When John Velas was shot and killed during his morning walk on Labor Day, a chain of shock and suffering began for his sister.
She is still only beginning to feel its shockwaves.
Pauletta Bujcs and her husband, Richard, rushed to Lawton from their Allentown, Pa., home the minute they received word of her brother’s death. Unfortunately, she said, it was received the following afternoon and it was a family friend in Lawton who made the call.
Pauletta said her forever-61-year-old brother retired from the Army after 20 years as a sergeant first class. That’s what first brought him to Lawton. Over that time, he earned his Master’s Degree in computer science and, following retirement, worked 15 years at Fort Sill in the same role as he did in the military.
After 27 years of marriage to the “love of his life” Carole, Pauletta said Velas returned to Lawton in 2019 after her death. He quickly made it his home.
In his time in Lawton, Pauletta said Velas made friends with a tight circle who have since become an extended family. From the staff where he banked to his dog groomer, all who knew him loved him, she said. The sister wants people to remember his kindness and gentle soul.
“He was a gentleman … thoughtful … very loving,” she said. “I just want my brother’s good name out there.”
Velas was the youngest child of the family, Pauletta said. The sisters were jealous of his curls and long eyelashes.
“Growing up, he’s the baby,” she said. “We hated him.”
When Velas’ wife, Carole died, Pauletta said her brother got down before picking himself up. He started taking the trips planned as a couple but never taken. A favorite outing during his visits back to the northeast was to go fishing and crabbing in Virginia.
“He tried to live his life to the fullest,” she said.
Not long after his wife’s death Velas decided to buy properties in Lawton with hopes to make them AirBNBs. He and Susen Hunter became partners in the enterprise. He outright owned three homes and the partnership dubbed Venatore Valis Ventures L.L.C. owned another four properties, Pauletta said. She couldn’t confirm who owned two other homes linked to him.
Pauletta said her brother and Hunter married in September 2019 in Las Vegas, Nev. This is where, she said, his life changed greatly.
While going through Velas’ house following his death, Pauletta found a folder of photos from November 2019. In the photos, you can see bruising, scratches and abrasions all over Velas’ body. She believes he was a victim of domestic abuse.
The sister said her daily communications with her brother began to dwindle while he was married to Hunter. Friends who saw him noticed the once military-disciplined Velas who was always on time and neatly kept together had fallen into disarray. The change was alarming. Pauletta said Velas was the kind of guy who always sent her a photo of what he’d made for dinner, for example.
“He never hung up the phone without telling me he loved me,” she said.
In November 2020, Hunter filed for divorce from Velas. A contentious dissolution followed that included a bankruptcy. A hearing had been scheduled for November regarding division of property. Pauletta said it was expected to be finalized then.
Over the course of the separation, Velas and Hunter had requested protective orders against each other. Living across the street from one another made for several tense situations, Pauletta said.
Court records indicate Velas received a protective order against Hunter that was in effect from November 2020 to April 2021. In turn, Hunter received a protective order against Velas in June 2021 that remained in place until being dismissed in May 2022.
Pauletta said since the divorce filing, Velas received information three different times from people who claimed Hunter attempted to hire them to kill him. In the May 2022 protective order hearing, he shared that information in court.
Still, Velas was returning to the man his sister said she knew before the marriage to Hunter. But there were changes.
He’d begun setting up security cameras outside his house. That he and his estranged wife lived across the street from one another gave him concerns.
At one point, Velas had 10 cameras monitoring activities around his house. After returning from one trip, Pauletta said, he found they had all had wires cut and had been taken. He then put up 20 more cameras to make up for it.
An avid walker, Velas used to hike trails in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. That stopped, according to Paulette, when a man associated with Hunter, Michael Montgomery, continued to show up at the same time and place.
Records indicate Velas filed for and received an emergency protective order against Montgomery in April 2022. Its extension, however, was denied in September 2022.
Then, on April 24, Montgomery filed for and received an emergency protective order against Velas. It was formalized on May 25, records indicate.
Pauletta said she harbors some ill feelings toward Lawton police and the courts for not taking Velas’ reports of threats on his life seriously. He’d reported three different times people came to him to tell him Hunter had tried to hire them to kill Velas.
A former employee of Hunter’s went to Velas on Aug. 15 and told him he, too, had been approached about killing him. He declined and went to Velas who, in turn, video recorded the man and turned it over to police. At the time he was murdered, an investigation into the allegations was underway. Lawton Police Detective Donald Pauley spoke with Velas on Aug. 31 and had the video as evidence.
Pauletta said it was the afternoon after her brother was killed in the city’s 11th homicide of this year that she learned of his death from a friend. She believes no matter who pulled the trigger of the 9mm handgun that killed Velas, Hunter is to blame.
“I said, ‘She killed him,’” she said, “’she finally did it.’”
It wasn’t until seeing her brother’s body at the funeral home that Pauletta knew the true violence in his death. One of the six bullet wounds to his right torso would have been fatal, she said the medical examiner told her. Three shots to his head were made to prove a point, she believes.
“He was executed, it was like a mob hit,” she said. “It just seemed so personal.”
Pauletta said her brother wore a GoPro camera when he walked. He also wore a smart watch. Neither were recovered when Velas was found lying in Elmer Thomas Park. His wallet cell phone and car keys were with him, however, She hope her computer savvy brother had images and data from these items that may help solve the case. The police have been examining the contents of Velas’ cellphone.
Velas also kept a log of when his estranged wife left her house that police have recovered. He also had around 20 security cameras at his house to capture any potentially nefarious activities. Again, Pauletta hopes amongst these things, closure and justice may follow.
Pauletta believes in the lead detective working on the case.
“Detective Pauley has been a godsend,” she said. “He’s a remarkable man.”
Richard said they understand it’s a marathon and not a spring getting to the bottom of this.
“We understand it’s not a quick thing,” he said. “They’ve got to do it right.”
Now, Pauletta is waiting for the final paperwork to take her brother’s ashes home to Pennsylvania. She’s already begun the paperwork for him to receive the military funeral with honors he earned.
“I’m taking him home, we’ll do something when we get back to Pennsylvania,” she said. “We’ll pick him up and then we’re gone.”
As the investigation continues, Pauletta and Richard said they will return to Lawton and follow it through for Velas. Her brother would do it for her, she said.
“We’ll find a way to get back here,” she said. “I loved John; whatever we need to do, we’ll do.”