Sunday, March 14, 2004

Market canvassed for leads in slaying



By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo]
Flowers and a note that reads "We Miss You, Bill --Your Customers, Who Became Your Friends" were left in front of Bill Doolittle's booth at Traders World Saturday. Doolittle was found dead in the back of his van last Sunday.
The Enquirer/TONY JONES
MONROE - Bill Doolittle might have been a little too trusting when he left Trader's World last Sunday morning. He was carrying $8,000 in cash to meet someone and buy a piece of equipment, his friends at the popular Butler County flea market said Saturday.

Doolittle, a 41-year-old father of three who owned a hardware store and had been a vendor at the flea market for 10 years, was found dead early Monday morning in the back of his gray GMC van. The van was in a hotel parking lot along Hamilton-Lebanon Road, just off Interstate 75.

Doolittle of Findlay, Ohio, was reported missing at 5 p.m. Sunday, when the market closed. He had left the market that morning, around 11:40 a.m.

Police say robbery may have been the motive, but they have no suspects and aren't ruling out other possibilities. They are giving out few details about the crime.

"If he had just had that meeting here, (the murder) never would have happened," said Trader's World manager Jay Frick. "Or if he had just taken someone with him, it probably wouldn't have happened."

Frick said he hires off-duty police officers to patrol the grounds and provide security for the 1,200 vendors.

Officers were at the flea market Saturday, talking to vendors, hanging flyers and asking for help in solving the crime.

"We have a good suspicion that (the crime) didn't happen where we found the van," Monroe Police Sgt. Brian Curlis said. "And it didn't happen here at Trader's World. But we think it did happen in the area."

Curlis said the investigation proceeded during the week, but that officers had to wait until the flea market opened Saturday to speak to the many vendors and customers who were some of the last people to see Doolittle alive.

"We're hoping to get a bunch of leads this weekend," Curlis said. "We have all the vendors here and a lot of the same customers who come here every weekend to shop or just hang out."

Doolittle's booth was closed Saturday and had a blue tarp thrown over the entryway. Three bouquets of flowers were left just outside the door. One sat atop a note that read: "We miss you Bill. Your customers."

Someone added an additional line, written in a different hand with a different pen, to the note that said: "who became your friends."

Julie Pickett, who has operated the Making Faces Cosmetics booth across Aisle 1A from Doolittle for five years, said she'll always remember her friend for his love of family. He also loved his store, and coming to the flea market every weekend. He usually brought his children, ages 11, 14 and 18.

"He would do anything for anybody," Pickett said. "I'd run over there all day long to (borrow tools). He didn't care. I've probably got half of his tool shop over here."

Doolittle loved browsing for good deals under the tents in the parking lot. Once, he brought back a gift for Pickett - a pink pen with "Diflucan" written on the side.

"He came in and gave me the pen and said he bought about 3,000 of them because they were pink and the guys wouldn't steal pink pens," Pickett remembered. "You should have seen his face when I told him you use Diflucan to treat yeast infections. He turned beet red and ran back to his shop. I didn't see him the rest of the day."

Frick, the manager, also knew Doolittle well. He said Doolittle would work all week at his shop in Findlay, then come to the flea market on weekends to make ends meet. In his spare time, he coached his daughter's softball team.

"He was really ambitious," Frick said. "He was working here to help support his family. He is irreplaceable to them, and he'll be missed by us, too. He was just a real clean-cut guy who seemed to be doing everything right."

Larry Bells recalls Doolittle's children always coming into his booth to play on the rugs he has for sale.

"If I ever needed anything, I knew I could go to him," Bells said. "I'd say, 'Bill I need a hammer.' He'd say, `Just give me a buck.'

"That's the kind of guy he was."

Doolittle's murder is the first in the city in nearly three years.

Monroe Police are asking for help in the investigation of the shooting death of Bill Doolittle. The Findlay, Ohio, man was found shot to death in his gray GMC van on March 7. The van may have been parked in a lot, on a street, or possibly in an isolated area in the Monroe, Interstate 75 area.

Anyone with information is asked to call (513) 539-9234.

E-mail dklepal@enquirer.com




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