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Published: Friday, 4/9/2004

Son a suspect in woman's death

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A Hancock County sherrif's deputy inspects the property where a Cass Township woman was found dead in her home. A Hancock County sherrif's deputy inspects the property where a Cass Township woman was found dead in her home.
LISA DUTTON / BLADE Enlarge

FINDLAY - An elderly Hancock County woman was found dead early yesterday in her home and her son - whom investigators are calling the "prime suspect" - was found badly burned inside the Cass Township house the two shared.

Alma Businger, 83, was dead at the scene. Her 41-year-old son, whose name authorities declined to release, was in critical condition in the burn unit at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center, Toledo.

Hancock County Sheriff Mike Heldman said the case is being investigated as a homicide, although he could not say how Mrs. Businger was killed.

"I could not see an obvious cause of death," the sheriff said.

Mrs. Businger's son called 911 just a few minutes after 1 a.m., saying only that there was a deceased woman and a burning barn.

Deputies saw smoke coming from the detached garage next to the neat white ranch home on County Road 236 just north of Findlay. A back door was open and deputies found Mrs. Businger on the floor in a rear family room. Her son was sitting on the couch in the same room, Sheriff Heldman said.

An autopsy was performed at the Lucas County Coroner's Office in Toledo, but Dr. Leroy Schroeder, Hancock County coroner, had no comment on the case late yesterday.

Sheriff Heldman could provide no motive for the killing and fire. He said the victim's son had no known criminal record or history of mental illness.

Neighbors said Mrs. Businger and her son had moved into the house just over a year ago.

Barbara Rice, who lives next door, said her daughter awakened her after hearing sirens and seeing flashing lights at Mrs. Businger's house.

"I thought maybe she was having health problems, but when I saw the yellow tape come out, that's a little more critical," Ms. Rice said.

Her son, Corey, 17, said they often saw Mrs. Businger outside tending to her yard and garden.

"It was her thing, I guess," Ms. Rice said. "They seemed nice, but we didn't really know them. We were sorry to hear it happened. We prayed about it."

Across the street at Salem United Methodist Church, some members were planting grass and working on the church grounds. They too were surprised to see the sheriff's cruisers and three State Fire Marshal vehicles at the house.

Sally Wagner, spokesman for the fire marshal's office, said the cause of the fire had not been determined and the case remained under investigation.

Capt. Roger Treece of the Hancock County Sheriff's Department said an accelerant clearly had been used to start the fire, though he did not know what type. Damage from the fire was moderate and was contained to a loft area above a small workshop in the metal pole building next to Mrs. Businger's home.

Sheriff Heldman said investigators believe Mrs. Businger's son started the fire, but he could not say why.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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