Canvass – Laughlin employees
While Detectives Beckwith and Magee spoke with Chas Laughlin, other YCSD investigators talked to the current employees of Laughlin Automotive and Body Shop at 2522 University Avenue in Oxford in an effort to find information on the missing 20-year-old Daniel Collier.
The employees were asked about Daniel's interactions in the workplace as well as their whereabouts the first week of January, the last time Daniel was seen in Yoknapatawpha County.
The interviews summarized are some of the most typical or relevant to the investigation and are representative of all the interviews conducted.
Peter "Buck" Buchanan
Buck Buchanan has been working at Laughlin Auto Body for longer than any other employee, a little over 20 years. He was one of owner Charles "Chas” Laughlin's first hires. Buchanan is a body man, known in the Yoknapatawpha County area for his seamless repairs.
Buchanan reported that he was part of the reason that Daniel Collier was hired in April 2020. He is old friends with Gus Whitwill, the shop teacher at Yoknapatawpha High, and received a recommendation from Whitwill to hire Daniel based on Daniel's drive and artistic ability.
Buchanan said Daniel worked at the shop for about eight months or so. Buchanan recounted that Daniel was a good worker and moved his way from basic services like oil changes and car detailing to doing more advanced paintwork and pinstriping. Buchanan was teaching Daniel more sophisticated bodywork techniques when Daniel abruptly quit in December of 2020.
Buchanan remembers Chas being angry when he heard that Daniel had quit. Buchanan couldn't say why, speculating that Chas bemoaned the loss of Daniel's pinstriping abilities along with the loss of revenue Daniel brought in, or that Chas now had to go to the trouble of hiring another hard-to-come-by competent worker, or both.
In the first week of January, Buchanan split his time between work and home. He mentioned he may have been at The Roadhouse that weekend.
Doug Jordan is one of Laughlin's body men, having worked at the shop since 2003. Jordan is one of the favorite "old men" at the shop and often spends the better part of his off-hours at The Roadhouse.
Jordan thought Daniel was a great hire and was struck by both Daniel's experience with cars and artistic talent at such a young age. Jordan also took Daniel under his wing at first, showing Daniel the ropes and warning him how to avoid his employer's infamous ill-tempered moods.
Jordan said Daniel was better at staying out of Chas's way than most young employees were. As long as Daniel was making Chas money, the boss left the boy to do his work.
Jordan doesn't remember anything odd about the days leading up to Daniel quitting at the shop, saying Daniel was airbrushing frequently in December. The only thing that made Jordan think Daniel may have a shady side was when, a few days before he quit, Jordan overheard Daniel telling a kid whose motorcycle he was painting that Daniel was going down to a party at Lake Sardis where the kid could get his hands on lots of marijuana. Jordan said he didn't know the kid's name, but could pull the invoice to find out.
In the first week of January, Jordan said he was either at work or at The Roadhouse, which was completely customary for him.
Gage Laughlin is the son of Charles Laughlin and the heir apparent of the Laughlin family business. He has worked for his father in some capacity since he was sixteen. It was not evident what actual job he does at the shop currently. Gage claims to be the main mechanic at the shop, but the other employees say that they only see Gage work on his own pet projects while he's on the clock.
Gage said he wasn't impressed when his father hired Daniel Collier, saying that Daniel wasn't a good fit for the shop because of his lack of grit, specifically calling him a "pansy." Gage thought Daniel's airbrush work was completely amateur hour and claimed he could do the same work left-handed. When Daniel quit in December, Gage didn't consider it much of a loss.
When asked what his father thought of Daniel, Gage said Chas never paid much attention to him unless Daniel screwed up, and then Chas cussed him out something good.
In the first week of January, Gage said he was either at work or hanging out at his parents' house watching football.
Brent Rush is one of the newest hires at Laughlin Auto Body; he was hired in September 2020. Rush performs basic services at the shop like oil changes and minor repair jobs like brake jobs and patching tires. Unlike the rest of Laughlin's crew, Rush aspires to go to Ole Miss for a business degree and is working at Laughlin's for tuition money.
Rush was closest in age to Daniel and the two often ate lunch together in the break room. Rush said Daniel confided in him that he was having difficulties at home with his guardian and wanted to get out on his own. When asked if Daniel ever mentioned where he wanted to go or do for a living, Rush said Daniel wanted to be an artist in a big city like New York or Chicago.
Rush also reported that Daniel and Charles Laughlin's son, Gage, didn't have a good relationship. Rush said Gage seemed jealous of Daniel's artistic talent and demeaned Daniel constantly. Gage taunted the much-smaller Daniel when Daniel wouldn't participate in the seemingly weekly employee brawls that occurred out behind the shop, some of which were held for sport, others to settle differences. Rush didn't pay much attention to these brawls himself, considering them grand displays of testosterone-fueled idiocy.
Rush commented that the Laughlins ran the shop in pure Machiavellian style, believing wholeheartedly that it was better to be feared than loved.
Rush added that he noticed that boss Laughlin seemed to be keeping a closer eye on Daniel in December. When pressed to describe what made him think so, Rush said Laughlin would come out of this office more and allegedly take an interest in Daniel's pinstriping. What unnerved Rush, though, is that Laughlin never really examined the actual pinstriping, instead he seemed to be sizing up Daniel.
In the first week of January, Rush was visiting relatives in Abilene, Texas.