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00:00: Hey everybody welcome back to our podcast. This is Murder with my husband. I'm Peyton Moreland.
00:04: And I'm Garrett Moreland. And he's the husband.
00:06: I'm the husband. Before we hop into the episode just for your mind are the Apple subscriptions
00:09: are ad free and you get bonus episodes and same with Patreon. You can check that out on Apple
00:14: or on Patreon if you're interested. All right we're ready for your 10 seconds.
00:18: Well Peyton and I are actually going to Disneyland this week.
00:22: So we are pretty excited about that. We're actually recording this episode a little
00:26: head to give us some some free time as the holidays come up. But when this comes out,
00:31: we'll be going to Disneyland. So we're pretty excited about that. Couple of shows we've
00:35: been watching. We've started Wednesday. We're watching season three of Dead To Me Wednesdays.
00:41: Really good. We've been loving that. If you're not watching on YouTube, I have my hair
00:46: and braids this week to honor Wednesday. As a tribute to Wednesday. And the last thing
00:50: for my 10 seconds is last night, Peyton and I both couldn't sleep because I need to
00:56: I need you to stop this podcast.
00:57: I'm sorry, everyone.
00:58: I'm gonna have to stop doing the podcast.
01:00: I'm not gonna be in it anymore.
01:02: I apologize.
01:03: I love you all because last night,
01:05: I woke up in the middle of the night.
01:07: What time is it?
01:08: Like 1 a.m.
01:09: Because our door somehow opened.
01:11: The door to our bedroom, which was close.
01:13: Literally.
01:14: Yeah.
01:15: I don't know.
01:15: I don't even want to think about it too much
01:16: or everything, but somehow our door just opened.
01:18: And then literally the entire night,
01:20: I was just ready to fight whoever was gonna come through the door.
01:23: And because of that, I couldn't sleep the entire night.
01:26: I couldn't sleep either because it opened up so loud, it popped open.
01:30: Yeah.
01:31: Which it normally does.
01:32: You kind of have to push it to get it open.
01:34: I was like, someone's gonna come in.
01:35: I'm gonna have to fight someone.
01:36: And it woke us both up out of our slumber.
01:39: We both looked up at the door at the same time.
01:42: I literally was sleeping on my back, which I hardly do.
01:44: And I just opened.
01:46: And I was like, what is it going on?
01:48: So anyways, if I'm not on here next week, you know why.
01:51: And on that note, we'll hop into this week's episode.
01:53: RKSources are legacy.com, bidsjournalz.com, buffalonews.com, oxygen.com, 9.com.au, and newspapers.com.
02:02: Today we are going to be talking about Toys R Us, which is a toy store in America if you are unfamiliar.
02:10: And this chain previous to 2020 had been struggling for a while, like a lot of brick and mortar
02:16: retail stores in the age of Amazon and online shopping.
02:20: had been declining for years, leading to the chain filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy back
02:25: in 2017. And this came after five consecutive years of not turning a profit. So they had
02:32: already begun shutting down stores years ago, with the last remaining storefront shut down
02:38: in 2021. But if there's a bright side, it's that the brand isn't totally dead. You can still shop
02:44: at the Toys RS website. And now as of this year, the chain opened many stores inside 400
02:51: Macy's locations across the US. I did not know that. Me either. But you might say it's a bit
02:57: of a downgrade if you knew the original Toys RS. It's like crashing on a friend's couch after
03:02: getting evicted. But for anyone with fond memories of this brand, at least it's still around,
03:07: like at least it still exists. And our story today, in fact, does take place at a Toys R.S. store.
03:14: And it centers on the last thing you might expect to find at Toys R.S. a murder.
03:20: But it's the first thing that you'd expect tuning into murder with my husband.
03:23: So if we're talking about Toys R.S. chances are it's because someone died there.
03:28: So there, now you already know what's inside today's episode before we've even gotten into it.
03:33: but I think you'll still find a fair number of surprises in store for you, so let's discuss it.
03:38: Today's story takes us to Hamburg, New York. It's a suburb just outside Buffalo,
03:43: 10 miles to the south, just a bridge away from Canada, and less than an hour's drive from Niagara Falls.
03:49: Now Hamburg is considered by its residents to be an ideal place to live,
03:53: and to raise a family, a place where violent crime is virtually non-existent.
