3 charged in death of business owner

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

WAPPAPELLO, Mo. -- Three area residents were charged Monday in the shooting death of the owner of Bud's Country Store at Wappapello.

Gary Lee "Bud" Ayers, 52, of Wappapello was found dead inside his store on Highway T at about 7 p.m. Feb. 22 by a Butler County sheriff's deputy who responded to an alarm sounding at the store.

Since that time members of the sheriff's office and the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Division of Drug and Crime Control have reportedly followed up on hundreds of leads.

The result of their extensive investigation was the filing of second-degree murder and armed criminal action charges against Jason Lee Lovell, 22, of Dexter, Mo., Michael Floyd Croy, 28, of Gideon, Mo., and Donald Ray Phillips, 49, of Poplar Bluff. The three are being held without bond in the Butler County Jail.

Court records indicate Ayers was shot with a shotgun during a burglary at the store on Feb. 22.

Chief deputy Rick Sliger said a witness provided information that he was southbound on Highway T and was going to pull into the store at about 6:45 that night when he thought the store was closed, so he continued on Highway T.

"The witness stated that a shiny new red car passed him in a curve, traveling southbound at a high rate of speed," Sliger said.

Suspect interviewed

As the investigation progressed, Croy, Phillips and Lovell became suspects from information that Lovell had contacted a business owner in Fisk, Mo., to purchase a gun, Sliger said, adding: "The reason for the purchase of the gun was that Lovell told the business owner that Donald Phillips and Michael Croy had killed the guy at the lake and he was afraid they were going to kill him also."

During an interview, Lovell admitted his involvement in the crime along with Phillips and Croy.

Lovell told police that Croy was the driver of Croy's red Oldsmobile Achieva, which matched the description of the vehicle given by the witness the night of the murder.

Lovell told police he agreed to take part in the crime for drugs.

Lovell told officers he and Phillips had entered the store and Croy drove the car, Sliger said. "Jason also stated that while in the store, he and Donald Phillips were confronted by the victim in the office area of the store," Sliger said. "Lovell stated that Donald shot the victim, Bud Ayers."

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