Years after missing man’s body was found buried in his yard, police arrest accused killer

A man accused of hiding the body of his 31-year-old acquaintance after a night of drug use gone bad has been arrested on suspicion of murder, Long Beach police said today.

The news comes almost three years after Zach Kennedy disappeared in Long Beach, prompting a frantic search by his friends and family who received confirmation of his death only after police excavated the suspected killer’s yard.

Even after the grim discovery, Kennedy’s family was left waiting while they pushed for criminal charges. Until today, Long Beach police had never arrested the man accused of inviting Kennedy over and then leaving him to overdose in a bathtub, according to detectives’ accounts in court documents.

Now, 54-year-old Scott Leo is being held on $2 million bail after being arrested at his home in Long Beach’s Willmore neighborhood where investigators dug up Kennedy’s body in 2018.

“I feel tremendous,” Kennedy’s father, Jeff Kennedy, said about the arrest.

Jeff Kennedy said he’s been wavering between abject frustration and deep depression while waiting to see what, if any, consequences Leo would face.

“It’s hard when you’re sitting back and you can’t do nothing,” he said.

Adding to that frustration is the fact that Jeff Kennedy believes he has a pretty good idea what happened to his son. In search warrants asking a judge for permission to excavate Leo’s yard, detectives laid out a detailed picture of the hours before Zach Kennedy’s death.

Police searched a home on Eighth Street three times in the months after Zach Kennedy disappeared, according to court documents. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.

Police searched a home on Eighth Street three times in the months after Zach Kennedy disappeared, according to court documents. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.

Police wrote that Zach Kennedy visited Leo on the night of Oct. 22 where one witness said they engaged in risky sexual fetishes.

Later that night, according to detectives, Leo began texting another man saying Zach Kennedy was overdosing on the drug GHB. In one text, Leo allegedly sent a photo of the young man with his face resting against the side of the tub, apparently unconscious or already dead.

According to detectives’ account, Leo texted that he couldn’t find a pulse for a while but that Zach Kennedy later “popped up like nothing happened.” Nevertheless, they wrote, nobody saw Zach Kennedy after that night.

Jeff Kennedy has since filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that Leo’s inaction left the family dealing with “shock, outrage, extreme anxiety, worry, mortification, embarrassment, humiliation, disgust, grief and sorrow.”

“He could’ve threw him in his car and drove him to the hospital,” Jeff Kennedy said in 2018.

Instead, detectives wrote, they believe Leo dug a hole in his yard and encased Zach Kennedy in cement to hide the smell before burying him.

Authorities on Monday did not explain what hindered them from arresting Leo earlier. Police said they originally presented their evidence to the district attorney’s office in March 2019, but it wasn’t until recently that they secured a warrant for his arrest on suspicion of murder.

Jeff Kennedy, for his part, said he got the impression from detectives and prosecutors that they were being especially thorough. He called them “aggressive and methodical.”

“I don’t think the police department was expecting a murder charge to come out of it, but that’s what it was, and that makes me happy,” he said.

Leo could not be reached Monday. He hasn’t responded to previous messages.

Editor’s note: This story was updated with information about police originally presenting their case to the district attorney’s office in 2019.

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Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his journalism career in 2007 as an intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula News and has worked for The Forum Newsgroup in New York City, the Daily Pilot and the Press-Telegram. He lives in Torrance with his wife, Lindsey, and their two young children.