ex’s new chiropractic office on LinkedIn earlier this year, describing him as “my ex, coparenter/girls’ dad & family forever.” She also celebrated being baptized in a November Facebook post.
The real estate agent’s other boating friends say they were shocked by news of Bauman’s arrest. “She didn’t seem to have a vicious bone in her body,” said Erick Bryner, a photographer who covers offshore racing and worked closely with Bauman at last year’s championship event. “But she did have the propensity to talk too much. My sense is she got railroaded and didn’t keep her mouth shut to stay out of trouble.”
Another buddy from the racing circuit, Frank Vecce, said, “At the end of the day, you’re relaxing and having a few drinks and there’s somebody egging you on. The next thing you know, it’s ‘Let’s push the record button.’ How could this person just give this to police and they act upon it? Something’s rotten in Denmark.”
Other Lake Ozark acquaintances aren’t so supportive of Bauman. Several residents told The Daily Beast they didn’t buy suggestions of a frame-up and were scandalized to see Bauman out and about town while awaiting trial on her conspiracy charge; observers spotted her at a salon getting hair extensions the day after she was released from jail, and dining at a local restaurant and pub with her beau.
“I don’t think anyone who knows her or who knows of her is surprised by the arrest,” one Lake Ozark local fumed, adding that she considers Bauman a “narcissist” and an “opportunist.” “It’s very much all about her and what benefits her,” the associate added. “She just used people for her own personal gains.”
“Why is it taking people so long to know she’s so full of shit?” another skeptical community member told The Daily Beast. The woman said she contacted Cazzani after he launched a GoFundMe page to support Bauman and warned him the fundraiser’s claims relating to CK and Bauman could be considered “fraud,” an assertion he denies.
“She’s well known but infamous. People know her because Lake Ozark is tiny. In the summer it swells because of all the tourists. But it’s a very small town,” the person said, adding that Bauman “liked to hang out with older successful businessmen at the lake and name drop” people including CK’s ex-husband, a local auto dealer, and aligned herself with former mayor Gerry Murawski. Bauman campaigned for Murawski just before her arrest and phoned him for help when troopers appeared at her home. Facebook photos show she was photographed beside him on Halloween, dressed as the Ozarks version of first lady Melania Trump while he went as “Mayor Trump” in a top hat and 2020 Trump campaign scarf. Murawski lost his re-election bid last month.
The Lake of the Ozarks resort community is no stranger to peculiar crime stories, and Bauman’s detractors said her case was like something out of Netflix’s fictional series Ozark—though residents have mixed reviews on the accuracy of the TV show’s portrayal of the region as a hotbed for corruption.
Shortly after Bauman’s arrest, the local news site Lake Expo published a history of multiple police investigations into Murawski, who admitted to sleeping with a teenage “prostitute” he found on Craigslist when the FBI ensnared him in a trafficking investigation. The ex-mayor, who was never charged, did not return messages. (The Daily Beast previously reported on Murawski’s reckless endorsement of maskless pool parties at the height of COVID in 2020.)
After Bauman was booked into Camden County’s jail, Cazzani created a short-lived GoFundMe page titled “My friend Leigh was drugged, conned, manipulated” and shared it on Facebook with the words: “The truth will blow your mind…” He deleted the Facebook post and the fundraiser after some of Bauman’s acquaintances challenged that narrative.
“I’ve never seen a person that was so polarizing,” Cazzani, a Rhode Island resident who resembles a stunt double for Harrison Ford, commented on Facebook. “I’ve never seen so many people willing to espouse their negative opinions in a public forum. I’m shocked. I know most were well intended and genuinely concerned for my welfare. I respect everyone’s opinion. Thank you for your concern. All is well. I’m confident justice will prevail.”
Cazzani told The Daily Beast a few people messaged him saying Bauman couldn’t be trusted, and when he informed Bauman, she said she didn’t even know one of the critics; the others were friends of friends. “I found it really strange that a few people came out with guns blazing,” Cazzani said, adding he only took down the GoFundMe page because he “didn’t want to deal with the negative reactions,” although he swears it’s truthful.
He said when he’s been out with Bauman, most everyone at the lake has been cordial to them. “We can definitely light up a room together,” Cazzani said. “We’re both outgoing people, extroverts, if you will. Together we make a good impression, I think.”
Cazzani also claimed that Bauman had even gone to CK’s aid when her car ran out of gas during an unusual cold snap this past winter, bringing CK fuel, hot cocoa, and jackets for her children. He enumerated Bauman’s acts of kindness in the community and said, “She often cooks for her elderly neighbors, helps them clean up, and even drives them to church—I’ve witnessed this in person. She may not be perfect but she clearly is kind, has a good heart, and is well intended.”
