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Honeybee Killer Identified As Dead Tanning Salon Robber By Witness

MICHAEL TARM   12/16/10 07:53 PM ET   AP

Honeybee Killer
Surveillance video of Gary Amaya, the alleged 'Honeybee Killer' robbing an LA Tan in Orland Park last weekend. Amaya was fatally shot when a customer interrupted the robbery and wrestled the gun away.

JOLIET, Ill. — A witness ID and other evidence suggest that a man killed by a customer during an attempted robbery of a Chicago-area tanning salon also was the gunman in an October shooting spree that terrorized residents along the Illinois-Indiana border, authorities said Thursday, but they stopped short of declaring that they had solved the case.

More than two months after a small-town police officer was wrongly charged in the shooting spree that left one person dead and two others injured, officials said they would wait for additional forensics tests before naming the deceased suspect in the robbery attempt, 48-year-old Gary Amaya, as the person responsible in the rural shootings.

Still, they acknowledged strong new evidence linking the shooting spree to Amaya, described by acquaintances as a hermit who lived for years in tumbledown trailer in the woods.

"His information does match ... the shootings," Will County, Ill., Sheriff Paul Kaupas said Thursday at a news conference.

Repeatedly pressed about whether he would say Amaya was the border-shooting gunman, Kaupas declined. He added he hadn't wanted to even hold a news conference, but that reporters had been inundating his officers with calls.

The new evidence emerged two months after Will County officials arrested and jailed police officer Brian Dorian for the shooting spree, then released him after detectives verified he'd been home, logged on to his computer the morning of the attacks. Will County officials were criticized for having rushed to judgment on Dorian.

The evidence against Amaya, Kaupas said, includes ballistic tests showing a Colt .38 special revolver used in the attempted robbery at an Orland Park L.A. Tan was the same one used in the border shootings.

One of the victims of the October shootings has identified Amaya as the gunman, authorities said Thursday.

The wife of farmer Keith Dahl, 64 – shot in Lowell, Ind. – saw a photo of Amaya on television after the attempted salon robbery. She downloaded the image, printed it out and showed it to her husband, said Will County Sheriff's spokesman Ken Kaupas, a second cousin of the sheriff.

"His comment to his wife was, 'That's the guy that shot me,'" Ken Kaupas said. They then contacted investigators.

Amaya's 1992 light blue Chevy pick-up truck, found near the tanning salon, also matched the description of the one used in the October, authorities said Thursday.

Sheriff Kaupas also confirmed that the secluded hunting lodge where Amaya once worked had what he called "a honeybee farm" on the premises. The shooting spree drew national attention after the gunman asked one victim about honeybees.

Investigators said they still couldn't determine a reason for the shootings.

"No one can give us a motive . No motive at all," Sheriff Kaupas said.

Prior to the attempted

robbery in Orland Park, Amaya was never on the radar of investigators, the sheriff said.

Since October, detectives had been going through a list from the Secretary of State's Office of trucks that match the witnesses' descriptions – but there were a daunting 10,000 in Illinois that may have fit, Sheriff Kaupas said.

Amaya, who most recently lived in the eastern Illinois village of Rankin, was an unhappy, humorless man, said Terry Misener, a plumbing and heating company owner who often helped with repairs at the hunting lodge where Amaya worked for more than a decade.

"I don't think I ever saw him laugh or smile – ever," said Misener, of Misener Plumbing & Heating in nearby Morris, said Wednesday.

Amaya, worked at the lodge cutting grass and maintaining the lodge, was unkempt and sometimes gruff – but never showed signs he was capable of such violence, Misener said.

"I don't think he was happy at all with his life," he added. "He was odder than most but not to the point where I thought he could do such things."

Amaya's one hobby was operating a ham radio, the sole item that he appeared to care for; otherwise, his trailer was a mess, cluttered with cheap, broken down possessions, including a TV and shotguns, Misener said.

"He always talked about having a buddy he'd go out and shoot with – but I never saw the buddy and he never talked about woman or dating," Misener said. "He lived the life of a hermit – and had the mindset of a hermit."

In Amaya's hometown in eastern Illinois – a tiny farming village some 60 miles south of where the border-area shootings occurred – neighbors also described Amaya as a loner.

Neighbor Marleta Stanton lives across the street from the white-frame house Amaya lived in since his mother died in 2006 at age 74. He lost his job as a truck driver, Stanton found out recently, but she wasn't sure precisely when or why. His mother, Dorothy Amaya, moved from outside the area to Rankin a few years before her death, Stanton said.

Attorneys for Dorian, the falsely accused police officer, have said many people still viewed him with suspicion even after authorities ruled him out as a suspect and that he even received hate mail accusing him of being the killer.

Earlier this week when Amaya's name emerged as a possible suspect, Dorian, turned 38 on Monday, told Northwest Indiana Times he was hoping the case would be solved.

"If this turns out to be true that this is the guy, I could not ask for a better birthday present today," he said.

Amaya was killed during the Saturday night robbery attempt by 29-year-old Jason McDaniel, a customer who happened to walk in, Orland Park police have said. In a written statement afterward, Salon staff described McDaniel as "a true hero."

During the robbery at the salon, Amaya had just ordered one woman inside the salon to tie up another when McDaniel walked in, police say. Amaya allegedly pointed the gun at McDaniel and ordered him to tie himself up.

As Amaya reached for rope in a bag, he put the gun on a counter: That's when McDaniel said he rushed him and snatched the gun, elbowing Amaya in the chin. McDaniel let off a shot – but the man kept coming at him. McDaniel shot again, Amaya fell and he was pronounced dead about an hour later.

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Filed by Jen Sabella  |