03:58: And I know it's cliche, and we say it all the time, but a lot of Hamburg's residents
04:03: don't even lock their doors at night. So it's June 29, 2013, early in the morning before dawn.
04:11: Stockers are working the warehouse at the Toys RS store on McKinley Parkway at the edge of town.
04:17: Isaac Mallet-Loyd and Cindy O'Connell have been working through the night
04:21: unloading merchandise to stock the shelves for the upcoming week. Larry Wells, the store manager,
04:27: arrives at 3.55am to help unload the truck and get the store ready for opening.
04:33: The next employee to arrive is Anthony Armstrong, who gets to the front door at 4.53am,
04:39: and radios to Larry, his manager, to be let in. The store hasn't opened yet, keep in mind,
04:44: so the doors are locked and the manager has to unlock them to let employees inside the store.
04:50: Now Larry, the manager, lets Anthony inside the store, and that means now Isaac, Cindy,
04:55: Anthony and Larry are all now inside of the new Toys RS working. Shortly after Larry lets Anthony in.
05:03: Another store employee named Richard Shepard gets there, showing up to work a little bit late just after 5am.
05:11: Now Richard radios Larry to let him in just like Anthony had done. But unlike Anthony, Larry doesn't respond to Richard.
05:19: This leads Richard to walk the perimeter of the Toys RS to knock on the side door.
05:24: But once he reaches it, he finds the side door open, which is surprising to him.
05:28: This wasn't something they did. They usually kept all of the doors closed.
05:32: But anyway, he goes inside, he punches the clock, and he starts work as usual.
05:37: And like most Toys RS stores, this is a huge building.
05:42: I mean Toys RS for me growing up was like heaven.
05:46: Oh, huge you go in there and any toy you want is there and the ceilings are so high in the aisles are so long
05:53: It literally is like heaven for a child if you're not in the US. It's kind of hard to picture
05:58: But if you're in the US, it's I assume everyone who's listening already knows what toys are as if you're outside the US
06:04: There was this store that I used to go to all the time in Spain. I think it was called a medium art
06:11: It's basically like a best-by version in the US
06:14: but it's like medium-art if medium-art only had toys.
06:18: Barbies, cars, GI Joe, just anything.
06:20: Neurigons, anything.
06:22: Bikes, helmets, anything that a kid can want, toys RS had.
06:27: And so this is the type of building that Richard is walking into.
06:31: So these employees are off doing their own thing,
06:34: stocking different departments, which is why Richard doesn't find it odd
06:38: that he hasn't run into any other employees yet once entering the building.
06:43: At around 5.40am, Isaac, one of the first employees who arrived that morning, begins hearing
06:49: this repetitive noise that sounds like an alarm going off somewhere in the store.
06:54: And it starts to get on his nerves so he picks up his walkie-talkie and he radios the manager.
07:00: Larry, would you turn off that alarm it's driving me nuts? But Larry doesn't copy, so Isaac
07:05: radios again and once more gets no response. So he then radios Cindy and asks her to go find
07:12: manager Larry and get him to turn off the alarm. Sure, she says I'll go check. And I have to pause
07:18: here because this situation reminds me so much of that scene in final destination where the email
07:24: couple is working in that hardware store and they're stalking the shelves after hours and one of
07:28: them gets nailed to death by that nail gun. I haven't seen this. What? Yeah. I don't think I've ever
07:35: really watched an entire final destination, but let's keep going. Don't they don't get two side
07:38: Okay, well, if you say it, you know what I'm talking about? Super big building. You can't really like no one knows where everyone is and this is the
07:46: atmosphere I'm getting thinking of all of these employees inside this huge toy store knowing the others are there, but not being able to see them because they're so far apart.
07:54: Okay, so about a minute after asking Cindy to go grab Larry to turn off the alarm. Isaac hears Cindy scream.
08:02: So, he runs towards the manager's office following the screen, and inside he sees Larry, the manager.
08:09: On a chair, either dead or unconscious, bleeding from what looks like a bullet wound to his chest.
08:16: Cindy reaches to pick up the phone receiver, but notices that it's already off the hook.
08:20: It seems as though Larry had already tried to call for help, but passed out in the process.
08:26: Now, freaking out, Cindy quickly dials 911 as the rest of the employees gather around
08:30: because of the commotion. She's crying and trembling as she tells 911 to send help right
08:35: away. She thinks her manager has been shocked and she doesn't know if he's dead or alive.
