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Three arrested in Thai shop owner's murder

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Riverdale police have arrested three Atlanta men, who allegedly posed as ATF agents in a robbery-homicide.

The men are accused of taking thousands of dollars at gunpoint, from people gambling illegally in the back room of Thai Video, on Ga. Highway 85. They burst into the place with guns, on Oct. 19, yelling, "Down on the floor! ATF!"

One of the men allegedly shot the shop owner, Souphoth Thammavongsa, in the back of the neck as the man lay face-down on the floor. Thammavongsa, a 54-year-old Laotian immigrant who lived in Forest Park, died that Sunday.

Police have charged Gary Steve Kilgore, 28, also known as "The General," Jessie Ben Mathis, 33, also known as "Fleetwood," and Dexter Otis Armstrong, 39, also known as "Buck," with murder, armed robbery and aggravated assault.

"The perpetrators had prior knowledge of this gambling operation," said Riverdale Police Chief Samuel F. Patterson. "They intended to rob the gamblers. The robbery could have gone on and there might not, except for the homicide, have been any notice to the police at all."

Police initially said they had little to go on in the investigation of the robbery-homicide. The witnesses, who were gambling illegally, had mostly fled; the family, running an illegal operation, had tried to clean up the scene.

By the end of the month, though, the trio had been given up by the girlfriend of one of the suspects, according to court records, and there were warrants out on the three men.

Armstrong was arrested Oct. 29, outside a girlfriend's apartment after Atlanta police recognized his car. Mathis was arrested at his home in Atlanta. Kilgore -- allegedly the one who shot Thammavongsa -- was arrested Wednesday night at an extended-stay motel on Fulton Industrial Boulevard.

Patterson credited the arrests to "anonymous tipsters, criminal informants, citizens, victims in the robbery and other witnesses," as well as to the cooperation of local enforcement agencies -- the Atlanta Police Department, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the United States Marshall's Office, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

According to the arrest warrants on file at the county courthouse, the trio took about $3,000 from the gamblers.

Patterson said all of the robbers have criminal histories, and the suspected robbery crew may have regularly raided and robbed illegal operations, like the back-room gambling joint in Riverdale.

"One of them indicated it was a good thing we caught him," Patterson said, "because he was planning to rob another person that afternoon."