Missouri homicide victim won $4.9 million in 2005 fire

A Columbia art dealer who was gunned down in his home earlier this month had won nearly $5 million in a legal settlement after he was badly burned in a 2005 apartment fire that forced him to rely on caretakers — like the one who is accused of killing him.

Brian Daniels, 46, was found dead April 10. A former caretaker who claimed to be in a romantic relationship with Daniels called police to report he had found the body after returning home from an overnight stay in the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles.

That caretaker, James Thompson, 23, was charged April 14 with first-degree murder after investigators said cellphone records indicated he was still in Columbia at the time of the shooting. He was being held on $2 million bond, and his public defender didn’t immediately return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.

Thompson had received power of attorney and was made sole beneficiary of Daniels’ estate in forms notarized two months before Daniels was killed, the Columbia Missourian reported. A friend who is charged with providing a false alibi for Thompson told police he purchased a notary stamp solely to notarize that document and Daniels’ last will and testament in February.

Daniels suffered severe burns in a fire at his Warrensburg apartment in September 2005 that left him scarred and caused him to lose some functions of his hands. His mother, Lucille Daniels, sued the apartment’s management company and his landlord, resulting in a settlement of $4.9 million.

Lucille Daniels moved to Columbia with her son in September 2008 when he bought a home now valued at $368,000, according to the Boone County assessor. She died a year later, and Daniels was forced to rely on caretakers.

One of them was Thompson, who had a key to Daniels’ home until Daniels changed the locks April 5, a day after he told police Thompson had come into his home and stolen items, including gold coins.

Investigators found that Daniels had made several reports that Thompson stole things from his house. A pawn shop database showed that Thompson had pawned gold items four times between July 2012 and February, receiving more than $18,000 for them.

In March, officers were called to Daniels’ home on a report of a law alarm. They found Thompson and Daniels had gotten into a physical altercation that left Daniels with a cut on his forehead. Investigators also said the home’s circuit breaker had been turned off.

At the time, Thompson told investigators he had served as Daniels’ caretaker but did not mention any romantic relationship, according to the probable cause statement.