08:40: The four employees, Isaac, Cindy, Anthony and Richard, then evacuate into the parking
08:45: lawn in case the shooter or whatever happened is still inside of the store. Help arrives
08:51: about five minutes later. The first officer at the scene checks Larry's pulse and even
08:55: Even though Larry is non-responsive, his heart is still beating.
09:00: Paramedics strap him into an ambulance and rush him to Mercy Hospital, but sadly, it's too late to save him.
09:06: Larry Wells is pronounced dead from blood loss, resulting from three stab wounds.
09:12: So as it turns out, he had not been shot as Cindy had originally thought but he was stabbed.
09:17: Okay, so they found him in the chair, almost dead, and did they find anyone else around him?
09:24: Larry Wells was only 35 years old and he left behind a pregnant wife.
09:29: Oh my gosh.
09:30: Police knew that the only way to figure out what had happened once they cleared the building
09:34: was to first get to know the victim who his Larry Wells and why had he been stabbed.
09:39: Now Lawrence C. Wells, the second, he was known as Larry to everyone else who knew him,
09:44: had met his wife Jill when they were both in the 9th grade at Pine Valley Central School
09:49: and they were obviously high school sweethearts.
09:51: And then they both attended SUNY at Fredonia where they were college sweethearts.
09:56: And this set the tone for their relationship.
09:59: Larry and his wife did everything together, pretty much all of the time.
10:04: Larry graduated from SUNY with a degree in elementary education and went on to earn a master's from Walden University.
10:10: He had a passion for working with children.
10:13: He worked for a few years as a tutor and a substitute teacher teaching elementary school children.
10:18: The times were tough and Larry had a hard time landing a permanent teaching job.
10:22: The students he taught regularly remembered him fondly though.
10:25: He had a kind and nurturing heart, his wife would later recall that quote, when he was a
10:29: teacher, if he had a little kid who had problems at home, he would take them under his wing
10:34: and make sure that they had the best possible life they could have at school if they weren't getting it at home.
10:39: But Larry also wanted to have children on his own.
10:41: He wanted to buy a house with his wife and start a family.
10:45: So he needed to make ends meet and find secure and steady work.
10:49: In 2006, he began working for Toys R Us, and his warm empathetic personality and upbeat
10:54: attitude made him likeable to everyone he worked with.
10:58: And what had begun as a temporary sort of Plan B situation for Larry became a second
11:03: career as he got promoted from employee to manager.
11:06: By the time his wife gave birth to their daughter Maddie in 2009, he was pretty well positioned.
11:12: And even though he worked long hours, often going into work at four or five in the morning,
11:16: even on weekends, he spent every free moment he could with his family.
11:21: He and Little Matty were regulars at Chuck E. Cheese and Bounce Magic, which was an indoor playground.
11:26: Chuck E. Cheese.
11:27: And they made frequent visits to the neighborhood park together.
11:29: I've actually never been to Chuck E. Cheese.
11:31: Oh, I'm going to take you.
11:32: My parents hated me.
11:34: I'm just kidding.
11:35: But needless to say, these were happy years for the Wells family.
11:38: I mean, toys are us, Chuck E. Cheese.
11:41: magic, especially going into 2013. That's when Jill learned that she was pregnant again.
11:48: And that's when the family made some special memories with a summer vacation to Myrtle Beach.
11:52: But now, in the early morning hours of June 29, 2013, their family was shattered forever by an
11:59: unknown assailant's knife. Police were processing the scene at Toys R Us as the other store employees
12:04: began showing up for work. Shocked to learn that their beloved manager Larry had died a violent death
12:11: at their workplace, which was now sealed off with yellow crime scene tape.
12:15: Before we get too far into it, I feel like there has to be cameras.
12:18: It's 2013. Right, a Toys or Russ, right, a retail store.
12:23: There has to be cameras. Please tell me I'm right.
12:26: Oh, just you, wait, Gary.
12:27: All right.
12:28: The initial suspects at this point were obviously the four employees who were at the store when Larry was stabbed.
12:35: It kind of feels like a big game of clue.