CK and her lawyer declined to comment, as did Price. Cunningham, the prosecutor, would only say: “I look forward to proving my case at trial.” (Bauman’s trial is scheduled for February 2022.)
Court records paint a vivid picture of the accusations against Bauman—an image very different from the one Cazzani and other Bauman supporters are portraying.
CK and Bauman shared mutual acquaintances—one of Bauman’s pals is the daughter of CK’s ex-husband, a preowned car dealer who lives near the real estate agent—and a passion for restoring used furnishings. CK runs a secondhand furniture business, while Bauman has posted on social media about her own refinishing projects.
Indeed, CK’s furniture sales are the subject of her pending felony charge of receiving stolen property. Tim Cisar, the attorney representing CK in the ill-gotten furniture case, also appeared on her behalf at Bauman’s preliminary hearing. According to Camden County court records, CK's case has a pretrial conference scheduled for June 9 and a five-day trial scheduled for Sept. 27.
A probable cause statement in CK’s case alleges authorities investigated her after a Camdenton man reported “Chinese furniture” stolen from his residence and discovered the items for sale on Facebook Marketplace months later. The Camden County Sheriff’s Office says CK was selling a Chinese antique table and chairs under the name “Darlene Dean,” and after executing a search warrant at her storage unit, discovered $8,087 worth of stolen items.
The document adds that CK “has many aliases on her criminal history report with two social security numbers,” “holds three citizenships,” and that she was on federal probation at the time of the alleged crime. (According to federal court records, in 2017, CK had pleaded guilty to making a false statement in an application for her child’s passport and was sentenced to three years of probation.)
On March 1, the day Bauman allegedly solicited leads on potential hitmen, CK helped Bauman collect furniture she’d purchased at an auction. After they dropped off the pieces at Bauman's home, the women continued hanging out and embarked on a trip to Walmart so Bauman could purchase items for the mayor, according to a transcript of Bauman’s preliminary hearing.
At the hearing, CK told the court they next went to Bauman’s ex-husband’s house, where her children were living. “I went up the stairs with her, and she knocked on the door and her daughter is screaming, saying, ‘Why are you here? Why are you here? Go away. Go away,’” CK testified of the incident, which she said upset Bauman.
Bauman told CK that her former mother-in-law “caused a strain” between her and her daughter, and she feared her ex-husband and his mother planned to seek full custody of their children, the probable cause statement adds.
When the women returned to Bauman’s home, CK testified in court, Bauman “was really going on about the grandmother” and announced, “I want her dead.” CK told Bauman she knew men in St. Louis who could snuff out the mother-in-law and asked, “Are you sure about this? Because, you know, man, if I contact those boys in St. Louis, they’re not to be played with.” Bauman allegedly replied, “I’m sure.”
Bauman allegedly scribbled her mother-in-law’s address on the back of a business card using a green glitter gel pen and handed it to CK before she went home. “I told her I’ll get back with her the next day knowing—so I went straight to talk to an attorney,” CK stated at the hearing. “I said, ‘Oh boy. This is not good.’”
The friend said she considered warning the grandma and her family but “was concerned they would call the police, who she believed Bauman was politically attached to, and Bauman would not have any consequences,” the police affidavit says. Instead CK contacted her attorney, who set up an interview with cops and his client.
At the hearing, CK testified Bauman called the next morning and “wanted to keep talking about the murder stuff.” CK allegedly told Bauman she was coming over and that they shouldn’t discuss the plan over the phone. “When I got there, as I’m walking through the door something just said to me, turn your phone recorder on, and I did,” CK recounted.
Price asked, “Whose idea was it to make the recording?” CK replied, “As I stated from the beginning, I went to Ms. Bauman’s house when she requested for me to meet her at her house. When I got there, something just told me to turn on my recorder, I’m sorry.” (Price also suggested CK called Bauman eight times on March 1 and sent her a number of texts on March 3 but the real estate agent didn’t answer.)
“So at no time after it was explained to you that Leigh Ann Bauman wanted to see her ex-mother-in-law dead, at no time did you ever intend to assist her in doing that, correct?” Price asked.
“No. We’re talking about a life, no,” CK testified.
The probable cause statement says CK told Bauman the hitmen would charge $1,500 for the deed. “Oh OK, that’s a reasonable price,” Bauman allegedly replied, before informing her friend she’d head to the bank the following day.
