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Disappearance of Man, 84, Puzzles and Frightens His Family, Friends : Mystery: Buster Weatherall apparently vanished after returning home from a senior citizens center. Police have few leads.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

William Weatherall preferred to go by “Buster.”

At the senior citizens center in Watts where the gregarious, independent, 84-year-old retiree played dominoes with the best of them, friends are sadly asking one another, “Where’s Buster?”

“It’s mysterious,” said 65-year-old Willie Bradford, punctuating his concern with the thwack of a domino hitting the table top. “That last time Buster was here, we played dominoes and everything seemed all right.”

Friday, Jan. 4, was when Buster Weatherall last joined the group of men around the table in the recreation room at the center on Central Avenue. More than three weeks later there is no word from him, and authorities say little is known about where he might be.

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The disappearence raises fear and sadness among Weatherall’s family and the group of friends at the center.

“I’ve been calling his number every hour of the night, hoping someone--anyone--is going to answer,” said John Fort, 71, during lunch Monday at the center run by the Watts Labor Community Action Committee. Fort’s most recent call to his friend’s empty home was late Sunday. “A good man disappears all of a sudden; it’s not an easy thing to understand.”

Other senior citizens gathered at the center’s entryway Monday as the missing man’s daughters asked if people had heard any new information about Weatherall.

Much of the talk was about what is already known.

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Weatherall left the center about 2 p.m. on Jan. 4. Apparently he arrived home shortly after that. Weatherall had told a longtime friend, Cora M. Augustus, he would be in during the evening. She told him she would phone.

“I called several times, and let the phone ring and ring,” Augustus said.

When Weatherall did not respond, Augustus called his relatives to see if they knew where he had gone. Worried, Augustus and Lessie Jones, the missing man’s daughter, went to his two-bedroom house on Crocker Street and found his van parked in front.

The gate to the driveway was uncharacteristically open. Weatherall’s two German shepherds were outside, unfed. Augustus and Jones searched the home and checked with neighbors. Two dozen phone calls and a day later, they filed a missing person report with the police.

Investigators are checking Social Security records to see if there has been a recent change in the address where Weatherall’s monthly check is sent. Bank records are also being looked into, said Detective John Sotello of the Los Angeles Police Department’s missing persons division. Anyone with information can contact detectives at (213) 485-5381.

Family members told authorities they fear that the disappearance is connected with a $17,000 property loan that Weatherall took out on behalf of a friend who reneged on paying him back.

Sotello said the transaction had not been substantiated by police, but that the investigation would include questioning the friend.

“Meanwhile, time keeps passing,” said Milton Robins, 64, a friend from the senior center who wondered aloud Monday about the cost of airing a videotaped appeal for help in locating Weatherall.

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Robins said he taped his friend playing dominoes at the center. In the video, Weatherall wears his favorite baseball cap.

On it is printed the salutation Weatherall liked to shout when he walked into the center: “Buster’s here!”


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