Frank Howard: Strange and Sensational Murder for Hire

Our past two cases have been about killer nurses Kristen Gilbert and Charles Cullen. This week we go to Texas. Everything is big in Texas and even the murder cases seem larger than life. Our case involves successful businessman Frank Howard (not to be confused with the former baseball player). Howard concocted a scheme to hire East Texas gangsters to murder his wife. One of them eventually shot Nancy Howard but she survived.

Frank Howard and Nancy Shore Howard

Born John Franklin Howard, Frank married Nancy Shore in 1983. They settled in Carrollton, Texas, north and slightly west of Dallas and near Lewisville Lake. Together they raised three children.

Frank and Nancy Howard in happier times
Frank and Nancy Howard in happier times

From the outside, the Howards seemed like a normal suburban couple. Frank coached his kids’ soccer teams and went to their musical theater performances. The couple sang in the church choir and hosted Bible study for youth groups in their home. Frank was a successful businessman with his own accounting firm and Nancy was a stay-at-home mom.

The Howards’ apparently idyllic life began to dissipate as their children grew up and left home. Frank started devoting more time to his work. He took on a new client, Colleyville businessman Richard Raley, who’d made millions as a defense contractor. He told his wife that this new business would require more travel. Nancy found herself at home with little to do. In most cases, this wouldn’t be much of a problem, but trouble was brewing.

Frank Howard Meets Suzanne Leontieff

It was the weekend of July 25, 2009. Frank was in Lake Tahoe on business and Nancy was on a mission trip to Africa with her youngest daughter, Brianna. At a casino named Harvey’s, Frank met a woman at one of the tables. She was Suzanne Leontieff, a dental hygienist. Suzanne was in her early fifties but had blonde hair, a youthful face, and a perky demeanor. She was in Lake Tahoe to watch her daughters compete in a softball tournament.

Suzanne and Frank met for dinner. Suzanne was married, too, but had separated from her husband and working toward a divorce. The next weekend, Frank invited Suzanne to meet him in Reno. She did.

Suzanne Leontieff (MSNBC/Dateline)
Suzanne Leontieff (MSNBC/Dateline)

Over the next three years, Frank and Suzanne saw each other often. Sometimes he met her in California, while others he flew her to Dallas. Then there were expensive trips to the Bahamas and prime sporting events. Frank also bought a condo in Lake Tahoe and Suzanne a house in Santa Cruz. When Suzanne’s divorce came through, she lost her health insurance. So, Frank put her on the payroll of Raley’s company (by now he was Chief Financial Officer).

An Attempted Murder

On Saturday, August 18, 2012, Nancy went to the First Baptist Church in Carrollton for a women’s tea. She didn’t know it, but someone followed her into the parking lot. That evening, she went back to the church for the baptism of a family friend. When she left the parking lot at about 7:30, it was raining. A silver Nissan trailed her out of the lot.

On her way home, Nancy stopped at a Taco Bueno and picked up a steak fajita dinner at the drive-through. From there, she drove home, a two-story brick house on Bluebonnet Way. In the garage, she got out of the car with her purse and the Taco Bueno bag in her hands. Someone grabbed her from behind, put a gun to her head, and demanded her purse.

The Howards' house on Bluebonnet Way in Carrollton, TX
The Howards’ house on Bluebonnet Way in Carrollton, TX

Startled, Nancy turned around. The intruder, a man in his twenties demanded her purse again. Confused, she handed him the Taco Bueno bag instead. Seeing the man becoming angry, she shoved the purse at him with both hands. He backed up a step, pointed the gun at her face, and fired. He then fled, leaving the bag of food on the rain-soaked driveway and Nancy bleeding in the garage.

A Bizarre Plot

Frank was in Reno with Suzanne when he got the news that Nancy had been shot. He broke down crying and Suzanne had to help him walk. Since there were no more flights to Dallas from Reno that day, Suzanne drove Frank four hours to San Jose where he caught a flight home.

But while he may have shed tears, investigators soon learned that Frank was not exactly the grieving husband. Far from it. Frank, it turns out, had been paying money to East Texas gangsters for years to kill his wife. Somehow, Frank managed to connect with a shady character named Billie Earl Johnson. Calling himself “John,” Frank gave Johnson an envelope with $60,000 cash and a picture of Nancy, telling him to “make it look like an accident.”

Billie Earl Johnson (L) and his nephew, Dustin Hiroms (R). Hiroms shot Nancy Howard in her own garage on August 18, 2012.
Billie Earl Johnson (L) and his nephew, Dustin Hiroms (R). Hiroms shot Nancy Howard in her own garage on August 18, 2012.

Johnson and his cadre of relatives and associates strung “John” along for months on end, extracting more and more money from him. But there were always excuses. Either something slowed them down, they were too wasted, or they were in jail. Nancy lived on. Johnson estimated they squeezed over $2 million out of “John.”

