Rare slaying in Malvern stirs shock, disbelief

Merritt Neil Dudas, held on 1st-degree murder count.
Merritt Neil Dudas, held on 1st-degree murder count.
Posted: November 22, 2013

MALVERN They were high school buddies, neighbors for a time, who liked to tinker with cars. They even lived together in this tranquil little town for a few months when one needed a place to crash.

Their friends called them "wonderful" and "caring" and "sweet."

Now, one is accused of killing the other, stuffing his body into a sleeping bag, and hiding him behind some junk in a garage. Then he allegedly stole his car, wallet, and phone, and went home.

Merritt Neil Dudas, 24, is accused of shooting Drew Alan Ferguson, 21, in the head at Ferguson's home in the 200 block of Miner Street. He is being held at the Chester County Prison on first-degree murder, robbery, and other charges.

According to police, the crime is not only terrible, it's rare. Malvern had not reported a slaying since a domestic dispute in 1996.

"Malvern Borough is an extremely safe area to live," said Police Chief Louis Marcelli. "There's not random shootings going on in the area."

Friends and neighbors of Dudas and Ferguson said they had often seen the men together. Both attended Great Valley High School. About two years ago, Ferguson let Dudas live with him when he had nowhere else to stay, according to District Attorney Thomas Hogan.

Neighbors said they often saw Ferguson, an employee of World Motorsports in Reading, working on a car outside the home he shared with his grandmother.

Ferguson's grandmother answered the door at the house Wednesday, but declined to comment.

Police said they found Ferguson's body Monday afternoon inside the sleeping bag in his home's detached garage, after his mother reported him missing.

Dudas hid the body there and drove away in Ferguson's car with the victim's wallet and phone, police said. They said they found the stolen items and the .380-caliber Ruger handgun used in the slaying at the Montgomery County home where Dudas was living with his girlfriend.

"Speechless is what we all are right now," said Melissa Morrison, 35, who grew up on Miner Street. "They both came from good families. It's sad for both sides. I think both families are suffering a great loss."

Dudas had previously threatened Ferguson, police said. Witnesses said that disagreement could have been about drugs or money, but the cause was unclear, Hogan said.

A friend of Dudas' who asked not to be named said he did not know Dudas to be a violent person.

"I've only known him as a good kid who was trying his best to turn his life around," he wrote in a Facebook message to The Inquirer. He said he met Dudas a few years ago while both were recovering from drug addiction.

Amanda Spurgin said that she had known Dudas for about a year and that the charges against him were shocking. "The Merritt I knew would not have been able to do this, especially to somebody he had known for so long and been so close to," she wrote in a Facebook message.

When Dudas was in grade school, he was an altar server for four or five years at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Malvern, said Deacon Lawrence P. Froio.

"He was a wonderful boy," Froio said. "He was just a nice young man."

Chris Salvey, Ferguson's friend since grade school, said Ferguson was like a brother to him.

"I don't know why anyone would want to kill him," Salvey wrote in a Facebook message.

Dudas was convicted of burglary, trespassing, and marijuana possession in 2008 and was not permitted to carry a gun. His preliminary hearing will be within the next week, police said.


mbond@philly.com

610-313-8105 @MichaelleBond

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