A Newton County New Jersey pet store owner was kidnapped Friday night (01-08-10) and driven through the night to Missouri by three armed abductors.
Federal and local authorities are still investigating the incident, in which Jeffrey Muller, 59, of Frankford was allegedly targeted by the men, all from Missouri.
The suspects allegedly approached pet store owner Jeff Muller, 59, of Newton, N.J., outside his business there Friday morning and asked if he was Jeff Muller, according to Newton Police Chief John Tomasula. When Muller said "yes," they zapped him with a stun gun and bound his hands and feet, authorities said.
Muller had gone to work to open his store at about 8 a.m. Friday. Newton police said that when his wife arrived at 10:30 a.m., the store was locked, her husband was nowhere to be found, and some of his personal belongings — including his bagged lunch and his glasses — lying in a parking lot.
His alleged kidnappers drove west out of New Jersey, holding a gun to his head and falsely telling Muller their group was also holding his wife captive at the couple’s Newton home before their car broke down in Lake Ozark, MO.
Officials at first said they didn't know why someone would target Muller, but now they are saying they believe it was a case of mistaken identity.
Newton Police Chief John Tomasula said Sunday that six of his officers had flown out to Missouri for the investigation, and two would be coming back with Muller on Sunday night. Muller had signs of assault, including a black eye, Tomasula said.
Muller was rescued outside a Missouri convenience store after he managed to free his hands and run when two of the men went inside to look for car parts.
Douglas Stangeland, 46, of Nevada, Mo.; Lonnie Eugene Swarnes, 44, and Andrew David Wadel, 21 both of Rich Hill, are being held in the Miller County Jail on kidnapping charges from New Jersey with no bond, Lake Ozark police said.
Charges are pending in Missouri for felonious restraint, assault and armed criminal action, Lake Ozark police said.
Vernon County Sheriff Ron Peckman says the trio are, "bumbling idiots....they have apparently kidnapped the wrong person." Peckman says his department is activling investigating if the three men are responsible for a home invasion in November in which the homeowner was shot in the hand.
Tomasula said there is no known connection between Muller and his alleged captors. He said the men targeted Muller, and that "extensive planning" had gone into the abduction.
"This is a very serious case," Tomasula said. "I'm confident that it'll be a far-reaching investigation."
Tomasula said earlier this weekend that the FBI is involved in the investigation. Representatives of the Missouri and New Jersey regional FBI offices could not be reached Sunday.
Tomasula said two of the abductors went inside, and Muller was able to get his hands free and attempted to escape.
The men were restraining Muller in the parking lot when a clerk at the convenience store saw the attack and called 9-1-1 before 8 a.m., Newton police said.
Authorities said none of the men had attorneys and all are being held without bond.