Bauman allegedly told CK she didn’t want the grandmother killed at the lake—specifically because of the disturbing text message she’d sent her daughter—but at the woman’s own home in Hermann, about 88 miles northeast of Lake Ozark.
At one point, Bauman was allegedly on the phone with another man, who was placed on speakerphone. Police say CK’s audio recording from that day captured Bauman and the mystery man discussing “the plan” and whether it was still in the works.
The next day, Bauman allegedly called CK and mentioned she’d spoken to her cousin from Texas about the alleged plot against the grandmother. In response, the police affidavit alleges, CK “told Bauman she needed to quit talking about everything.”
On March 4, when troopers with the Missouri State Highway Patrol appeared at Bauman’s doorstep, she claimed her buddy-turned-informant was a “hustler” who was trying to siphon money from her. One investigator noted, “When I told Bauman why we were there, she gasped and blamed everything on the witness.”
Throughout the conversation, troopers say, Bauman interrupted them and gave them an impromptu tour of her home and the furniture she was remodeling. She also claimed CK was the one who suggested she hire a hitman to deal with her family problems.
“During the interview Bauman was hard to keep on topic,” a state trooper said in a probable cause statement. “When I informed Bauman I knew she was not being honest, she asked if she needed a lawyer. Bauman then attempted to make a phone call and no one answered, and then called the Lake Ozark Mayor on speaker phone.”
The trooper said Bauman informed the mayor “about what was going on,” and also mentioned she’d had lunch with him earlier in the day. “During the phone call, Bauman told the Mayor we were there speaking to her, and asked what she should do. The Mayor told Bauman to tell the truth and she would be fine.”
Before the conversation could go any further, Bauman left for a Botox appointment at an Osage Beach spa. “I asked Bauman to cancel the appointment but she refused,” the trooper noted. “Bauman ended the interview to go get her treatment, and told me I needed to talk to the witness, since she was the one who caused this to occur…”
When Bauman returned, she denied assuring CK she’d withdraw $1,500 from the bank. “I informed Bauman I knew that was a lie and had a recording of it,” the trooper said. “Bauman again denied, but stated she did have a couple of glasses of wine, so she does not necessarily remember.”
In the probable cause document, the trooper indicated a warrant was necessary because Bauman would probably not respond to a criminal summons.
“Bauman has ties to multiple states and finances,” the officer stated. “When arrested stated she would be getting out very shortly.”
In his recent petition for a restraining order, Bauman’s ex-husband stated he was “very upset that Leigh Ann was able to get a bond because my family and I feel like we are truly in danger from this woman.”
A second petition the former spouse filed on behalf of the couple’s two daughters alleges the girls “witnessed Leigh Ann’s drinking and driving” and that Bauman had “alcohol, such as fireball and vodka, in her car most of the time.” The document also alleges the children were forced to meet a rotation of Bauman’s boyfriends.
In a statement attached to the petition, one daughter claimed Bauman said she’d marry one suitor “because he’s rich” and that “she always talks about how she’s going to marry them then breaks up with them.” The girl also claimed Bauman would tell her “my dad and grandma are ‘brainwashing’ me when I try to say what I think.”
“My mom always threatened dad that she would take dad to court and it would cost him thousands of dollars,” the daughter added. “She also always says she never lies and if she took dad to court she would win.”
Bauman’s mother, Janis Burgin, denied the claims in the petition and told The Daily Beast, “He’s making her out to be a monster.” Bauman did drink heavily at times, Burgin said, but stopped after her arrest. She said the ex-husband is far from an “innocent” party in their family dysfunction. “He’s not totally innocent,” Burgin continued, adding “he’s pulling the strings” and “tells the children what to say.”
“She hasn’t drank since March, whenever it is when she got taken,” Burgin said of her daughter. “It’s a big expensive lesson. She learned it’s a big mistake.”
Alex Wilhelm, a friend of Bauman’s for 10 years, told The Daily Beast, “The picture that was painted throughout this whole process was not the Leigh Ann we all know.” He said they often go to church together and grab lunch afterward.
“She’s just a ball of energy, maybe too much energy, but at the same time, she’s trying to bring positive things into everybody’s life,” Wilhelm said, adding that Bauman gave him a “prayer box” for anytime he needed to write down a prayer for someone. “It’s just little things she does… just selfless, kind acts.”
But after her release from jail, not everyone has been so welcoming.
“There’s still a stigma in the air,” Wilhelm said. “We want people to understand the truth and understand the whole story as the general public are only seeing one side of the story.”