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Monday, Sep. 1, 2014

No suspects yet in murder of businessman

Tuesday, February 26, 2002

WAPPAPELLO -- Investigators are working around the clock to find the person or persons responsible for the shotgun death of the owner of Bud's Country Store.

Gary Lee "Bud" Ayers, 52, of Wappapello was found dead inside his store on Highway T at about 7 p.m. Friday by a Butler County deputy who responded to an alarm sounding there.

Ayers' body was found in an office area in the rear of the business.

Since that time the sheriff's department and the Missouri State Highway Patrol have been "following up on leads and generating even more leads," said Butler County Chief Deputy Rick Sliger.

An autopsy was performed Sunday afternoon on Ayers' body by Dr. Russell Deidiker at Mineral Area Hospital in Farmington.

"The cause of death was the shotgun, a single shot," said Butler County Coroner Larry Cotrell. "Entry was in the upper right chest. It went right through the heart."

Cotrell described Ayers' death as being instantaneous. "It will be several weeks before we get the lab results back," he said.

Authorities believe Ayers surprised someone inside the store shortly after it had closed.

"It's our understanding that he had been closing at 6 o'clock in the evening," said Sliger. "There had been some discussion of perhaps closing in the neighborhood of 7 (p.m.).

"Apparently the incident occurred around 7 o'clock."

Sliger said they "don't believe he even left the parking lot (after closing the store)."

Ayers' pickup, which was not running, was found on the parking lot just in front of the store's front door, Sliger said. The driver's door was open and its headlights were on.

Authorities believe Ayers' truck was not running because he needed a key off his key ring to open the store's front door.

According to Sliger, the store's security system had been activated in the store that night.

"It appears the victim decided to go back in and tripped the alarm as he opened the front door," Sliger said. "The alarm company in turn notified our office and we responded to a burglar alarm at the business."

Sliger said investigators believe the suspect was already in the store when Ayers re-entered.

There were no signs of forced entry at any of the other entry points, he said.

"There was an area off the side of the rear office in which a subject could have hid," Sliger said. "It was a storage room off the office."

Sliger described that space as being "enough hiding area for one person."

Authorities found a shotgun and a semiautomatic handgun at the scene.

Although the sheriff's department has not received the autopsy report yet, "we believe that shotgun to be the murder weapon," Sliger said. "Until it's confirmed by the lab, we're not for sure."

Sliger said the shotgun was owned by Ayers and was one that he kept in the store. "The handgun is also believed to be the victim's," he said. "He normally kept it near the front of the store."

According to Sliger, there were no signs of a struggle inside the business.

"The Missouri State Highway Patrol has been an integral part of the investigation since the beginning," Sliger said. "Sheriff (Bill) Heaton requested their assistance Friday evening after we got the call."

Evidence technician Donwell Clark, as well as highway patrol technicians, spent several hours at the crime scene gathering evidence, Sliger said.

"There was a videotape surveillance camera" in the store, Sliger said.

"We have been reviewing the tape to exact any evidence that might be pertinent to us."

Highway patrol investigators with its Division of Drug and Crime Control and Butler County officers have been "working literally 24 hours a day to generate as much knowledge and information about this investigation as possible," Sliger said.

As far as suspect(s), Sliger said, they are not ruling out anyone. "Anything is possible," he said.

In the hours since the crime, Sliger said, investigators have been talking to all the citizens in the area and people who were passing on the highway in front of the store.

"We've not excluded anyone," he said. "We're gathering as much information as we can.

"There will be a time in the investigation where we will narrow our focus, but at this point we're generating as much information about the incident as possible."

Originally, "we believed there was a possibility that this was a burglary that ended up in a homicide after Bud confronted someone who was hidden," Sliger said. "However, we're being very careful not to limit in our investigation to just that possibility.

"We're taking a look at several different scenarios that could be explained by the evidence at the scene."

Sliger said authorities don't believe there is a connection between this incident and a burglary/armed robbery at Crum's Trading Post on Highway T in early December.

"At this time, we don't believe there is a connection to this crime with any other crime in the county," Sliger said.

"We'll let the evidence at the scene speak to us.

"We're not drawing conclusions that are not supported by the evidence at the store."

Sliger said the sheriff's department is going to use all of its resources, as well as those of the highway patrol to "bring a successful conclusion (to this case) as soon as possible."