12:37: Like, all four of these employees are here and none of them knew what happened to him,
12:40: but he ended up stabbed. Police immediately interviewed each of them. Cindy, of course, was the first to find Larry,
12:47: so that kind of made her a prime suspect. Richard was late to work and couldn't offer up any kind of alibi as to why.
12:54: Isaac, they noticed, seemed nervous, and evasive, and Anthony acted strangely and actually refused to cooperate or answer any questions.
13:03: The police really wanted to view the surveillance tapes from the cameras inside of the store.
13:08: So they called Larry's boss.
13:11: Hopefully he might give them access to the videos.
13:13: So yes, there are surveillance cameras inside.
13:16: Bernard Grouchka was the vice president for loss control for the region.
13:21: It was he who had hired Larry for his manager position.
13:25: Now when Bernard got to the Toys RS parking lot,
13:27: he hugged and consoled the other employees.
13:30: And then led police inside the building into the manager's office
13:33: where the surveillance system was set up.
13:36: They began viewing the videos from the stores at various surveillance cameras, hoping it would give them the answers that they were looking for.
13:43: But little did they know. It was about to make things a whole lot more confusing.
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15:06: Garrett, you know what I just love about the holidays.
15:10: I know what you love about the holidays.
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15:13: Food.
15:14: Food, meat, all the same.
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16:26: Mm-hmm.
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17:11: The video showed that at 4.20am that morning, roughly 25 minutes after Larry Wells had arrived at work,
17:17: a male subject used some kind of instrument to manipulate the lock and gain entry into the store through the baby's R.S. section.
17:26: Okay.
17:27: The surveillance videos were really grainy and low resolution,
17:31: so it was difficult to make out a lot of detail.
17:34: But the man was apparently wearing a mask, a scarf,
17:37: and a black and gold baseball cap,
17:39: and sweatpants was some kind of lettering down the side.
17:43: And his hands was what appeared to be a knife or another sharp instrument.
17:47: And he appeared to be snaking through the aisles
17:51: of Toys R Us like a ninja trying to dodge the surveillance cameras.
17:55: Oh my gosh.
17:56: Okay.
17:57: And then at 4.36 am, this individual walked into the manager's office and closed the door behind him.
18:05: Three minutes later, the videos stopped.
18:08: So apparently this man had gone in the office and pulled the plug on the DVR surveillance system and disabled it.
18:15: So it's obviously someone who works there because who else knows how to do that.
18:20: It was assumed that sometime after that, Larry Wells then entered the office with the man hiding inside of it, and that's when the man stabbed him with whatever weapon he was seeing carrying.
18:32: Bernard, the lost prevention VP and boss, told the police he had no idea who the subject in the video could possibly be.
18:39: And now realizing it was most likely none of the other four employees in the store because they saw them stalking shelves and other parts.
18:47: Investigators on the scene then had those employees look at the video and ask if they recognized the man either they are
18:53: Assuming as well as you did this has to be someone who notes this store did no one else hear anything like how far
18:59: Ways the office from where they were stalking shelves like it'll understand how that's not possible
19:04: No one heard any any commotion anything happening in the office
19:07: It wasn't until Cindy went in and screamed that they even knew something was wrong
19:12: And it also seems like no one who was working at the store that morning while the intruder was there snaking through the aisles
19:19: So he literally got in and out of this store with no one even knowing he had showed up
19:23: The only other significant detail the police could glean from the video was that the man was between 5 foot 9 and 5 foot 11
19:30: Which was not that hard to figure out based on the height of the shelves that he was walking past now during their search
19:36: The police found would appear to be a key piece of evidence
19:40: The black and gold baseball cap the killer had been wearing was found at the scene.
19:44: He'd apparently dropped it in the manager's office right next to where Larry was found.
19:49: It was a 2007 Florida Gators Championship hat, but again, none of the employees recognized it or could think of anyone who had worn it.
19:57: The Hamburg police released the surveillance video footage and a picture of the hat in case someone in the community might recognize anything.
20:04: They sent the hat off to the lab for DNA testing and the video they sent to experts at the FBI lab in Kwanakao
20:11: These were technicians who specialized in video enhancement and upscaling hoping to improve the quality
20:16: Toys R Us in addition to having really low-res surveillance cameras did not have any cameras outside of the building
20:24: So there was no footage of the suspect leaving in a vehicle. That seemed so weird, right? especially 2013.
20:30: Yeah.
