HAMBURG, N.Y. (WIVB) - A co-worker of Laurence Wells, the assistant store manager at Toys R Us in Hamburg who was stabbed to death, was arrested Wednesday and charged with the second degree murder.
Bernard Grucza has pleaded not guilty to charges he viciously stabbed Wells to death last June. The 38-year-old, who worked as the regional asset protection manager in charge of loss prevention, was taken into custody on Wednesday. News 4 has learned DNA was used to connect Grucza to the murder.
Police say several pieces of evidence found over the past few weeks led them to Grucza, who was arrested at the home of an acquaintance in Allegany. The FBI was involved in that search as well as the search of a home in Elma. Police say they found more valuable evidence on Wednesday.
Hamburg Police Capt. Kevin Trask said, "Over the past two weeks, several pieces of evidence led us to intensify our focus on a person of interest. He was always on the radar but it was a matter of having too much info to pour through until it finally got focused on him."
Authorities say they believed all along this was an inside job. Surveillance video shows the suspect holding a knife as he entered the store around 4 a.m. on June 29, then entering the manager's office and shutting the door. The surveillance system was then turned off.
Wells entered the office shortly thereafter and was greeted by the killer. After repeatedly stabbing Wells, the suspect fled, leaving behind a single clue: a 2007 NCAA Florida Gators championship baseball hat.
Grucza was at the scene of the crime the day Wells was murdered, speaking to police and hugging fellow employees.
"He was the regional manager, so he had information. We talked to him on a regular basis about the investigation," Capt. Trask said.
Though Grucza worked with Wells regularly, police say they do not believe the two had a relationship outside of work. After the murder, Grucza went on leave.
Capt. Trask says Grucza never tried to fool police during their investigation and police say he was not initially a suspect. However News 4 has learned Grucza graduated from St. Francis High School in 1993 and went to Canisius College, where he earned a bachelor's degree in criminalistics and criminal science. And four years ago, Grucza and his wife filed for bankruptcy protection.
Some of the co-workers News 4 spoke with after the Grucza's arrest said they did not believe he was violent, but his arrest history says otherwise.
The Erie County Sheriff's Office say Grucza was arrested on June 8, days before Wells murder, on harassment and a weapons possession charge in Elma related to a domestic incident. Deputies confiscated a Berretta 9MM handgun during that incident that Grucza's illegally possessed. Authorities say Grucza spent a week in the Holding Center before being bailed out.
Grucza pleaded guilty on August 26 to those charges and is due back in court to be sentenced on November 25.
Neighbors tell News 4 after this incident, they did not see Grucza around very often. He was arrested at the home of an acquaintance in Allegany on Wednesday, but it's unclear how much time he spent there. Neighbors say a woman in her 30s lives in the home, but has only been there for around a month.
Wells left behind a wife, a daughter and another child on the way. His widow Jill sent this message Wednesday to News 4's Lou Raguse, "We are so relieved and glad, but it doesn't bring Larry back we just wish it would. We hope the person gets put away for life! So shaky right now we can't think."
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