This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Buddy C. Conti's homicide went unresolved for more than 30 years, despite detectives having a suspect.
But Conti's case fell through the cracks. As the Kearns case aged, the Salt Lake County Sheriff's detective who had worked the case left the department. The suspect, Richard David Gill, was released from a prison stint for an unrelated matter and other officers never followed up on the detainer that was placed on him. He died two years ago from cancer, at his home, having never been interviewed or charged for Conti's death.
So it was with somewhat mixed emotions that Sheriff Jim Winder announced the closing of Conti's case Friday afternoon.
"[This] can only be described as a failure to pursue justice," Winder said, offering an apology to the survivors of the deadly armed robbery at Conti's pharmacy. They include Conti's family, and an employee who was taken hostage who is still living.
"You can still hear the pain in her voice," said Detective Ben Pender, who has been in touch with her and the family as he took up Conti's case in the past few months.
The night of Aug. 27, 1981, Conti, a co-owner and pharmacist, and Signa Atwood, who worked the front counter, were preparing to close the Kearns Drug Store at 4188 W. 5415 South. But about 9 p.m., a masked gunman suspected of being Gill entered the store, fired a shot and demanded drugs and cash.
Conti and Atwood complied and were then forced outside at gunpoint, where the suspect ordered them both to run toward a field. They began running, but Conti, 45, stopped and confronted the suspect, at which time he was shot and killed.
After investigating the case for about a year, detectives eventually identified an alleged getaway driver, Clyde Leslie Dudley. Dudley gave police an interview, allegedly named Gill, and admitted that they had been staking out the drug store for several days. But Dudley killed himself shortly after, in December 1983, Pender said.
Sometime after Dudley's suicide, Gill was released from prison and the detainer was never followed up, Pender said. Detectives were unable to bring charges against anyone and the case went cold, according to the news release.
Gill was later arrested for an armed robbery in Missouri. He was never brought to Utah to face criminal charges and passed away on June 1, 2013, in Missouri.
Earlier this year, detectives from UPD's Major Investigations Unit began to re-examine the case, and realized that "mistakes" prevented it from going farther, Winder said.
Though both suspects are now dead, the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office found there would have been probable cause to charge the men, according to a UPD news release.
There is nothing to suggest anyone else was involved in this murder, and the case will now be closed, according to the sheriff's office.