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Bridger casino fire an apparent murder-suicide, authorities say

Honest Tom's.jpg
Posted at 7:08 PM, Dec 06, 2022

BRIDGER - Carbon County investigators have determined that a man found dead after an April fire in a Bridger casino likely first killed a female employee, who was also found dead inside, before he died of smoke inhalation in a possible suicide.

The eight-month investigation into the deaths of John Ahles and Marla Murray at Honest Tom's casino is over, and authorities believe no one else is involved, Carbon County Attorney Alex Nixon said in a letter to Sheriff Josh McQuillan released to the media Tuesday.

Authorities ruled Murray died of multiple head wounds, and they believe based on security footage and other evidence that Ahles, 33, struck the 71-year-old worker over the head with a pry bar.

The fire was intentionally caused when someone, most likely Ahles, cut the line to the furnace and ignited the natural gas, according to Nixon. Authorities aren't sure why Ahles didn't leave the casino after the fire started, but Nixon noted a review of his cell phone records indicated thoughts of suicidal ideation. A toxicology report found THC, methamphetamine and amphetamines in his blood.

Nixon stopped short of ruling Ahles' death a suicide but stated no further investigation was required.

Here's the events on April 20 that led up to the apparent murder-suicide, according to Nixon:

Murray arrived at Honest Tom's in downtown Bridger around 7:45 a.m. and began opening the casino for the day, according to surveillance video. Footage from several sources showed Ahles, a part-time casino IT employee who wasn't working that day, leaving his Bridger residence around 8 a.m. and entering the alley behind Honest Tom's. He checked the back door and sat on a bench outside without going inside.

Ahles entered the casino around 8:30 a.m. and remained in a dark entryway. About 10 minutes later, Murray grabbed money from her purse and was seen gambling on the machines in the front of the casino.

Ahles is later seen in the back holding the pry bar, apparently unbeknownst to Murray. He is seen on camera watching the security system video feed. In the final images before the feed is cut, he is seen approaching the security system control box, which he worked on as an IT employee.

A delivery worker reported the fire around 9:30 a.m. after trying to enter the building and nearly being overcome with smoke. Firefighters entered the building from the front to put out the blaze. They discovered the rear door locked by deadbolt, and they had to cut the hinges off the door to gain entry there.

Murray's body was found in the kitchen with "chop-type" wounds to the head. Ahles' body was found near the restrooms. His clothing was stained with blood spatter, which was later determined by DNA analysis to likely have come from Murray.

Related: Bridger residents still frustrated as fatal casino arson investigation continues.

Here's the letter from Carbon County Attorney Alex Nixon outlining the investigative findings: