A framed black-and-white photograph sits at a restaurant where Jerry Greer used to drink his second cup of morning coffee — always black, always one Sweet‘N Low.
The photo, placed there shortly after his death by his brother, Gene Greer, depicts a smiling Greer as a young boy, wearing shorts and cowboy boots, standing with his two brothers — whom he lived within miles of his entire life.
The void permeates beyond those close to Greer as they wrestle with their grief and into the community where they believe, somewhere, his murderer lives free.
Seven months ago, a killer crept into his Templeton home and shot the 71-year-old man multiple times in the head, shoulder and neck while he slept.
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The homicide remains unsolved. No suspect has been named. No clear motive identified.
A $5,000 reward is now being offered by Crime Stoppers for anyone with additional information about his death.
Today, those closest to Greer are struggling to resume their lives, but their grief is as multilayered as the questions that remain.
Relief, they say, will not come until his murderer is caught.
Greer’s daily routine was predictable. He started his day with the first morning light and made his way along a network of restaurants and businesses before heading home for the night.
He kept candy in his pockets to give to children and shared laughs and jaunts with the town’s old-timers.
Now small remembrances, like the photograph, are found at those places.
Mark Simmons, the owner of Hoover’s Beef Palace in Templeton, where Greer made his first stop each day, said people continue to ask weekly if any progress has been made in finding his killer.
“A lot of people miss him,” said Simmons, adding that from the kitchen he’ll often overhear people talking about him. “People continue to reflect on his life.”
Greer was a man of few desires who kept close ties with his family and longtime friends. He lived alone — he had been long divorced — and rarely traveled far from home. He didn’t like change and boldly told those close to him that change is what was wrong with the country.
He didn’t trust banks and was rumored to keep a large amount of cash in his home.
No one is sure if that might have prompted the murderer to slip in through his back door in March, but nothing obvious was out of place or stolen.
Greer lived a simple life — eating refried beans cold out of the can with a fork at night while standing in the kitchen. On Sundays, he would barbecue chicken thighs and put them in the refrigerator to have for the week.
Years of letters and photographs sent by his daughter were piled high on his dining room table.
Unopened Christmas presents were tucked into the closet of the spare bedroom.
His boots were worn thin, but he did not think a new pair was justified.
He was frugal, and everyone knew it. It was part of his charm, and over the years it led to many cups of free coffee and the occasional free bacon hidden under his pancakes.
Described as cantankerous, Greer didn’t go out of his way to make friends but in an unabashed way, it just came naturally. He didn’t believe in gambling, followed the law without question and didn’t make enemies.
Which is why those who knew him are all left with the same question about his murder: “Why Jerry?”
Standing in the front yard of his father’s home, Brian Greer, 42, speaks candidly about his father’s death. The grief is visible in his weighted brow, heard in the audible pauses between his thoughts as he speaks about his dad.
“There is no logical explanation,” Brian Greer said. “I’ve gone through every possible scenario that I can think of, and it just doesn’t make sense.”
Brian Greer points to the area surrounding his father’s 20-acre ranch and recites the names of the neighbors who have lived nearby for generations. No one noticed anything out of the ordinary the night that his father was killed.
On the weekends, youth drive up the road into the canyon to party, he said, but on any given weekday there is a good chance that anyone who passes is a familiar face.
“I almost want to believe it was a kid — pulling a stunt to see if he could get away with it,” said Brian Greer, adding that he hasn’t ruled out that it might have been someone his dad knew. “There is a killer living among us,” he said.
Jerry Greer’s daughter, Debbie Thompson, who lives in Northern California, said she too is burdened by unanswered questions.
“I was looking around at what seemed like 500 people at his funeral and wondering which one of them did it,” she said. “I couldn’t help but feel that the person who killed my dad was there.”
A correctional officer at the state prison in Soledad, Brian Greer moved into his dad’s home shortly after the killing. He spends his spare time making improvements to the house and sorting through his dad’s belongings.
In a way, he said, he is making amends for not seeing his father as much as he would have liked while he was alive.
Until recently, a large white sign with black letters was erected in the front yard to confront his dad’s killer.
“It is so sad and criminal that you think you have the right to take someone’s life for some sadistic personal gain. I hope you spend every minute of your existence looking over your shoulder and reliving your actions. You are truly sick,” it says.
Brian Greer said the sign is as much a message to the killer as a reminder that his dad lost his life unfairly.
The sign concludes with, “Just know in your heart that I will personally make it my life-long mission to bring justice for your actions. Your pathetic life is ruined. If you should feel the need to talk — you know where to find me.”
He took the sign down a week ago at the request of his uncle, who said the sign was upsetting the neighbors.
“I’ve lived here since 1939, and I got complaints from friends in the canyon that drove through and saw the sign — they don’t like it,” Gene Greer said. “The sign is inviting whoever did this to come and talk to him, and that would mean more violence.”
Until recently, Gene Greer called the detectives investigating his brother’s murder weekly for updates.
“They won’t tell me nothing, and I don’t have anything to add,” said Gene Greer, saying he remains optimistic that they’ll find whoever killed his brother. “They have to get it right, and that takes time.”
The brothers shared a lifelong bond — visiting daily and taking care of each other.
“If it got too late and I didn’t call, the next morning he would ask why I didn’t call to check and see if he was OK,” Gene Greer said. “I was his security.”
It was Gene Greer who found his brother dead after he went to his house to check on him when he didn’t show up with a tractor part like they’d planned the night before.
He found the front door locked, the back door open and his brother shot to death in his bed.
Nothing in the house appeared disturbed, taken or touched.
That day, he sat at his brother’s bedside, holding him one last time.
“I couldn’t sleep for a long time,” Gene Greer said. “I’m finally getting back to normal a bit — trying not to dwell on it as much as I have been these past few months. When I held him — that was my goodbye.”
Gene Greer said he knows no more today then he did seven months ago about why anyone would have killed his brother. “Everyone is a suspect in this thing,” he said.
Detectives with the Sheriff’s Department say they start and finish each work day with the case — vowing to work every lead they can until they arrest the person who murdered Jerry Greer.
“We never put these cases away,” said Detective J.D. Cronin, one of the detectives assigned to the case. “They never go away. It is going to get solved one way or another because we won’t stop until we do.”
Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939.