JOPLIN, Mo. —
A 58-year-old man was on the phone Wednesday morning with a 911 dispatcher reporting a break-in at his home southeast of Joplin when he was shot and killed by the intruder.
Newton County Sheriff Ken Copeland said Jeffrey Slama called 911 at 8:20 a.m. to report a burglary in progress at 2806 Insbrook Lane. He provided his address and was still on the phone with the dispatcher when a fatal encounter with the intruder took place, the sheriff said.
“You could hear the caller stating: ‘Please, don’t shoot me,’” the sheriff said. “Then you heard what sounded like a gunshot.”
Deputies responding to the call discovered Slama’s body just inside the front door of his home.
“It appears as though he came out of the bedroom. He was probably shot in the hallway,” Copeland said. “The victim still had the telephone in his hand.”
Slama was home alone at the time. His wife, Joanne, had left for work earlier in the morning.
The sheriff said the intruder used a rock to break some glass in the front door and reached inside to unlock it. Slama may have called for help when he heard the glass breaking.
“Right now, there’s no information to indicate (the victim) knew the suspect,” the sheriff said. “Unless we find something greatly different, it appears to be a burglary gone bad.”
He said no cars were parked outside the residence, and the burglar probably thought no one was home. The house sits several hundred feet back off the road surrounded by woods, he said. The intruder may have been surprised by Slama and shot him out of fear that he would be able to identify him, the sheriff said.
The intruder may have left fled immediately after the shooting. Nothing is known to have been taken, either from the house or from the body of the victim, Copeland said. But the family’s assistance will be needed to determine if anything is missing, he said.
A construction crew working nearby on Aspen Road reported seeing a small, black car with a lone male occupant leaving the area at a high rate of speed. Deputies searched for cars matching that description in the aftermath of the shooting, but no one was taken into custody.
Copeland said the crime may be connected to recent break-ins in a neighboring county to the east. He said investigators are aware of a similar vehicle description in one or more cases there.
The sheriff declined to discuss the gunshot wounds of the victim. He said an autopsy scheduled to be performed today in Springfield would determine the number of shots and locations of the wounds. The sheriff said a bullet was recovered at the scene as well as other evidence.
“We found lots of fingerprints,” he said. “We found a rock that was used to break the window. We have high hopes that we obtain some DNA off the evidence.”
He said Slama’s wife was in shock from having learned of her husband’s murder.
“I mean: Imagine leaving your spouse or loved one of a morning and going to work, like it would be any other day going to work, then you have the Sheriff’s Department show up a couple hours later and tell you that person’s been killed,” Copeland said.
THE NEWTON COUNTY SHERIFF warned Wednesday that residents in Southwest Missouri, especially rural residents, should be on heightened alert about strangers showing up on their property or suspicious vehicles on the prowl in their neighborhoods. Anyone with information about Wednesday’s homicide or recent incidents involving small, black cars should call the Newton County Sheriff’s Department at 417-451-8300, he said.