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But It Was Suicide

The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Investigative Services Office reports that, save for one final ongoing review by two county homicide detectives, the final cause-of-death report for pot grower Leo Hartz, owner and manager of Shine On Farms in the Upper Peachland, north of Boonville, is almost complete.

Shine On Farm

Hartz, 39, a native of Pennsylvania, died at the farm on October 8, 2016. He managed Shine On Farms with his longtime girlfriend and business partner Janae Ebert of California, who was not at the farm at the time of Hartz’s death. County homicide detectives first on the scene “the day of,” according to Investigative Services Commander Shannon Barney, ruled Hartz’s death a suicide after finding a suicide note with the body and no evidence of foul play. Hartz’s subsequent autopsy was performed by local pathologist Dr. Jacqueline Benjamin.  Sounds like an open-and-shut case, right?

The case took on the touch of a conspiracy when members of Hartz’s family insisted that Leo was murdered and demanded that the investigation be reopened, which it now has been for more than a year. Suzy Hartz of Philadelphia seems to have taken on the family spokesperson role in the whole affair.

Suzy herself is somewhat of a mystery. Leo’s obit in his hometown paper in Pennsylvania (see below), written by the family, lists Suzy as the wife of Leo’s half brother, while Suzy identified herself as Leo’s sister when she recently called the AVA. When I later spoke with her for the briefest of brief telephone conversations she also said she was his sister.

At first eager to share with me the “evidence” that her brother Leo had in fact been murdered, she quickly vanished into the ether, neither responding to half a dozen phone messages nor emailing (after saying she would do so twice) her “37 pages of notes” and other evidence she claims proves her case. She claims, among other things, that the “real” suicide note was three pages instead of the short single-page note she received. She didn’t share any of her reasons for why she believes this before cutting off all communication.

“If there was anything three pages long that’s news to us,” Barney said. Still, he said his department sent some information to the FBI to analyze. “The results came back as inconclusive,” he said. “She doesn’t have any information, and (absent any new information from the final review) there is no indication of foul play.”

If the cause of death remains a suicide the investigation report will become immediately public. In the apparently unlikely event that it is reclassified as a homicide, the investigation will remain ongoing and no part of it will be public. Barney said he expects the investigation to wrap up “in a couple weeks.”

Barney stressed that the Hartz family has cooperated fully with the investigation. “The family is really nice, I feel for them,” he said, adding, “It’s typical for families to say it’s [suicide is] out of character because they are in shock. It’s one of those unfortunate cases.”

The Shine On Farms website has been pulled down, but there’s something poignant about how Leo Hartz rhapsodized about his farm in a back issue of Emerald Magazine.

“We plant accordingly to what people want and need…that provides medicine and enjoyment for folks. It is definitely time to come out of the shadows and off the hill — let the light be seen. One way or another, we are just farming a plant. Times are changing.”

Ms. Ebert added, “We are excited to be out in the open about what our lives are about and to finally be recognized for what we are: farmers, not criminals. It’s a beautiful experience to connect with the patients in person at the various cannabis farmers markets and at events as opposed to just selling to dispensaries.”

Sounds like paradise, doesn’t it?

* * *

Leo M. Hartz III, 39, a native of Williamsport, passed away on Oct. 8, 2016, on his farm in Northern California.

He was born Aug. 11, 1977, the son of Dr. Leo Hartz (Debra Hartz), of Fla., and Patricia Kane (Robert E. Kane Jr.), of Williamsport. He left behind his longtime girlfriend and business partner, Janae Ebert, of California.

Leo Hartz

Leo graduated from Bishop Neumann High School in Williamsport in 1995. He was a wonderful athlete and was voted MVP of the school’s soccer team under coach Lovecchio. He later graduated from Penn State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. Shortly after graduation he moved to California to pursue working with the land.

Leo was passionate about his beliefs and gave one hundred percent to everything he did. He truly wanted to make a difference. He fulfilled his life’s passion as the proprietor of “Shine On Farms” in Mendocino County, Calif. As a proud member of The Emerald Growers Association, California grower’s Association, and Biodynamics Association of Northern California, he lived by a firm philosophy of putting more into the land than you take out.

His family and many many friends in Williamsport remember his big smile, his strength and conviction, his sense of humor, his unending energy to live in the moment, and how gentle and kind he could be to those around him.

Leo is survived by his brother, Justin Hartz, of Williamsport; his sister, Dr. Cara Brynne Hartz, of Seattle, Wash.; his step brother, Russell Hartz (Suzy), of Philadelphia; his step brother, Edward Hartz (Andy), of Portland, Ore.; his step sister, Kristen Kane, of Washington D.C.; along with nine nieces and nephews and many aunts and uncles.

A funeral mass will be held at St. Joseph The Worker Parish, corner of Walnut and West Fourth streets. Williamsport, on Tuesday, Nov. 22, at 11 a.m. This will be followed by a memorial luncheon in the St. Joseph the Worker Parish Hall. All friends and family are welcome.

Leo loved his dogs and therefore donations can be made in his honor to the Lycoming County SPCA.

(Submitted by family. Courtesy, Williamsport Sun-Gazette.)


  1. Denny January 9, 2018

    This is a ridiculous article, if it even qualifies as such. You should do some basic research into your articles. The obituary posted here is barely any better than the story with the facts, such as: Leo was born on APRIL 11, 1977, and died on approximately October 5, 2016 (the last day anyone reported seeing him alive), his body was discovered on October 7th, 2016. Russell and Edward were Leo’s HALF-Brothers, not step-brothers.

    And, it was a sign of affection in their family that the in-laws simply referred to each other as Brother/Sister. Really doesn’t sound that mysterious to me. Maybe since there’s an investigation going on, it’s better for the family who loved him not to talk to the press, if this ridiculous article is considered press. Gossip in a fish-wrap, is more like it.

    It’s almost as bad as the garbage rumor column you printed when Leo first passed, with citations of Leo being hung upside down and all sorts of things that should not be reported on unless known to be true. Shame on you for disparaging this family and the memory of one of my best friends.

  2. Bruce Anderson January 10, 2018

    Good lord. The obit was from Leo’s hometown paper, not us. And we did not write he was found “upside down” or anything remotely like that. There is not an ongoing investigation into Leo’s death because there was nothing suspicious about it. He killed himself. Write back when you know what you’re talking about.

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