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Bridger residents still frustrated as fatal casino arson investigation continues

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Posted at 8:29 AM, Oct 06, 2022

BRIDGER — Nearly six months after a fire erupted atHonest Tom’s Casino in Bridger, the building remains locked up. The investigation into the arson where two people died is moving slowly to the frustration of many.

Honest Tom’s Casino stands empty on Main Street, the inside destroyed by the raging fire that claimed the lives of 71-year-old Marla Murray and 33-year-old John Ahles.

“We lost such a wonderful, wonderful lady, and grandma and great grandma, and of course, the family is just, they’re just incredible people, all of them,” said Bridger resident Doug Judkins on Wednesday.

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Judkins owns the Bridger Fur Company, which until last week, was located just across the street from Honest Tom’s. He’s one of many in this community anxiously waiting for news of any kind about the investigation.

“I just wish that we could at least have some closure that could help a little bit,” Judkins said.

But that’s something law enforcement can’t provide at the time. It’s frustrating not only to members of this community but also to Mike Buechler, the Bridger chief of police.

“Three or four times a day I get the same question. What’s going on? When are we going to hear something? I can just give them the same answers, when we’ve got answers, I’ll give them to you,” Buechler said.

The Carbon County Sheriff’s Office and the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation are leading the investigation.

According to DCI, the case is stuck in the state crime lab, where forensics experts are processing DNA and other physical evidence.

“We are working on it. Nobody has forgotten anything. At the moment, it might seem like we’re dragging our heels, it’s only because we’re waiting basically on the lab,” said Buechler.

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John Ahles

That means family and community members will have to continue to wait as they continue to mourn.

Judkins and his wife used to bring Marla Murray leftovers from their kitchen. He said her favorite was chicken and dumplings and said it’s a dish that will forever remind him of his friend.

“Marla’s been on our minds since day one and when my wife made that chicken and dumplings, both of us at the same time said, wow that made me miss Marla,” said Judkins.