OAKHURST – It has been nearly 13 years since Gary Flynn, co-owner of the Sportsmen’s Den in Oakhurst, was gunned down in broad daylight in his place of business.
During a press conference Friday afternoon, Sheriff Anderson told reporters, “We have cleared the case of the Sportsmen’s Den homicide in 2001,” and said his office will ask the Madera County District Attorney to file murder charges in the brazen homicide.
Former Fresno resident Kenneth James Wilson, 35, is the man identified by law enforcement as having committed the murder. Wilson is currently serving life without parole in High Desert State Prison in Susanville, CA.
Anderson said deputies spent thousands of hours investigating the crime, and that the decision to request murder charges was made after a lengthy investigation by two Fresno County Sheriff’s Detectives, Sergio Toscano and Hector Palma.
“These two men spent several months, even years, following up on the jail-house confession of Wilson, who is now serving a life sentence for another murder he committed in 2008, seven years after the cold blooded killing of Coarsegold resident Gary Flynn,” said Anderson.
Wilson was apparently familiar with Fresno authorities and reportedly would only discuss the case with them. In turn the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office relayed the information they learned from Wilson to Madera County Sheriff’s detectives over the ensuing months and years.
Mid-afternoon on Wednesday, April 25, 2001, at least one assailant entered the Sportsmen’s Den in Oakhurst, shot the proprietor Gary Flynn, 61, in the head, and made off with 14 guns and cash.
At that time, the store was located just across from McDonalds on Highway 41, where Payday Services Plus is now.
The community was outraged that such a heinous crime could take place in Oakhurst, a town not known for such violence. A fund was set up to raise money for a reward for information on the perpetrator, and residents donated thousands of dollars in hopes that someone would come forward with information.
The Sheriff’s Office believed that someone may have witnessed something, since the crime took place in the middle of the day. Citizens On Patrol even set up outside Vons, Raley’s and the Sportsmen’s Den with signs, asking anyone with information to please come forward.
“When we have a crime, there is a crime report and then there are supplements when people come in and give various statements about the crime,” said Sheriff Anderson. “In this case there were 89 supplements. Our officers interviewed all kinds of people, then did follow-ups, because we were really scratching to make an arrest and clear this case.”
Anderson said they created a little card listing the 14 guns stolen, and sent them to every gun dealer in California.
“We took them to the gun shows and displayed them,” said Anderson. “One of these guns we thought sure would turn up. It was a Ruger Super Redhawk 454 Casull, which is very rare and very expensive; something probably only collectors would have. But out of the 14 guns stolen, only 3 have turned up, all during street arrests. Two were recovered in Fresno, and one in Madera.”
The Sheriff’s Office printed up wanted posters with a sketch of the suspect, and Crime Stoppers even did a re-enactment, hoping someone would remember something that would help.
But despite the best efforts of friends, community members and law enforcement, the case went cold and the murder remained unsolved until the spring of 2008 when investigators got a break.
Fresno County Sheriff’s Detectives captured Kenneth Wilson, who at the time was wanted for the execution style killing of 34-year-old Julian Barajas in Fresno County.
“As sometimes happens, after he is arrested and is awaiting trial in jail, he confides to his cellmate,” said Anderson, stating that Wilson boasted that his current charges were nothing compared to other crimes he had committed, and proceeded to talk about a homicide at a gun and fishing store in Oakhurst.
“Well, his cellmate, as they often do, said ‘hey, what’s in this for me,’ and contacted the authorities,” said Anderson. This led to numerous conversations between Wilson and Fresno County Sheriff’s Detectives, during which he provided details about the robbery and murder.
Wilson claimed that on the day of Gary Flynn’s murder, he and another man (still outstanding) were headed to Bass Lake to go fishing. On their way to the lake, they stopped by the Sportsmen’s Den in Oakhurst.
“Wilson’s account of what transpired mirrors information our Office had, but was never released to the public,” said Sheriff Anderson. “We knew this information could have only been known by someone who was there.”
Sheriff Anderson says Wilson told authorities what kind of weapon was used in the shooting death of Gary Flynn. In fact, the gun in question had been thrown out the window of a car in which Wilson was riding during a high speed pursuit in Fresno, just months after Flynn’s murder. The Tec-9 was recovered by Fresno authorities, the ballistics checked out through the Department of Justice, matched with the shell casing and and bullet found at the crime scene, and was determined to be the murder weapon.
Wilson claims the reason he finally came forward about the Sportsmen’s Den homicide was to clear his conscience.
Sheriff Anderson says based on the confession and the lengthy investigation conducted by the two Fresno County Sheriff’s Detectives, he is confident they have enough evidence to request that the D.A. file murder charges against Wilson for the murder.
Even with this major breakthrough, Sheriff Anderson says the case is ongoing as detectives investigate Wilson’s claim that he wasn’t alone when Flynn was murdered.
As for the nearly $14,000 in reward money donated and held in a bank account set up by Flynn’s good friend J.R. Froelich, it is not known what the disposition of those funds will be.
“I was instrumental in creating a Justice for Gary Flynn fund to raise money to help bring in the perpetrator,” says Froelich, “and I’ve been wanting to give away that money for thirteen years.”
Froelich says he doesn’t know what the exact dispersal of those funds will be, but says, “We will see that it gets to something that supports our Madera County Sheriff’s Office in some way or another.”
Sheriff Anderson says one of the toughest things about this crime was that “we were all personally tied to it because Gary was a close friend to most of us. So many of us were his customers, and he was very active in the community.”
Anderson says that before he retires, he had two cases he wanted to clear. One is the continued search for (then) 67-year-old Fresno County resident, Colonel James Arthur who was reported missing on July 29, 2008, after failing to return home after a day trip. Arthur advised family he was going to visit Star Lake and then go to Big Sandy for lunch. He reportedly left at 8:30 that morning and never returned. The search for Colonel James Arthur has never stopped.
The second case on Anderson’s list was the senseless and tragic murder of Gary Flynn. One down, and one to go.