Charlie Buck's obsession with bartender Carol Perez was no secret to the employees of the Drawbridge Inn, a bar and restaurant that once occupied a prime spot on the main strip in downtown Mystic.
Seven years ago, Buck went into the bar every day during Perez's shift. He sat at the bar drinking diet Coke and having "secret" conversations with her, according to court testimony. He showered Perez with gifts, including a camera, laptop computer, sound system and brand new Monte Carlo, but she told him that nothing would ever happen between them because he was married.
Charles F. Buck, 62, is accused of killing his wife, Leslie Buck, on May 4, 2002, and police contend his interest in Perez, a woman who was about 25 years younger than he, was a prime motive. Buck is accused of clubbing his wife with a heavy length of electrical wire, causing her to fall down the stairs and suffer a fatal head injury.
Mrs. Buck, a popular elementary school teacher, had been kidnapped two days before she died, allegedly by a Russell Kirby, a friend of her husband, who was later arrested. She escaped from her captor, only to die two days later of a head injury in the stairwell at her home at 77 Masons Island Road in Mystic. She was 57.
Perez is expected to testify at some point at a probable-cause hearing under way in New London Superior Court, but on Thursday, two of her former co-workers at the Drawbridge Inn took the witness stand. The state is trying to convince Judge Susan B. Handy that there is enough evidence to prosecute Buck for murder.
Gage Pray, who worked as a waiter, said the employees called him "Uncle Buck" and became very curious about his relationship with Perez. One day, he overheard Buck say he was thinking about leaving his wife, Pray testified.
"He was concerned that his wife was going to take half his money," Pray said.
Ralph Hill, a kitchen manager, testified that around the time of the kidnapping, he saw Buck crying in his van in the parking lot behind the restaurant. He asked Buck why he was crying, and Buck told him, "He had told his wife everything, and she said that if he leaves her for this whore that she would take him for everything he has."
Hill said that around the same time, Buck offered him $7,000 to have someone beat up, or do worse, to a former boyfriend of Perez.
"Charlie Buck wanted me to get Steven Johnson beat up," Hill testified. "No, he didn't want him beat up. He wanted him not breathing. I said I didn't want anything to do with it."
The morning after the kidnapping, Buck went to the restaurant and told Perez and others about the incident, according to Hill.
"How was he acting?" prosecutor Paul J. Narducci asked.
"Not like somebody whose wife was kidnapped," Hill responded.
During a lengthy cross-examination by defense attorney Hubert Santos, Hill turned to the judge and admitted, "I'm so confused." Santos was trying to elicit when the conversations with Buck allegedly took place and when Hill told police about them. Hill talked to the police several times between 2002 and 2007 and gave them at least two written statements, but on Thursday, he could not recall the names of the detectives who interviewed him.
"One was really skinny," he said.
Also testifying Thursday were Glen Hathaway, an officer at the Quiambaug Fire Department, where Buck volunteered. Buck has said he left his wife at their home on 77 Masons Island on the day of her death, went to his office on Elm Street to do some paperwork, leaving at around 3:30 p.m. He said he stopped at the fire department to talk to Hathaway on the way to the Cash Home Center to pick up some pepper spray for Leslie Buck, who was frightened after being kidnapped two days earlier.
Hathaway estimated Buck stopped at the fire department about an hour before the department was called at 4:06 p.m. to search for a possible drowning victim on Masons Island. He said Buck seemed "very emotional" when he talked about his wife's kidnapping.
"He said at the end of the conversation, 'I don't know what I'd do without Leslie. She is my whole life,' " Hathaway testified.
Patricia Moody, an EMT and funeral home worker, testified she ran into Buck at the Cash Home Center. He was carrying two cans of pepper spray and, as the two talked about Mrs. Buck's medical condition, his pager went off and the fire department was called out to Masons Island for the missing person. Moody said Buck left the store and drove to the entrance of Interstate 95 southbound, which would not be the quickest way back to his home.
Buck told police he went back to his office on Elm Street before returning home at 5:20 p.m. He called 911 at 5:38 p.m. to report that his wife appeared to have fallen down the stairs and was unresponsive.
The hearing resumes Monday.