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Crime & Courts

Man indicted for murder after body found under floorboards of Wasilla home

Daniel Roy Buckwalter, 46, of Big Lake, had been missing for nearly five years before investigators say they found his remains underneath the floorboards of a Wasilla man’s home.

A Palmer grand jury has now indicted the man, Jay Osmond Gardner, 55, with the first- and second-degree murder of Buckwalter, according to an Alaska State Troopers report. Gardner is also charged with tampering with physical evidence, troopers said.

Gardner had long been a suspect in Buckwalter’s disappearance, which troopers declared a death investigation in 2016.

Daniel Buckwalter. (Photo provided by Dept. of Public Safety)

Investigators on April 20 dismantled floorboards at Gardner’s residence on Kerry Lynn Lane, in Wasilla, troopers said in the report. Buried beneath about 3 feet of dirt and rocks they found the “heavily decomposed remains of an adult human,” troopers said. The state medical examiner later determined the remains to be Buckwalter, troopers said.

The medical examiner determined Buckwalter died from a gunshot wound and asphyxiation, troopers said. His death was a homicide, troopers said.

Investigators had made multiple previous attempts to find Buckwalter’s remains at various locations in the Mat-Su, including an April 6 search during which Gardner’s property was excavated but no remains discovered, troopers said.

Gardner has been in state custody since Alaska State Troopers arrested him on March 25 at the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage for an outstanding felony warrant for a charge of misconduct involving weapons. Gardner said he was attempting to flee the state under a false identity, troopers said.

A federal affidavit shows that Gardner had been using a fraudulent ID with the name of a woman he said is his sister at the airport. He was charged in federal court last month with the felony crimes of identity theft and making false statements.

But the affidavit in that federal case also reveals other details about the circumstances of Buckwalter’s death and the investigation.

According to the affidavit, Gardner was identified as a primary suspect in 2015 after Buckwalter’s vehicle was found near Gardner’s home.

Buckwalter was last seen on August 4, 2015, and was reported missing several days later on Aug. 12, according to the state troopers’ report. He was believed to be heading to the Meadow Lakes area near Wasilla at the time of his disappearance, troopers said.

Six days before he had been reported missing, Buckwalter’s vehicle had been found abandoned on Three Bees Road and impounded, troopers said. Investigators later linked the vehicle to his disappearance and found blood evidence inside, according to troopers. DNA testing confirmed that the blood was Buckwalter’s, troopers said. His vehicle had also been moved from the initial crime scene, they said.

According to troopers and the affidavit, investigators believe that Gardner’s home is the scene of Buckwalter’s death. Investigators also believe that Gardner participated in removing Buckwalter’s vehicle from his property after he was killed.

Blood revealed to be Buckwalter’s by DNA testing was found at Gardner’s home, where investigators saw Gardner sawing wood at the residence to cover up a remaining blood stain in the driveway, according to the affidavit.

Gardner also made “several inconsistent statements” during the investigation, according to the state troopers report.

According to the affidavit, when questioned by investigators, Gardner admitted that Buckwalter owed him and another man money for drugs, and that on the day of Buckwalter’s disappearance Gardner had convinced the Buckwalter to come over to his residence.

Gardner then said he alerted the other man to Buckwalter’s arrival and that two others came over to his property, according to the affidavit. Gardner said he then went inside his home while the others remained outside and then heard a gunshot and looked outside to see Buckwalter was “shot and running around.”

Troopers said Buckwalter was likely killed at a home on Kerry Lynn Lane in Wasilla, about 2 miles from where Buckwalter’s vehicle was found.

During the investigation into Buckwalter’s disappearance, investigators interviewed more than 50 people, served more than 30 search warrants and sent more than 30 pieces of forensic evidence to the State of Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory, according to troopers.

The affidavit shows that Gardner may also be connected to a Nov. 2, 2019 triple-homicide; an eyewitness for Alaska State Troopers identified him as present during the homicide, but Gardner later told troopers that he been at home and did not witness the murders, according to the affidavit.

Gardner is currently being held without bail, troopers said.

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