20:31: There was actually some public backlash about this,
20:33: about the low resolution of the video
20:35: and the lack of exterior cameras into 2013.
20:38: So when this hit the news, people were like,
20:39: what the freak, why don't they have cameras?
20:42: Yeah, like iPhone cameras at this point are better than those cameras.
20:45: And some people were actually blaming Toys RS
20:48: for they're not having been in arrest in the case
20:50: so far due to the inadequate video surveillance setup
20:53: and the lack of investment and employee safety.
20:55: So people are like, hey, if you guys had done,
20:57: If you had invested more, they would probably have more to go off of right now.
21:01: Investigators conducted ground and aerial searches, and they viewed hours and hours of surveillance
21:06: video from the cameras of nearby businesses, but they didn't find anything that was valuable to their investigation.
21:12: Police were at a loss, and even the motive was unclear to them.
21:16: How does someone get stabbed in toys R.S. with four other employees there and no one knows?
21:21: They decided the best angle was working from the theory that it may have been a botched
21:26: burglary. Larry Wells was laid to rest on the 4th of July, where employees like Isaac and Cindy
21:32: and Bernard Grouchka showed up to pay their respects. Meanwhile, the investigation continued.
21:38: The store had dozens and dozens of employees, and the police wanted to interview each and everyone.
21:44: Because, you know, just like the spouse or partner is often the first person
21:48: police want to clear in many murders, with circumstances like these, they start with the
21:53: employees first. They want to rule out the possibility that it was an inside job. So they
21:58: started with the employees and then they went to talk to each employee's family, neighbors,
22:02: anyone in their circles, anyone who might have had the knowledge or motivation to break
22:07: into the store. And throughout the early days of the investigation, the Hamburg Police
22:11: Department was posting daily updates on their Facebook, even posting updates when there
22:16: was no new leads. I kind of wish all police departments were as motivated and transparent
22:21: hamburgs just like keep everyone up today, keep it crystal clear. In mid July, they announced
22:26: on their Facebook page that they were now offering a $26,000 reward for information leading to Larry's
22:31: killer. As the investigation dragged on without an arrest, Larry's wife Jill feared for her own life.
22:38: And so she temporarily moved out of her home for her and her child safety. She said, I'd look around
22:43: if I am in a store or somewhere and just wonder could it be that person? If this person is never caught,
22:50: I'll always be watching and wondering who it could be and you have to I mean her husband was stabbed to death
22:54: What she's next?
22:56: Meanwhile the crime lab was able to develop a DNA profile from the hat that the suspect had left behind
23:02: That profile was uploaded to the national and local databases, but they got no hits
23:07: It didn't match anyone on file
23:09: So police began pursuing DNA samples from employees of the store in order to begin ruling them out
23:14: They eventually realized though that there was one outlier whose DNA profile was missing and that was
23:22: Bernard Grouchka the regional vice president of loss prevention that had walked them into the store that
23:28: Morning and showed them how to run and get video surveillance the guy who basically hired Larry
23:34: Okay, I don't even think about that
23:36: Grouchka had been so helpful early in the investigation
23:40: maybe even overly helpful, some of the detectives had felt.
23:44: But now they were having a hard time getting another face-to-face meeting with him to collect his DNA.
23:50: He was always too busy to lock in a time, always scurrying around, actually giving it over.
23:55: Maybe he was having a rough time with what had happened,
23:58: because he had to take a leave of absence from Toys R Us and was also no longer living at his house.
24:03: So Blues were kind of like, okay, we can get him on the phone, but when we're comes to finding him in person, we can't.
24:09: But the reason for him not living at home actually had nothing to do with work and nothing
24:15: to do with what had happened at Toys Or Us.
24:17: Police would soon learn.
24:18: His wife in fact had taken out a protective order against him just a few weeks before Larry
24:23: Wells was murdered.
24:25: What had happened was late one night, it was around one in the morning on June 2nd of that year.
24:30: Grushka had a heated argument with his wife, which reached a boil when he pushed her and
24:35: and then ran upstairs to the master bedroom,
24:37: and from there his wife heard a gunshot.
24:40: So she raced upstairs to check on him
24:43: and found him face down on the floor.
24:45: And when she rolled him over, he appeared
24:48: perfectly alive and okay and said to her,
24:50: I just wanted to see if you still loved me.
