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Muir Grad Arrested in Teacher, Pupil Deaths

January 15, 1986|DEBORAH HASTINGS | Times Staff Writer

A 22-year-old former student at Pasadena's John Muir High School has been arrested in the slayings of the school's most popular teacher and a 17-year-old student, police said Tuesday.

Robert Gregg Butler was taken into custody by Pasadena officers late Monday night at his Azusa home and held on suspicion of murder in the Dec. 13 shooting deaths of social sciences teacher Robert Jones, 47, and Ronald McClendon, a junior varsity basketball player, Officer Mike Guerin said.

Butler, a senior police science student at Azusa Pacific University, graduated from Muir in 1981. He stayed with Jones briefly in 1983, and regularly visited the teacher while attending college in San Diego, where he lived for a short time before transferring to Azusa Pacific in 1985, Guerin said.

Motive Uncertain

Police declined to comment on a motive for the killings or to say what evidence led them to arrest Butler.

"Investigators had contacted him early in the case and a number of other people," Guerin said. "The scope narrowed and the other suspects were eliminated."

The bodies of Jones and McClendon were found in the teacher's home in the Lower Hastings Ranch area of Pasadena after Muir's principal became worried when the teacher failed to show up for class.

Both victims had been shot once in the head and once in the body, apparently as they slept, police said. McClendon, clad in his basketball uniform, was in a sleeping bag on the couch. Jones was in bed in his bedroom.

In the weeks following the slayings, police had said they were stymied for clues and could find nothing in either of the victims' backgrounds that indicated why someone would kill them.

Didn't Know Suspect

On Tuesday, Muir Principal Jim Charles said he had no comment on the arrest and did not know Butler.

"Our campus is just now, hopefully, getting back to normal," Charles said. "I don't have anything to say."

Jones, who headed the school's social sciences department and was an assistant track coach, was a favorite of teachers and students alike at John Muir, one of the largest high schools in Pasadena. He had been a teacher with the Pasadena Unified School District for 25 years and was known for his compassion and willingness to take troubled students into his home.

After his death, United Teachers of Pasadena took out an ad in a local paper commemorating Jones and his career. The union also established a scholarship fund in his name.

McClendon's family said the boy had been staying temporarily with Jones while they attempted to resolve a family argument over the strict doctrines of their religion. Before moving in with Jones, McClendon had lived with his aunt for two months.

Brenda Johnson, McClendon's mother, said Tuesday that Butler was a friend of her sister's children and had visited her sister's home.

"He was a friend of my nephews," Johnson said. "They keep telling me that I've met the boy, but I don't remember him. I am very confused about the whole thing."

Knows Suspect's Uncle

Johnson said she knows Butler's uncle, Walter Butler, who runs a sporting goods store in Pasadena.

At his shop on Tuesday, the uncle was reluctant to speak about his nephew.

"I'm bewildered," Butler said. "He was happy at school, happy with his roommate and his girlfriend. There was no reason for any animosity (toward the victims)."

John Wallace, dean of students at Azusa Pacific, said Tuesday that Butler had transferred to the private, four-year college last fall from Point Loma College in San Diego.

"He wasn't here very long," Wallace said. "He was one semester short of graduation. He was well-liked by those who knew him and he seemed to be socially well-adjusted and academically well-adjusted. We just really don't know much about him."

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