Three men gunned down in a cabin south of Forestville were buying marijuana from an unknown assailant in the latest deadly confrontation over the North Coast's lucrative illicit crop.
The bodies of Sonoma County native Raleigh Butler, 24, and two men who traveled from out of state to purchase pot were found Tuesday on a rural property near the end of Ross Station Road, Sonoma County sheriff's officials said.
Todd Klarkowski, 42, of Boulder, Colo., and Richard Lewin, 46, of Huntington, N.Y., had come to the area to buy a "large quantity" of processed marijuana, said Lt. Dennis O'Leary, who oversees investigations.
Detectives on Wednesday were chasing down clues to identify the suspect or suspects, who left behind no weapons, no cash and only a tiny amount of pot, O'Leary said.
"We now believe a marijuana drug deal resulted in three dead," O'Leary said. "We believe the three were associates and there was another involved party."
Violent robberies involving pot have become an all too common investigation for North Coast detectives.
Marijuana was at the center of at least 22 killings on the North Coast in the past decade, seven of which took place in Sonoma County.
"Most of our violent crime is related to marijuana, the theft of marijuana, the growing of marijuana," O'Leary said.
On Tuesday, Butler's brother became worried when he couldn't reach him and went to check on him, O'Leary said. The Santa Rosa man and his girlfriend found the bodies in a bedroom of a cabin, where Butler's mother has lived for several years on a wooded property at the western end of Ross Station Road, investigators said. Butler's mother was out of town at the time.
Investigators on Wednesday began to research the background of the other men, who apparently came to Sonoma County for the sole purpose of buying pot, O'Leary said.
It wasn't clear how the men knew each other or who arranged the transaction.
O'Leary gave few details about what transpired at the cabin, but noted there were no signs of a struggle.
Detectives continued their interviews with acquaintances, friends and family who might have clues.
"I'm not going to go into where we are at developing suspects because it's still very early in the investigation into a crime that happened 24 hours ago," O'Leary said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference at the Sheriff's Office. "We still have a lot of work to do."
Anyone with information about the case can call the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office investigations bureau at 565-2185.
Butler was living in or near Truckee but grew up in Sonoma County, and at some point lived in Petaluma. His father and brother declined to speak to a reporter Wednesday.
Little was known about the other men.
"A lot of people travel into our community and commit these crimes. It's a large problem for us," O'Leary said.
The proliferation of marijuana -- and the cash involved in its illegal trade -- have been an increasing element in violent crimes, investigators said.
Men have been found dead in clandestine pot gardens and shot during home-invasion robberies and in alleged disputes over drugs.
A first-degree murder trial is to begin soon at Sonoma County Superior Court for the alleged shooter in a fatal marijuana rip-off.