Loose Dog Leads Cops To Grisly Murder Scene
WILKES-BARRE — In the pre-dawn darkness Friday, a lone pet dog wandering the city streets became a harbinger of death.
Police seeking out the dog’s owner discovered a grisly, blood-soaked crime scene and the slumped body of local businessman and father Fred J. Boote Jr., 58, resting in a pool of blood.
Boote had been stabbed in the back by an unknown enemy, according to police. There were signs of a struggle, and indications that the killer tried to torch the place before fleeing the scene, police said.
Hours later, with the killer still on the loose, neighbors in the well-maintained South Wilkes-Barre neighborhood were on edge.
“I’m nervous because I don’t know if it was a stranger,” neighbor Pam Monka said. “Keep your doors locked.”
According to a search warrant application filed Friday, police were dispatched to the Turkey Hill Mini Market at 632 Carey Ave. around 3:20 a.m. to a report of a stray dog. After calling the number on the dog’s tag and getting no answer, a police officer brought to the animal to the listed address at 14 Donald Court.
Upon arriving at the home, the officer found the front door slightly ajar and saw multiple lights on inside. The cop rang the doorbell several times but got no answer, so he called for backup.
Police entered the home and saw blood on a tile foyer and saw drops of blood on the floor of the home’s first level, the warrant says. The back patio door was slightly open, and an interior door leading to the garage was wide open, with the garage light left on, according to the warrant.
In the kitchen, items from under the sink had been removed and thrown around on the floor, police said.
While clearing the second-floor of the home, police saw a body hunched over in a puddle of blood and a large kitchen knife that was also covered in blood, the warrant says.
There was blood on the comforter of a bed, and items had been moved around the room as though there had been a struggle, police said.
Police also saw a red gas can in the room, which had a spout that police found partially under the body. The body also had a blanket draped over it that appeared to have been partially burned, police said.
A police officer who knew Boote recognized him as the victim, and police noted that he had a large stab wound to the lower right side of his back. The Luzerne County Coroner’s Office officially declared Boote dead at 9:45 a.m.
The warrant, signed by Magisterial District Judge Donald L. Whittaker, gives police permission to search Boote’s cellphone, which police recovered near the crime scene on Willow Street after Boote’s son pinged it. The warrant says Boote’s phone was actually registered on his son’s Verizon account.
Police are seeking call information, text messages, photos and other data that they say could be “highly relevant” to the murder investigation.
Court and state records show Boote, the father of several grown children, was the co-owner of a Bloomsburg-based business, Town and Country Auto Credit, Inc. Attempts to reach co-owner Phillip Lombard were not immediately successful.
The status of the business was unclear Friday. Court records indicate that in August, a creditor received judgment of $18,881 against the company, which has a listed phone number that is no longer operational.
Over the years Boote has also had other financial difficulties, including property liens and complaints over credit card debt, according to court records.
But despite some fiscal problems — and one resisting arrest conviction stemming from a driving-under-the-influence case in Columbia County in 2005 — Boote was remembered Friday as a good neighbor and friend.
In December, Boote participated in the 8th Annual Shots for Tots Holiday Party at Bart & Urby’s, an event that raises donations for charitable agencies such as CEO, Janet Weis Children’s Hospital and St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen.
Shots for Tots also awards the Erin Boote Scholarship which is given to a graduating Meyers High School senior who is pursuing the arts. The scholarship is named for Boote’s late wife Erin “Toby” Marie Boote, who died of natural causes in 2015.
“Fred was a very close friend of our family, and I’m still in shock. I just can’t get over it,” Jim Elias said at the scene Friday morning. “Fred was one of the nicest guys you would want to meet, friendly with everybody. To me it’s just unbelievable that something like this would happen.”