24:53: Oh my gosh, that's insane.
24:55: So he'd actually fired the gun out the window
24:57: and into the grass, which this is so extreme,
25:01: but also like a level of petty that I'm like, okay.
25:05: And like you got issues like that's not you can't do that. That's not okay. No well Taylor Swift once said
25:10: I didn't have it in myself to go in grace and apparently neither did Grouchka like he was like
25:15: I'm gonna come up here and pretend to kill myself
25:18: To manipulate my wife and the farm. Yeah, it's it's awful
25:23: So the next morning his wife called the police who confiscated the gun and arrested him on charges of criminal possession of a weapon and
25:29: and harassment. She's like, you can't do this to me.
25:31: Yeah.
25:32: And you know, this wasn't even the first domestic incidents at the Grushka home either.
25:37: This was like the third.
25:39: This had been a troubled marriage and even Larry Wells knew it.
25:42: Larry told his wife about how Grushka, his boss, had cheated on his wife frequently and wasn't discreet about it either.
25:48: He was outright bringing girlfriends to Toys R Us with him.
25:52: Like, he would just bring his girlfriends to Toys R Us
25:54: and go in the manager's office and hang out with them.
25:56: Yeah, they were just hanging out.
25:57: They're just talking, you know?
25:58: And the sad thing is Bernard Grouchka's wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008,
26:04: a year after he'd begun working for Toys R Us.
26:06: Oh, this, at this point it seems obvious.
26:10: Right. Well, the medical bills pushed Bernard off the cliff financially as he and his wife
26:15: were already drowning in an ocean of debt when she was diagnosed.
26:19: From credit card balances, unpaid utility bills and tax bills from over half a dozen investment properties the couple owned.
26:26: And they also had their children to feed and care for.
26:29: It all got so much that in 2009 Bernard Grouchka had to file for bankruptcy.
26:34: By this time, the total of debts the couple had accumulated exceeded $1 million.
26:41: Which far outstripped their assets.
26:43: Bernard was making $90,000 annually at Toys RS, which is nothing to sneeze at back then or even now.
26:50: And his wife earned $500 a month through merchandise sales from her online shop.
26:54: This was still far less than they'd been spending.
26:58: But then after he filed for bankruptcy,
27:00: Bernard received a big chunk of money from a relative who'd received a lawsuit settlement payout.
27:05: And with his debts cleared by bankruptcy,
27:08: Bernard was using that money to buy more things.
27:11: Both he and his wife liked the finer things in life.
27:14: They had a fleet of new cars, a Cadillac escalade,
27:16: and they lived in a sprawling home that they had built for themselves with a rock-lined swimming pool,
27:21: fireplace, expensive chandeliers, and two acres of land.
27:25: And just the previous Christmas, Bernard and his wife were interviewed by the Buffalo News in a story about Christmas shopping.
27:31: And at the time, they were carting bags that were bursting with presents that they just
27:35: bought for their children at the local mall.
27:37: It doesn't matter how much debt you can go into.
27:39: Yeah, as long as you're getting stuff, it's all that matters.
27:41: Right.
27:42: But although Bernard outwardly appeared to be a caring husband behind closed doors, we know that their marriage was unraveling.
27:48: And after the incident in early June, where he pretended to kill himself, it seemed things were about to get worse.
27:54: Now I don't know if he was able to keep news of his arrests that June from reaching
27:59: Toys R Us, because keep in mind, he was like, higher up in Toys R Us.
28:03: He must have known the chain would frown upon its regional vice president of lost control,
28:08: having a protective order against him for domestic violence from his wife, as well as gun
28:13: charges on top of it, but he somehow kept it secret.
28:16: Police had grown eager at this point after learning this to obtain Bernard Grouchka's DNA,
28:21: but they were having, again, trouble locating him.
28:24: So they began reaching out to his relatives, and one of them in a nearby town was able
28:28: to help connect them to Grouchka, who was staying with his father at this time.
28:34: Police showed up at his father's house on August 14, 2013, and told him they really,
28:39: really needed a DNA sample from him so that they could eliminate him.
28:42: They were getting all the employees.
28:45: they're investigation basically. So sure, he said, and they swabbed his mouth and left.
28:50: Okay. It took a little under two months for the results to come back.
28:53: Oh my gosh, it seems like such a long time. But honestly, probably fast.
