A regional loss prevention manager for Toys R Us stores was charged today with second-degree murder in the stabbing death of Laurence C. “Larry” Wells II, an assistant store manager at the Hamburg store, last June.
Bernard “Bernie” Grucza, 38, was arraigned before Hamburg Town Justice Walter R. Rooth this afternoon. He was being held without bail because of the seriousness of the charges.
Police sources told The Buffalo News that Grucza used a key to gain access to the building at Milestrip and McKinley in the early morning of June 29 with what police believed was the intention to steal either cash or merchandise. He bumped into Wells and ended up fatally stabbing him, according to police officials.
“We do not believe he went to the store with the intention of killing the assistant manager,” a police official said. “It looks like it started out as a theft and turned into a homicide.”
Investigators said Grucza is also a suspect in other burglaries at other Toys R Stores in southern Pennsylvania.
In the hours after the slaying last June, as police officers combed the toy store, Grucza was photographed at the scene consoling fellow employees and talking on his cell phone within feet of investigators.
Grucza has an address in Elma but he is believed to have moved to Western New York from Florida, which may explain how a Florida Gators cap was found at the scene. DNA on the hat reportedly matched the store officer's DNA.
Police sources said DNA samples were taken from all of the store's employees and others who had access to the store, including the guard who worked for a private security agency,
A surveillance video from the inside the store showed a “grainy figure” that did not exactly resemble the loss prevention officer.
“It didn't jump off the page when you looked at it but upon closer examination you can see it is him,” a law enforcement official said.
Grucza was extremely cooperative throughout the investigation, to the point where he became “overly cooperative,” a police source said, adding that it was initially thought the store officer was just trying to keep abreast of the investigation.
Grucza had lived until recently in a stately 2-story brick home on Kettle Run in Elma with his wife, Heather, and their children. This afternoon, at least five unmarked police cars were seen in front of the property.
He is believed to have moved to a two-story home on South Seventh Street in the Village of Allegany, outside Olean, with a girlfriend. Neighbors there said the couple kept a low profile.
FBI agents were inside the home this afternoon conducting a search that began at dawn today.
The slaying stunned Hamburg. A $25,000 reward was offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer.
A source familiar with the investigation said the FBI has been heavily involved in the case, adding that DNA evidence has played an important role in the investigation.
Wells, 35, was attacked by a man who had entered his tiny office when it was empty, investigators have said. The killer shut the door behind him and dismantled the video-surveillance system about seven minutes later. He stabbed Wells two or three times as he entered the office early on the morning of Saturday, June 29.
Wells suffered wounds to his shoulder and lower abdomen from some type of sharp instrument. Workers who entered the store later found him and he was taken to Mercy Hospital, where he died.
“If the police have caught Larry's killer, we are ecstatic,” said one Toys R Us worker who requested anonymity. “Larry was a great guy.”