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By Echo Menges
Edina, MO – Friday, October 22, 2021 – The death of Ray Tripp, Jr., 61, of rural Knox City, came as a shock to the communities of Knox and Lewis counties after Tripp’s body was discovered in the burned-out ruins of the Tripp home on June 14, 2021.
Since then, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating Tripp’s death, which, according to Sheriff Allen Gudehus, continues to be an ongoing investigation.
Two suspects emerged during the initial phase of the investigation conducted by KCSO Deputy David Fagin. Wesley E. Ruggles, 39, of LaBelle, and Bradley S. Wilkins, 52, of Kirksville, were arrested and criminally charged by Knox County Prosecutor Andrew Boster just days after Tripp’s body was discovered.
Before a Preliminary Hearing could be held in the cases against the two men, which was scheduled for July 26, Boster dropped the charges against both Ruggles and Wilkins.
“Law enforcement needed additional time to complete their investigation. I only dropped the charges after reviewing other cases (in other counties) on Ruggles and Wilkins and only after a reasonable belief they would remain in custody ensuring public safety,” Knox County Prosecutor Andrew Boster told The Edina Sentinel in an email.
Earlier this week, the Prosecutor filed new charges in the case. This time, only Ruggles has been criminally charged.
On October 19, the Knox County Prosecutor filed 12 criminal charges against Ruggles including three Class A felonies, murder – second degree, arson – first degree and assault – first degree. Ruggles is also facing a Class B felony charge of burglary – first degree, and a laundry list of lower classification felony charges including stealing – firearm/ explosive, two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm, tampering with a motor vehicle, armed criminal action, unlawful use of a weapon, tampering with evidence in a felony prosecution, and a misdemeanor charge of stealing.
The narrative about what happened inside the Tripp residence has also changed. The newly filed Probable Cause Statement written by Deputy Fagin and filed in Case No. 21KN-00085 against Ruggles includes the following:
On June 13, 2021, Wesley E. Ruggles traveled to Ray V. Tripp’s residence at 51422 Economy. Road, Knox City, Missouri, in Knox County. Tripp met Ruggles at the door, and Ruggles provided a false name and false reasons for being there in an effort to gain entry into Tripp’s residence. After an initial denial by Tripp, Ruggles was eventually able enter the residence.
Tripp became suspicious of Ruggles and instructed Ruggles to leave and Ruggles refused. Tripp pulled out his phone and Ruggles thought he was taking a photograph of him, and Ruggles attempted to take Tripp’s phone from Tripp. Tripp produced a 9mm handgun, pointed the gun at Ruggles’ head, and pulled the trigger. Ruggles punched Tripp in the face, knocking Tripp back onto a couch. Tripp worked the action on the pistol and pointed the gun at Ruggles again.
Ruggles picked up a shotgun he had located leaning against the wall in Tripp’s residence and struck Tripp over the head with the shotgun, breaking the stock of the gun. Tripp then produced machete and attempted to strike Ruggles with it, and Ruggles struck Tripp over the head with a glass bottle he had located in Tripp’s residence, rendering Tripp unconscious.
As Tripp lay face down on the floor, Ruggles covered Tripp’s body with a blanket. Ruggles described that his shorts and shirt were covered in Tripp’s blood so he washed his shirt in the kitchen sink and took a pair of Tripp’s shorts because his shorts had so much blood on them.
Ruggles left the residence in Tripp’s vehicle, a green 2006 Hyundai Elantra. Ruggles provided information to me about his activities after the incident that had been corroborated during the course of the investigation.
Ruggles used change he took from the house to pay for gas at the gas station on video in Lancaster, Missouri, just as he told us in the interview. Ruggles sold the 9mm handgun that was used during the fight with Tripp to Brad Wilkins
I was able to observe the hand off as described by Ruggles from security footage in Wilkins residence that took place at about 1724 hours on June 14, 2021.
A few cell phones belonging to Tripp and other various items where recovered in a black bag that Ruggles reported taking from Tripp’s residence leaving at a residence in Kirksville Missouri.
Ruggles told me that he drove Tripp’s vehicle, a green 2006 Hyundai Elantra to James Scott’s residence and hid it behind Scott’s for a few days before abandoning the vehicle in Adair County off of a gravel road. James Scott was able to corroborate the chain of events with the vehicle.
Tripp’s t residence burned completely a short time after the altercation while Tripp’s body was still inside. Tripp’s body was located after the fire was extinguished face down in the living room area of the house on June 14, 2021.
A postmortem examination was conducted at the Boone/Callaway County Medical Examiner’s Office on June 17, 2021. During the examination, the remains were positively identified as the body of Ray V. Tripp, date of birth July 15, 1959. The opinion of the Medical Examiner was the cause of death of Ray Tripp is atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and cardiomegaly. Thermal injuries and physical assault may have contributed to the death. Physical assault cannot be confirmed by this autopsy due to thermal changes.
It is not known if criminal charges will be re-filed against Wilkins in Knox County. He is currently facing a Class C felony charge of delivery of a controlled substance in Adair County, and he is currently incarcerated at the Moberly Correctional Center for felony possession of a controlled substance.
At the time of Tripp’s death, Ruggles was serving a five-year sentence of court supervised probation in Case No. 19AR-CR01356-01 after pleading guilty to making a terrorist threat in Adair County in 2019. The Adair County Prosecutor Matt Wilson has filed a probation violation motion in the case.
Ruggles is currently in custody at the Adair County Jail.
The information in this news story was obtained from court documents filed in the case against Ruggles, which is one sided. Wesley Ruggles is presumed innocent unless proven guilty in court.