STORE CLERK'S MURDER UNSOLVED DEPUTIES ACCUSED OF BUNGLING CASE

SARAH METZGAR Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B1

Date: Monday, July 11, 1994

CHARLTON Betty Conley was murdered a year ago, shot in the head while she worked alone at the Xtra Mart.


Her killer hasn't been found. Conley's friends and relatives, frustrated by unanswered questions, are criticizing the Saratoga County Sheriff's Department. ``We're very unhappy,'' said Conley's sister Rose Starr of Westerlo. ``We believe they messed up the investigation from the beginning. We hope it's not too late to rectify.''


Deputies say the case is a difficult one no witnesses; no fingerprints; no weapon at the scene. Sheriff James Bowen was out of town Sunday and couldn't be reached for comment. Undersheriff Kenneth Cooper, commenting through a dispatcher, said deputies have worked hard on the case. They have tracked leads all over the state, he said, and routinely order a ballistic check when a similar bullet is used in another crime.


But the victim's friends and relatives say Conley told her friends about two creepy customers, and they claim that sheriff's deputies have been slow to check those leads.


One of the customers scared Conley so much that she worked out a code with her best friend, telling her that she'd punch a three-digit number on the cash register if he came in again.


It was only in the last couple of months, Conley's friends and relatives said, that sheriff's deputies had the friend hypnotized and made sense of a mysterious final entry on the receipt.


``She did punch those numbers in the night she was murdered,'' said Lorie Sherman, a Conley friend. ``We believe it wasn't a transient. We do believe she knew him, and it was that person she was spooked by.''


Conley, of Southline Road, worked three nights a week at the Xtra Mart at the intersection of Route 67 and Peaceable Street in the Charlton hamlet of Harmony Corners. Deputies say the 37-year-old mother of two was killed at about 2:10 a.m. on Thursday, July 8, 1993, shot in the head with a bullet from a 9mm handgun.


Conley's hypnotized friend gave a detailed description of the creepy visitor, according to Starr and Sherman, and the description matches the mental snapshot of a motorist who drove by the market at about the time of the murder.


The motorist told sheriff's deputies that he saw a man with long blond hair standing by a gas pump near a midsize white car with gray primer on the driver's door a 6-foot-tall white man in his late 20s or early 30s wearing a peach-colored tank top.


Conley told her friend about a man with shoulder-length, wavy blond hair who came in about three weeks before she was killed, a man who acted strangely and drove a white car with primer on the door.


``He leaned across the counter. He asked her where the nearest police station was and whether she was alone,'' said Starr. ``She and her girlfriend decided if that same man came in again, she'd leave a message on the cash register. It was the very last thing she had on the cash register.''


Conley also complained to friends about a man she called a ``law enforcement officer,'' a self-described ladies' man who wore street clothes, carried a gun and made unwanted advances during his regular visits. Conley read his name off a name tag and told a family friend, according to loved ones, but deputies haven't hypnotized the friend to help him remember the name.


Lee Weeden, another friend, said she called the Sheriff's Department Saturday about the Conley case. ``I told them I wanted to talk to someone in regard to the case. They never asked who I was or if I knew anything. What if I was the one who did it and I was turning myself in?'' she said. ``They told me the investigators weren't in, and that I'd have to call back tomorrow. That showed me there's no interest in this. It's kind of like her name has been shoveled on the bottom of the desk `Who cares? It's been a year.' ''


Weeden said the State Police took her call. Weeden, like other friends and relatives, have unsuccessfully tried to get troopers involved. But sheriff's deputies were the first on the scene, and have not asked the troopers for help. Unless Bowen asks for help, the troopers can't meddle in his jurisdiction.


``They didn't find the bullet casing,'' said Conley's widower, Bruce, referring to the fact that an Xtra Mart worker found the casing a few days after the murder. ``What else did they do wrong? They don't know what it's like to have this happen to them unless it was their wife and mother. . . . If the state was on it right away, it might still be unsolved. But we would have known they tried a lot harder.''