A Madison man is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of two Columbia men in Moberly in the early hours of Dec. 29. He is one of four people who have been charged alleged murder.
Moberly Police on Wednesday alleged that the murders were committed as part of a premeditated robbery of methamphetamine during a drug deal.
Columbia residents Darren Tharp, 51, and Shane Hare, 24, were found dead shortly before noon Saturday in a car parked between Westside Inn and Bud’s Place on Concannon Street in Moberly. Autopsies conducted Monday showed both died from a single gunshot wound to the head, police said.
Christopher A. Esry, 20, of Madison is the alleged trigger man, police said. He is charged two counts of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery. He is accused of shooting the two men, according to court documents.
Aaron D. Bloss, 40, and Travis A. Koenig, 29, both of Moberly are each charged with two counts of second-degree murder and are accused of participating in the robbery.
Steven Bell, 22, Moberly, is charged with tampering with physical evidence for allegedly burning the clothes worn by Bloss during the robbery and attempting to destroy Tharp’s vehicle to cover up evidence of the murder.
As of Thursday, all four are being held in the Randolph County Jail with on a $1 million each.
Tips from area residents provided essential information, Moberly Police Chief Troy Link said. He also thanked the law enforcement agencies who assisted the Moberly Police Department, as well as praising the overtime work done to solve the case.
"From the beginning, they worked extremely long hours and (were) often short on sleep to work this investigation and take all four suspects into custody," Link said.
Police said that surveillance video from businesses near the crime scene showed Tharp’s vehicle arrived about 4:30 a.m. Friday and two men walked up to it and got in about 4:40 a.m. Two minutes later, the video showed two men exiting the car and running away.
Moberly police received a tip from the Randolph County Sheriff’s Department about a red Ford F-150 that had been set on fire between four and five hours after the murders, according to the report. The F-150 belonged to Bloss’ stepfather, and Bloss was known to frequently drive the vehicle.
Moberly detectives on Saturday interviewed Bloss’ estranged wife, who said Bloss and Esry were at her house late Thursday, loading guns and telling her they were going to Columbia to commit a burglary. She told detectives that she received a message from Bloss on Friday in which he said he was going to prison for a crime he did not commit.
Moberly detectives interviewed Bloss early Tuesday. He told them Esry contacted him approximately 3:30 a.m. Friday, asking to be picked up at an address on Concannon Street. Bloss told detectives Koenig was also with him when he picked up Esry.
Esry told him he was going to steal drugs from people he was meeting at Bud’s Place, Bloss told detectives. Esry ordered Bloss to aid in the robbery and pointed a gun at him when Bloss initially declined, Bloss said. He went with Esry to help with the robbery after Esry threatened to kill Bloss’ family as well, he said.
Bloss reportedly told police that Koenig was designated as the getaway driver. He told investigators that he parked the truck at the corner of Franklin and Hagood Street before Bloss and Esry approached Tharp’s vehicle near Bud’s Place.
After getting into the car with the Tharp and Hare, Esry threatened them a gun and demanded "the dope," methamphetamine that the subject sitting in the front passenger’s seat passed back to him, Bloss told investigators.
Bloss told police that as he was exiting Tharp’s vehicle, he heard a gunshot and started to run back to the truck. He then heard another gunshot, at which point Esry began to run back to the truck as well, according to police.
The probable cause statements do not include any information from interviews with Esry or Koenig.
According to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, Esry was arrested on U.S, 24 just east of Madison at 6:42 p.m. on Tuesday.
"A joint effort between the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Moberly Police Department, and the Ralls County Sheriff’s Office resulted in the arrest of Christopher Allen Esry in Madison, Missouri," reported the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department in a statement issued on Wednesday afternoon. "Information was received that Esry was traveling within Monroe County. During a multi-agency search the vehicle Esry was driving was located and a felony traffic stop was conducted just off of Highway 24 on the east edge of Madison, Missouri by Troopers and Monroe County deputies at approximately 6:42 PM. Esry was taken into custody without incident."
Esry was transported and housed in the Randolph County Jail.
Bell became involved when he helped Bloss burn the clothes he had on during the robbery, helped Bloss look for a cell phone lost during the robbery and searched for a trailer to move Tharp’s car away from the crime scene.
The clothing was burned in a barrel in a backyard on Quinn Street. Early Saturday, Bloss told detectives, he received a phone call from Esry and Koenig, who told him to get rid of the car with the bodies.
Bell told detectives he went with Bloss to the crime scene and saw the dead men in the car as he searched for Bloss’ phone.
Bloss said Bell was going to set the vehicle and bodies on fire. Bell was trying to get a trailer to haul the car and bodies out of city limits, Bloss said.
Before they could get a trailer, however, police said they had discovered Tharp and Hare’s bodies.
Bloss has served time in state prison for three counts of burglary, two in 1998 and one in 2005. He has also pleaded guilty to three counts of forgery, possession of a forging instrument, possession of burglary tools and third-degree assault, which is a misdemeanor.
Koenig also faces charges of third-degree domestic assault and first-degree stalking for a June incident. He is scheduled to be in Randolph County District Court on Jan. 9 at court for that case on Jan. 9 at 9 a.m. for a disposition hearing.
Forrest Gossett of the Salt River Journal contributed to this report.