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Intruder beats homeowner to death West Seneca man tried to prevent attacker from ransacking his Winspear Road home

The victim of a daytime burglary in West Seneca on Tuesday struggled with an intruder before he was beaten to death inside his Winspear Road home, according to investigators.

James L. Gilson, 34, who neighbors say was a stay-at-home handyman, was found dead by his wife, Jennifer, when she returned home from work at about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. Several areas inside the small wooden ranch home had been ransacked, police said.

"The cause of death has been ruled a homicide from multiple blunt-force injuries," said Edward F. Gehen Jr., West Seneca police chief. "We have some leads we are following up on."

Gehen said the Gilsons' house on Winspear was broken into by an unknown intruder or intruders sometime between 8 a.m. and the time Jennifer Gilson returned home.

The motive remained unclear Wednesday, but police believe either some specific property inside the home or Gilson himself was the attacker's intended target.

"I don't believe this was a random act, this was something that was specifically targeted to that residence," Gehen said. "We're looking to determine who his associates were, who he dealt with in the past and who he dealt with recently."

Police believe the attacker broke into the house through a side door and some type of confrontation ensued between the attacker and Gilson. Police said evidence inside the home suggests Gilson struggled with his attacker. That evidence was collected for testing by forensic experts.

"We're looking into what, if anything, was taken," Gehen said.

It's unknown which direction the assailant fled the house. There were no apparent witnesses.

The Gilsons' home is secluded atop a wooded hill at the bend of Winspear Road -- a roughly quarter-mile picturesque dead-end street that runs from Seneca Street down to Cazenovia Creek in the southeastern part of West Seneca. Their property, which is about an acre in size, remained roped off by yellow crime-scene tape Wednesday as investigators combed through evidence inside the house.

Gilson was believed to have been killed with a weapon; police have not disclosed yet what type of weapon was used and aren't sure whether it was brought to the home by the attacker or obtained on the property. Detectives combed a small, detached storage shed and garage late Wednesday afternoon. Investigators collected several bags of evidence from the scene.

Neighbors scattered at the half-dozen or so other houses along Winspear said they were "shocked" and "horrified" by the events. None said they knew the Gilsons much beyond a friendly wave or passing greeting. Public real estate records show that the couple moved into the home from the Town of Tonawanda in the fall of 2003.

"It's a very quiet area of town," Gehen said. "West Seneca is a very quiet, safe community. Unfortunately, the potential for these types of incidents exists no matter where you are."

Police are hoping additional tips from the public will help them catch Gilson's killer. Gehen encouraged anyone who may have even minor information to contact detectives at 674-3154 or use the town's tip line at 675-8423.

e-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com

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