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Investigation of merchant's death continues

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A makeshift memorial to downtown business owner Milton Sawyer Jr. is seen outside his store Treasure Hunter at Colonial Avenue and N. Road Street, Friday evening. Sawyer died early Thursday morning after a confrontation with an intruder at his home.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Friday, August 3, 2018

Pasquotank Sheriff Randy Cartwright said his office continues to investigate the death of a popular downtown merchant who died after a confrontation with an intruder to his home early Thursday morning.

Cartwright declined to release any new details in the probe of Milton Sawyer Jr.’s death on Friday, saying only that investigators are following all leads and hope to establish a motive for the crime and develop a suspect.

The sheriff said Thursday that Sawyer, 55, died after an altercation with an intruder in his home in the 1800 block of Darian Drive about 12:30 a.m. Both Sawyer and his wife, Angel, were assaulted by the intruder, Cartwright said. Angel Sawyer was later treated at a local hospital and released, he said.

The intruder made off with jewelry, money and other valuables, Cartwright said. Sawyer was the owner-operator of the Treasure Hunter, a store that sold antiques, books, comic books, movies and records at the corner of North Road Street and East Colonial Avenue in Elizabeth City.

Cartwright said an autopsy was performed on Friday, but his office is still awaiting information from the report before he can state what caused Sawyer’s death.

Cartwright, who lives in the same Darian Drive neighborhood as the Sawyers and had known their family a long time, said he’s as shocked as his neighbors about the home invasion and Sawyer’s death. But he said what happened to the Sawyers would be shocking in any Pasquotank neighborhood. 

Someone who had been helping Sawyer at the Treasure Hunter said Friday he’s shocked by what’s happened. He described Sawyer as someone who didn’t seem to have any enemies.

However, Mike (not his real name) described one recent encounter Sawyer had with a customer that seemed out of the ordinary.

According to Mike, the man walked in the Treasure Hunter one morning about 2½ weeks ago and told Sawyer he wanted an item returned. The man claimed that either a family member or relative of his had stolen the item from him and unlawfully sold it to Sawyer.

Mike said he was sitting on the floor organizing comic books, but decided to stand up and listen to the conversation because the man’s voice was becoming increasingly intense.

"I know that you sold my stuff," Mike recalls the man telling Sawyer, demanding that he produce the name and address of the person who had bought the item.

Mike said Sawyer explained to the man that all of his sales are final and that he couldn’t reveal the names of any of his customers.  

In response, "the guy was just getting more and more agitated," Mike said.

Sawyer, however, remained calm throughout the confrontation, telling the customer he was welcome to go around the corner to the Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office and lodge a complaint, Mike said. 

"He was being completely rational to the guy and just telling him, 'This is what happened. If you want to talk to the sheriff, they can come down here,'" he said.

At some point Sawyer did give the man a couple of items that he claimed were stolen, Mike said. He estimated the incident lasted about 10 minutes before the man left.

Afterward, Sawyer seemed a little upset by the encounter, but didn’t seem angry or shaken by it, Mike said.

Mike described the Treasure Hunter as an interesting place to hang around.

"It's not like a pawn shop where there's guns and jewelry all over the place," he said.

Sawyer made deals by handshake and kept petty cash on hand to make transactions. "There wasn't even a computer," Mike noted.

Asked what Sawyer was like, Mike described him as "a super-relaxed guy, really nice, really mellow."

"He was always calm, really personable to me," he said.

Mike said Sawyer and his wife, who he described as “super-nice, too,” liked to sit in recliners and chat with people who would stop by the store.

"I mean, his death is a definite tragedy," Mike said.

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