28:57: We've talked about this before, but I know there's such a big backlog. I'm not sure the process,
29:02: like, are you able to test it in three days? Because I mean, I assume it doesn't actually take two
29:07: months. I assume it's just this big backlog that kind of screws everything up.
29:11: Right. But the DNA that they collected from Grushka matched the profile from the baseball cap left
29:17: by the killer. Okay. So now they had a prime suspect and it was kind of the unlikeliest of suspects.
29:23: But still, what's the motive here? Like, what does he, what happened? I mean, come on. The regional
29:29: vice president of lost control for Toys R Us kills one of his own employees. Like why? They went to to where Grushka was staying.
29:37: He was now living with a girlfriend
29:39: to confront him with the DNA evidence
29:41: and he continued to maintain his innocence, which is absolutely incredible.
29:45: How these killers always continue to insist they didn't do it.
29:49: Even when they know that the DNA makes it pretty irrefutable, we've seen this before.
29:53: Grushka's first line of defense,
29:55: which is one we've seen so many times,
29:57: was to dimly pretend like this was all some nightmare.
30:01: Bearing his head in his hands
30:02: and telling the police, whatever, great, I didn't do it.
30:05: This is crazy.
30:06: I can't explain why my DNA wasn't me.
30:08: I have no idea.
30:09: So the cops immediately placed Grouchka under arrest,
30:12: obviously, and charge him with second degree murder.
30:14: They then executed search warrants on both the home
30:17: he was currently staying and the home he had shared
30:19: with his wife before the protection order as well as his computers.
30:23: And they couldn't believe what they found.
30:26: Bernard Grouchka, the lost prevention guy,
30:30: had been ripping off Toys R Us for years.
30:34: I was just going to say he's stealing from Toys R Us, isn't he?
30:37: Which is so ironic because he's lost prevention.
30:40: He's literally the guy that says, oh, here's our numbers.
30:43: He was stockpiling stolen Toys R Us merchandise in his house and then turning around and selling it on eBay.
30:52: Brand new and sealed.
30:53: How are they in all this debt?
30:55: If one, he's making a salary, two, he's ripping off Toys R Us.
31:00: Where's all the money going?
31:01: He had been earning pretty massive amounts of, I mean, what you might call supplemental income doing this.
31:09: He was uniquely well suited to rip off the company that employed him, US Attorney William
31:14: Jay Hocal said.
31:16: And he continued doing it after the murder.
31:20: Only he'd moved onto stores in Pennsylvania where toys are us locations in that area had
31:25: been plagued with burglaries in recent months.
31:27: I guess Grushka began realizing he wasn't getting out of this one.
31:30: So when a plea deal was offered, he decided to take it.
31:34: And the family of Larry Wells was totally okay with this.
31:37: The plea deal required Grouchka to admit all criminal activity and plead guilty to first
31:42: degree manslaughter in exchange for a reduced sentence of 25 years.
31:47: After this, he then admitted the full scope of his theft from Toys RS, and the amount of
31:51: loss that this lost prevention specialist was responsible for was over $200,000.
31:57: He admitted to stealing like nearly a quarter of a million dollars merchandise and reselling it online.
32:04: That's staggering.
32:05: And also like hard work.
32:06: That's a lot.
32:07: Like go take this product and then list it online and then have to send it out.
32:11: Like it just feels like a hard way to steal money.
32:13: He also admitted to stealing $19,000 in cash from those stores in Pennsylvania.
32:18: Ruchka claimed that he entered the Hamburg store that morning with a key.
32:23: So that was the instrument that he was seeing in the grainy surveillance video manipulating
32:27: the lock, it was actually just the key. He admitted that he entered with the intention
32:31: of stealing money from the safe, which was in the manager's office. And he didn't intend
32:36: to kill anyone. Larry had just walked in on him doing it. So he had to. But then why
32:41: bring a knife? Like why are you armed with a knife? You're going just and not intending
32:45: to kill anyone. 100%. Why stalk through the store with a knife in your hand when you know
32:50: other employees are elsewhere in the building. It would be so much easier to be like, Hey,
32:54: Sorry I ran into you then to run into him ninja walking with a mask and the other irony is that aside from being in charge of lost prevention for the chain that he ripped off,
33:05: Grushka had earned a degree in college in criminal science.