All this would have been funny if Johnson’s stepson, Dustin Taylor Hiroms hadn’t tried to carry out the plot. He’s the one that accosted and shot Nancy.

Frank Howard Goes on Trial

Nancy Howard survived the attack, although she lost her left eye. She divorced Frank and went back to using her birth name, Shore.

John Francis "Frank" Howard
John Francis “Frank” Howard

Frank Howard went on trial in August 2012. All three Howard children testified for their father and sat behind him when they were in court. Nancy testified for the prosecution. The defense claimed Frank had been blackmailed and attacked the credibility of the prosecution witnesses. They did have a point: the East Texas crew had an astonishing number of arrests and convictions. However, the jury took only two hours to return a guilty verdict.

At the sentencing hearing, Frank’s former boss, Richard Raley, testified. He told the jury that Frank had embezzled over $30 million from him over a three-year period. He used the money to finance his affair with Suzanne Leontieff and to pay his meth-addled hitmen. And apparently, according to a later lawsuit, he donated over $200,000 of it to the First Baptist Church! He received a life sentence with no possibility for parole until after 30 years.


Today (April 2022) Frank Howard is 62 years old. He spends his time at the James V. Allred Unit of the Texas prison system near Wichita Falls, Texas.

You can read more about this case in Allice Matthews’ book, The Shooting of Nancy Howard: A Journey Back to Shore.

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18 Replies to “Frank Howard: Strange and Sensational Murder for Hire”

    1. That shook me. Overwhelming proof of what their scumbag, idiotic father did yet they did not support their mom. They publicly supported their father..Just shameful.

      1. I totally agree. She had to sit alone. That would have broken my heart. I wonder what their relationship with their mom is like today.

    2. doesn’t sound like it but there’s millions in cash unaccounted for?? Besides, the fact, they have him on tape and pictures come on man!! Who knows nowadays they could all be in cahoots! Probably not because they’re so stupid that they believe their dad is innocent! POS Him and his daughters! What upstanding citizen deals with those people????

    3. If you watch the episode on Dateline, both daughters stand behind him the entire time, which in my opinion, is appalling.!!!! In almost as “snobby” way, they make him out to be this perfect husband and father so they won’t look bad!!

  1. Daughters made complete fools of themselves and lost living brain cell credibility. They likely make a living defending other dirtbag criminals and are gullible targets for any fraudster. They should be ashamed of what they did and owe their mother an apology, although I’m sure she forgave them without one. I hope they raise smarter grandchildren to care properly for their grandma.

  2. I can’t, for the life of me, understand HOW his daughters could see the pictures and hear the taped phone calls, and STILL say “he’s innocent”! CRAZY!

  3. Nobody mentions the fact that he was on camera talking to the guy on the motorcycle! WHAT!! The defense stated they were blackmailing him for cheating on his wife! And decided to kill her because he quit paying them! Makes no sense he was there bread and butter. What reason did they have to kill her?

  4. She would have never been shot, but “John “ was in a hurry to get it done. So he used the money to entice the dumbest of the bunch (who shouldn’t have even been told of the whole thing). Billie had it under control, and taking that scumbag wife killer for everything was awesome / u wanna kill your wife? If you reach out to a stranger and are dumb enough to believe HALF of those lies they told why they couldn’t do the job, then you deserve to lose every dime .. a cheater, liar, thief, and trying to kill his wife .. he deserved more then he got.

  5. Those daughters are so arrogant but stupid idiots just like their dad…. I wonder what happened to the mistress. How do you steal $30 million in 3 yrs without the business owner catching it…. I hope he managed to get some of it back.

  6. I went to church with this family and elementary school with their son, before they moved to the rich side of town. Frank was an assistant coach on our youth basketball team for one or two seasons. The son and Frank had a real holier than though smugness to them.

    My only memories of Nancy were that she was a kind caring mother it really saddens me to read the kids testified for Frank. I didn’t know their daughters on a personal level as there were probably 4-5 years between each kid.

  7. Good to see Nancy is Ok.. How can the daughters think their father is innocent? You dont have to be smart to see their father is guilty.. Just crazy!!!

    Spouses have affairs, find love again, etc, but why do they have to kill the wife or husband? and they pretend, cry that they are not involved in ordering to kill their spouses…. Do they think people are stupid like them?

    God Bless Nancy

  8. Really terrible and I feel so badly for Nancy. The kids most likely know their father is innocent, they just didn’t want to see him spend most of his life in jail. Nancy already forgave him and was considering reconciling with him if he wasn’t found guilty. She stated that she is more upset that he cheated on her than that he had tried to have her killed. It’s just so complicated bc I think Nancy and the kids just want their old life back. But it will never return. This is just so sad. If he had to cheat, why couldn’t Frank find a woman who liked him for him and not for his money?

  9. It would be nice if Frank would kindly confess, and free his children from this lie. It goes to show how selfish he is to keep them in bondage.

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