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Published: Tuesday, 3/20/2001

Deshler barber hanged himself, Henry County sheriff says


DESHLER - When Richard Burner was found alive in Van Wert last week, it was supposed to be a happy ending.

Yesterday morning, the Deshler barber who mysteriously disappeared for nine days was found dead at his home. He had hanged himself in the small barn behind his home, Henry County Sheriff John Nye said.

An autopsy was to be performed in Toledo today by the Lucas County coroner's office.

“It still leaves a lot of unanswered questions,” Sheriff Nye said. “Maybe the autopsy will clear some of those things up.”

Family members who were elated just days ago when Mr. Burner, 65, was found were devastated by his unforeseen death. Julie Setzer said her father had been quiet and confused in recent days.

“Yesterday I asked him how he was feeling, and he said, `I feel strange,'” Mrs. Setzer said.

Mr. Burner was discharged Friday from St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center, where he had undergone testing for two days.

It is believed that March 5 - the day he disappeared - he accidentally fell and hit his head while climbing down from the hayloft of a neighbor's barn, where he had gone to get hay for his horses.

Family members found his toupee, gloves, and some bloodied paper towels in the barn along with the seven bales of hay he had pulled down from the hayloft, but he and his car were gone.

After nearly 10 days of intensive organized searches throughout northwest Ohio, a Van Wert woman saw what appeared to be his older-model car in the lot of the Wal-Mart in Van Wert. She called police, who later stopped the car and reunited him with his concerned wife, son, and daughter.

His son, Rob, said they found a receipt for gasoline, a cup of coffee, and two quarts of oil from a truck stop in Salina, Kan., but few other clues existed that could explain where Mr. Burner had been.

He told family members he could not remember anything about where he had gone or why.

Mrs. Setzer said doctors at St. Vincent's said the tests conducted last week were inconclusive.

“They said they could keep him for several months and do invasive testing, but maybe it would be better for him to just get home to his own environment,” she said. “We asked if we should consult a psychiatrist because he knew what he was going back to, and they said no.”

Mr. Burner had not gone out since he'd gotten home and primarily had been with his family.

Longtime friend Neil Flick said he called Mrs. Burner Friday night and was surprised when Mr. Burner answered the telephone. He didn't know his friend had gotten home from the hospital.

“We had high hopes,” said Mr. Flick, who took part in the daily searches for Mr. Burner.

He recalled an outgoing, personable man who spent his life as a barber - first in a shop on Main Street and later at his home in a converted garage.

“He liked to be around people. In that business, you have to,” Mr. Flick said.

He said Mr. Burner spent a lot of time with his grandchildren and loved his three horses as well. He was an adviser for the Deshler Pony Express 4-H club and a member of the Arabian Horse Club of Toledo.

Mr. Flick said he is convinced his friend suffered some kind of head injury. He said the man who took his life yesterday was not the Richard Burner he knew.

Dr. Marek Skoskiewicz, Henry County coroner, could not be reached for comment yesterday. Deshler police Sgt. Mike Malinowski said he could not discuss the case until the coroner had made a ruling.

Sheriff Nye said Alice Burner awoke about 6 a.m. and found her husband was not in the house. She put on a coat and went out to the barn, where she found his body. It didn't appear he'd been there long.

“The family said he'd been real, real quiet and hadn't had a lot to say since he'd been back,” the sheriff said.

In addition to his wife, son, and daughter, Mr. Burner is survived by his mother, Gladys Burner; his sister, Janet Lentz, and four grandchildren.

Visitation will be after 2 p.m. tomorrow at the Rodenberger Funeral Home, Deshler. Services will be at 11 a.m. Thursday in First Presbyterian Church.

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