33:10: So this also made him aware of criminal investigations and how to behave and avoid suspicion.
33:16: He'd been so helpful in the early stages of the investigation because he'd wanted to keep tabs on it.
33:21: So the judge in this case sentenced Grushka to the maximum penalty 25 years in prison followed by five years of probation
33:27: He also separately pleaded guilty to the gun charge which was a federal charge illegal possession of a fire arm while facing a domestic violence order of protection
33:36: It was learned that he had purchased the gun a 38 caliber pistol from a male order dealer based in Florida
33:43: And then at some point he had lied to authorities and told him he destroyed the gun when in fact he hadn't
33:49: So, Grushka was sent away for a long time, and for Jill Wells, Larry's widow, Justice was served.
33:56: But of course, it still wouldn't bring back the love of her life and the father of her
33:59: now two children who would grow up without their biological father.
34:04: Not only that, the kids don't have a dad and she doesn't have a husband, but Grushka
34:07: as well, I mean, their kids aren't going to have a dad.
34:10: Not that he shouldn't be in prison, but it just affects more than who he killed, which is absolutely horrible.
34:15: In her victim impact statement, Jill described Larry as her best friend.
34:19: Remember they did everything together.
34:21: Or high school sweethearts.
34:23: We were supposed to grow old together.
34:25: She said, raise our children together and watch them grow up.
34:28: But instead, he was taken from us.
34:31: His daughter, Maddie, missed Larry every day.
34:34: Jill said that Maddie couldn't have asked for a better father.
34:36: He was amazing.
34:38: And Maddie kept telling her mother how badly she wanted to talk to her dad.
34:41: So that's what they started doing.
34:43: would take Maddie to the local park, the one that her father would take her to, and she'd
34:47: write messages to her father on post-it notes.
34:50: This is so sad.
34:51: This is a prime example of a child, a mother who has lost her partner and her best friend,
34:57: trying to help her child cope with the fact that she no longer has her dad.
35:01: It's just devastating.
35:02: Also because you were talking about how good of a guy he was and he wanted to work with
35:06: children, like some of the guys never done anything wrong his entire life.
35:10: for what? Because he walked in on Grushka's stealing money.
35:14: Yeah, it's ridiculous. And so as they're at the park riding
35:17: these letters to her father on Post-it notes, they would then
35:20: stick those cards to helium filled balloons and release them
35:24: into the sky toward heaven where they believe Larry now is.
35:27: So they're basically trying to deliver these notes to her
35:29: father. And a local journalist, Matt Chandler, who covered
35:32: this story, got to know the Wells family very well through
35:36: it. And he felt that he even knew Larry well, later saying
35:39: that he never covered a murder victim who had been as universally loved as Larry was.
35:45: And I think that says a lot.
35:47: This case really touched something in Matt Chandler's heart and he collaborated with the family
35:51: and with an illustrator named Vicki Free
35:54: on a children's book that was later published a book called Balloons for Heaven, all about the Wells family
36:01: and how they were dealing with the loss of a loved one.
36:04: On the one year anniversary of Larry's death, the book launch was celebrated
36:08: at an open gathering in the park.
36:10: Matt Chandler was joined by Larry's family and friends
36:13: and by more than 200 parents with their children
36:15: who all wrote messages on Post-it notes
36:17: for departed loved ones, put them on balloons
36:20: and release them all at once, filling the sky with a patchwork of colors.
36:24: And I include this because I always find it so inspiring
36:29: that people who are victims of these type of crimes
36:31: can turn around and impact other people's lives
36:34: in such a great way because of it.
36:36: I think that is such a hard thing to do,
36:39: and it's so admirable when we see it happen in these stories.
36:42: And that is the case of the Toys RS murder.
36:44: I hate, I guess I hate all these cases,
36:47: but I hate that I hate just that people are killed for no reason.
36:52: Not that when there's a reason it makes it any better,
36:54: but it just sucks being killed for no reason.
36:57: He didn't do anything.
36:58: He did nothing.
36:59: He was just going to work that day.
37:00: Someone just came in and killed him,
37:01: and that just makes me so mad.
37:04: And like, just such a great guy.
37:06: Yeah.
37:06: All right, you guys, that is our episode,
37:08: and we will see you next week with another one.
37:10: I love it.
37:10: I hate it.
37:11: Goodbye.