Rufus Church (family photo)

It was one year ago today that a businessman from the Ozarks was found shot to death in a service bay of the car dealership he owned.

An employee reporting to work at Ozark Dodge in the early morning hours of March 23, 2009, discovered 56 year-old Rufus Church dead from a gunshot wound to the chest, a shotgun lay not far from the man's body.

Some have called Church's death a suicide, others a murder--but what we do know is that the circumstances surrounding Church's death remain cloaked in mystery. The official cause of death was changed on his death certificate, and authorities remain tight lipped about their investigation.

The Ozark Police Department brought in investigators with the Highway Patrol early on in the investigation to utilize resources not readily available to small departments. The day after Church was found dead, a search warrant was served at the dealership. The search warrant indicated that investigators recovered broken glass inside the dealership. Detectives also collected blood, hair, guns, shell casings, cell phones, computers and other documents looking for leads in the case.
Ozark Dodge image courtesy of Christian County Headliner

The day after Church's death Ozark police chief Lyle Hodges said, " We are investigating Mr. Church's death as a homicide, but we haven't ruled out suicide."

An insider close to the case says, "It is very unlikely that the shotgun blast that killed Church was self-inflicted." That same insider notes that suspicious death investigations can turn on a dime.

Several days after Church's death the car dealerships that he co-owned, Ozark Dodge and Heritage Chrysler-Jeep, were liquidating their, inventory. By the end of April, Church's business partner, Don Burk, and his widow, Kay Church, announced that the tanking economy forced them to close the dealerships.

In May of 2009, the coroner for Christian County, Arthur Adams, amended Church's death certificate saying, "I amended the original death certificate that I signed regarding Rufus Church from homicide to pending investigation after information was brought to me by the Highway Patrol and the Ozark Police Department."

In July ballistic and toxicology tests were back from the state crime lab in Jefferson City. By this time Highway Patrol Sgt. Dan Bracker had become the spokesperson for all departments regarding the investigation into Church's death. "I cannot comment on what the evidence or results are because it involves an ongoing investigation."

Six months after Churchs death, Bracker said the patrol had four to five investigators on the case, "We have recently followed up on some leads out of state." I believe the public wants investigators with the patrol to come to the right conclusion...we owe that to the family and to the citizens of Missouri,"

Christian County prosecutor Ron Cleek said at the time that authorities continue to follow leads and asked that the public be patient with investigators. "I know this case is very frustrating for the public, but we need to let trained investigators do their jobs. People think that in the era of CSI that suspicious death investigations can be wrapped up quickly.....that's not always the case."
Christian County prosecutor Ron Cleek

On November 17, 2009, Church's business partner, 49 year-old Donald R. Burk, was killed in a fiery car crash just to the south of Urbana. According to the Missouri Highway Patrol crash report, Burk was southbound at 6:08 a.m. when his vehicle crossed the center line and collided with a tractor trailer operated by Donald Creekmore, 51, of Joplin. Police say that Burk's 2006 Jeep landed in a ditch where it caught fire and burned the man to death.

Christian County Prosecutor Ron Cleek told The Ozarks Sentinel at the time, "Nobody was taken off the radar in the Rufus Church death investigation, and that included Burk."

Sgt. Bracker told the Sentinel last week that the patrol is at a standstill in the investigation, "We need a break in the case and are asking that anyone who may have any information regarding Mr. Church's death to call us."

Cleek says he plans to hold a news conference next week to discuss developments in the investigation.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

OZARK PD IS A FREAKING JOKE THEY KNOW, WITH EVERY SANE PERSON THAT THIS WAS A SUICIDE, AS SOON AS THEY CALL IT A SUICIDE, NO MORE MURDER CASE AND, BACK TO CHICKEN THIEVES AND, WHAT NOT, THE ABSOLUTE MOST CORRUPT POLICE FORCE IN THE OZARKS....STEVE

Hurricane said...

KB, other than checking the impression left by the firing pin on the empty shotgun shell casing against the firing pin in the shotgun no other ballistics testing can be done with a shotgun that I know of. There would be no slug recovered from Mr. Church's body with lands & grooves to be compared against those in a barrel like in a rifle or pistol.

Why amend the death certificate from homicide to pending when LE was clearly looking at this case as a homicide?

Owning a Chrysler-Jeep dealership why was Burk driving a 2006 Jeep the morning he died? Why was he not driving a new 2009 unless he drove the older model because he planned to cross the centerline and committ suicide?

Anonymous said...

That is my uncle you are talking about!!!! And because if you would pay attention the company went under. He could not get a new one!!!! He had 2 beautiful girls and a family who loved him very much. He did not commit suicide. He had no reason to.

Anonymous said...

An odd timeline of Mr. Burk and his wife filing for divorce 2 days after Mr. Church is found dead.

Anonymous said...

We had a neighbor who was from "Oklahoma" named "Tom" who was in the "Car Business" who was in town during this and left shortly thereafter. Find out who Tom is, he did it.

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