Craigslist Tragedy For Elderly Georgia Couple: Why I Carry; Caveat Emptor

Suspect Ronnie “Jay” Towns, 28, left, and victims Elrey “Bud” Runion, 69, and his 66-year-old wife June, right.

The phrase caveat emptor is Latin for “Let the buyer beware.” An excellent illustration of this timeless principle took place in Georgia recently, and the story has been picked up by national news outlets. To recap briefly, an elderly couple placed an ad on Craigslist looking to buy a 1996 Mustang convertible. When the couple traveled to a small town outside of Macon to meet a potential seller, they never returned. Investigators found their abandoned vehicle and their bodies nearby. Both had been shot in the head. A suspect is in custody and has been charged with murder in the case. Such a horrible tragedy just makes me sick to my stomach.

What can we learn from this?

First, if you deal on Craigslist, you could be dealing with anybody, from a respectable citizen just like yourself to a drug-crazed sociopath. Ads to buy or sell on Craigslist are free, so anybody can post them. Second, in most Craigslist transactions, the buyer is putting him or herself in a potentially high risk situation and should act accordingly. Like many people, I have bought and sold items on Craigslist. Here are a few tips to keep your transaction smooth and safe:

For Sellers

  • NEVER have an unknown buyer come to your home. Arrange to meet the buyer during daylight hours in an open area in public. Busy parking lots work well.
  • Following up on this, Craigslist is best for selling easily transportable items. If you have furniture or other large items, try to find another way to sell.
  • As the seller, you set the price, time and place of the deal. Be suspicious of any buyer who wants you to come to him.
  • Get the buyer’s cell phone number before agreeing to meet.
  • Arrive early to close the transaction. If the buyer or buyers look suspicious or “just not right” in any way, leave immediately.
  • Stay alert during the transaction and don’t engage in idle chit-chat. You show the item, ask to see the money. If the buyer wants to test the item (starting up a chainsaw, for instance) this is fine, but keep an eye out and stay alert.
  • Once the goods and money have changed hands, say goodbye and leave.
  • If you carry, keep it concealed. You do not want to freak out the buyer if he is not a CCW person.

For Buyers

  • Remember that you are at a disadvantage here. You are carrying a significant amount of cash, and you are coming to the seller.
  • If the seller suggests a meeting place that you do not like for some reason, ask if he can use another venue. Most legitimate sellers will respect this. After all, you don’t know him, and he doesn’t know you.
  • Come early and check out the meeting place before pulling in. Take note of any potential hiding places from which you could be ambushed. Only if you feel that everything is OK do you arrive for the deal.
  • Get the seller’s cell phone number before agreeing to meet.
  • If possible, do not come to the deal alone. You can take your spouse or a friend along. I recommend no more than two people.
  • If you carry concealed, make sure that your firearm is instantly available to you.
  • Stay alert. Watch the seller carefully. Watch his hands.
  • If there is anything about the seller you do not like, just leave.
  • Keep the transaction businesslike and short. Make sure the item you are buying is what the seller says it is. Make the transaction, say goodbye and leave.

This is all pretty much common sense. If you are carrying cash into a situation where you do not know the other parties involved, you should be carrying your firearm as well. If you feel that these precautions are too extreme, perhaps you should not use Craigslist, in the interest of your own safety.


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About the Author

Constantine is a semi-retired business owner and consultant who lives in the Northeast US. He is an NRA Endowment Life Member and an NRA Certified Instructor. He enjoys all shooting sports as well as big-game hunting. Licensed to carry in over 30 states, he has carried daily for over 20 years and has instructed many novice shooters in firearm safety and basic shooting skills. His EDC (most of the time) is a Rock River Arms custom 1911 loaded with Federal 230 gr. HydraShok JHP. This is carried in a Mitch Rosen USD II Slimline IWB holster on a Mitch Rosen belt. A Chris Reeve Sebenza 25 and a SureFire LED flashlight round out the system.

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