Police call West Seneca deaths murder-suicide after weeks of mystery

The two people found dead Jan. 22 inside a unit of this duplex on French Lea Road died in a murder-suicide, according to police. (Keith McShea/Buffalo News)

Some of the mystery surrounding the deaths of a woman and her stepfather found last month in a West Seneca duplex ended Friday as police announced the case was a murder-suicide.


Police released the causes of death of Gregory A. Grimmer and Jennifer A. Villa a day after The Buffalo News spoke with town police and municipal officials about the lack of response to questions about the deaths, and two days after an assistant police chief denied a freedom of information request from The News.

Villa, 31, died after suffering multiple gunshot wounds to the chest, while Grimmer, 60, died from a gunshot wound to the head, police announced in a news release, citing a report from the Erie County Medical Examiner's Office.

Villa's death was ruled a homicide and Grimmer's a suicide.

Their bodies were found early in the evening of Jan. 22 in a duplex residence at 92 French Lea Road by a woman police previously identified as Grimmer's wife and Villa's mother. Police said Friday the department had no further information to release and the case remains under investigation.

West Seneca police, who have withheld public information in the past and currently provide no regular access to standard information about arrests and incidents to multiple local news outlets, on Wednesday rejected a written request from The News under the state's Freedom of Information Law for a copy of the incident report about what police found Jan. 22 at 92 French Lea.

A police spokesman said in the news release the case remains an open investigation and no further details were available.

Prior to Friday, police had said only that the deaths of Villa and Grimmer were not due to natural causes or from an apparent medical event. They also said they had no information about any disturbance at the home before the bodies were discovered and they did not believe the situation left the public in any danger.

Assistant West Seneca Police Chief Michael B. Boehringer on Thursday said the police had no new information to disseminate to the public about the case. He also acknowledged it was unusual for the department to have released such little information about two deaths more than two weeks after the bodies were found.

"When there is information to be given out, when there is information we can release, we will," he said.

A day later, police released the causes of death. Police did not respond to a question from a reporter about when they received the report from the Medical Examiner's Office.

Raymond Villa, Jennifer's father, declined comment when reached by phone several days after the deaths were discovered.

Boehringer called The News Thursday after a reporter called West Seneca Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan to alert her to the police department's failure to share information with the public and the media.

Police rejected The News' FOIL request for the incident report, citing an exception in the disclosure law that permits departments from disclosing public records in cases when such disclosure would "interfere with law enforcement investigations or judicial proceedings."

Police departments have the ability to redact portions of public records if they would impede investigations or deprive a person of a fair trial, said Kristin O'Neill, assistant director of the New York State Committee on Open Government. There is basic information in an incident report that should be disclosed and to deny the release of an entire document when they have the ability to redact portions is overbroad, O'Neill said.

"I think they're taking the easy way out by issuing the blanket denial," she said.

For more than two weeks, calls to direct lines in the police department rang but did not go to a voicemail system. Police staff said there was an issue with the phone system that was preventing voicemails from being left.

Meegan said a new phone system is in the process of being installed, but was not aware that voicemails could not be left for the police department.

Emails sent directly to Lt. James P. Unger, the department's public information officer, and phone messages left with other police department employees for Unger went unreturned since Jan. 23.

West Seneca Police Chief Daniel M. Denz also did not return two phone messages left with a person in his office.

Boehringer, who said Unger serves under his command, said he directed the lieutenant not to release any further information about the deaths at the time.

In an email Friday to multiple reporters and news outlets, Unger said he apologized "for my lack of availability over the past few weeks."

"Town Hall is 'upgrading' our phone system, and in the transition we have lost the availability of the voicemail system," he wrote.

Unger also said he serves on the "emergency management team" that has been dealing with the recent blizzard and flooding.

But weather, phone and time management issues were not a factor another time West Seneca police refused to disclose public information about a high-profile incident.

Late in 2013, police officials withheld public documents regarding an arrest in a fatal crash that killed the town's then-Democratic Committee chairman. The information police withheld included basic information like the age and address of the man who was arrested and charged.

The town's Justice Court released documents more than a week after the crash and agreed to do so only after The News threatened legal action and the state Office of Court Administration explained the documents were public records.

The News also isn't the only news outlet having difficulty getting information from West Seneca police. The West Seneca Bee, a weekly publication in the town, had its access to police blotter information cut off in 2017.

After the department started limiting the paper's access to police reports, the Bee published an editorial outlining what the department was doing. After the publication of that editorial, police told the newspaper's then-Editor Jennifer Waters the department was suspending its access to reports.

The police chief told Waters "the blotter was provided as a 'courtesy' to the Bee," Waters said in a text message to a News reporter.

The West Seneca Sun, a sister publication of The News, has been trying to get police reports from the department on a weekly basis since it began publication in October, said Michael Petro, senior editor for Sun Newspapers and editor of the West Seneca Sun. The paper had also been trying to obtain information from police about the French Lea Road deaths, to no avail.

Since he took over as editor of the West Seneca Sun in December, Petro said, he has tried to work out an arrangement with police officials for access to basic police reports for use in the paper's weekly blotter.

Other Sun newspapers have been able to establish processes for regular access to reports with other police departments in the area that they cover, Petro said. West Seneca police have required Sun staff to file requests under the Freedom of Information Law.

In response to one request, the department has told the publication it would cost about $152 to access one week's worth of reports. The fee would cover a charge of $.25 per photocopied page and the time it would take for the photocopying process, the editor was told.

The department's stance, including charging fees for access to public information, essentially amounts to "a complete denial of access" by the police, Petro said.

"They're playing by their own rules," he said.

Ki Monique
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Ki is an actress, tv personality, and reporter. She has many hobbies and talents. Her father is a retired military veteran.