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Store owner is gunned down

Monday, February 25, 2002

WAPPAPELLO - The owner of Bud's Country Store was murdered Friday apparently after surprising someone inside the store shortly after it had closed.

Gary Lee "Bud" Ayers, 52, of Wappapello was pronounced dead at the scene from a single gunshot wound to the chest, according to Butler County Coroner Larry Cotrell.

The Butler County Sheriff's Department was alerted to the store, located on Highway T about five miles south of Wappapello, after a burglar alarm sounded at 6:52 p.m.

According to Chief Deputy Rick Sliger, when Deputy Eddie Redmond arrived at the scene he saw a white pickup on the parking lot with a door open. The truck was not running and was later determined to be Ayers'.

Redmond found the front door to the building unlocked. He went inside to secure the store and found Ayers' body in an office area at the rear of the business.

After checking the victim for vital signs and finding none, Redmond called for backup and emergency services, Sliger said. The coroner's office also was notified and assistant coroner Bruce Goin responded.

Ayers appeared to have been killed with a single shotgun wound to the chest, Sliger said. A shotgun and a semiautomatic handgun were found at the scene.

Sliger said the shotgun appears to have been the murder weapon, "but it can't be confirmed until we get lab results back."

Authorities speculate Ayers closed the store, then returned a short time later and confronted an individual inside the business.

"We found no evidence of forced entry," Sliger said. "There's a possibility a door could have been left unlocked."

Robbery appeared to be the motive, Sliger said.

"It appears some amount of cash and receipts are unaccounted for," Sliger said, although there's "no satisfactory estimation as to the amount missing."

While there was a safe in the office, authorities did not say where the suspected stolen receipts were located.

Sliger said authorities are unsure if there was one or more suspects involved.

"At this point," Sliger said, "evidence does not suggest any specific suspect."

A residence behind the store is unoccupied, Sliger said, however, "we have canvassed the neighborhood" and "talked to a few individuals who actually heard the gunshot.

"We're not limiting any possibilities," but "at present we have found nothing to suggest there is any connection (that Ayers might have known his killer)."

Shortly after deputies secured the scene and the area, Sheriff Bill Heaton requested assist from the Highway Patrol investigation team.

"The Sheriff's Department is working side by side with this investigation team," Sliger said. "The cooperation they have extended to us has been outstanding. They are a very professional group of guys."

He said being assisted by the patrol's investigators "enables us to draw on resources through the Highway Patrol that will be a tremendous benefit that will help bring about a successful conclusion to this investigation."

Sliger said his office has been "inundated with leads to follow up on. We are following through on all leads. "We strongly urge anyone who saw (or might know) something to share that information with us," Sliger continued. "We have received a lot of information from citizens in the area that has been helpful."

An autopsy of the victim was scheduled Sunday at Mineral Area Hospital at Farmington.