In the months before a Whiteland man, according to investigators, set fire to his home and business and then shot himself, he and his longtime girlfriend had separated and his property went into foreclosure.
John K. Fulling, 70, had recently taken over and renamed the graphics business he had run for more than 27 years with his former girlfriend, Pamela Rush.
Last year, the two had broken up, and Fulling filed a lawsuit to separate her from the business, Rush Graphics, which he renamed Graphics-R earlier this year, according to court filings. About a month later, the Graham Road property was in foreclosure, and debtors were looking to collect on the mortgage and a home equity loan, according to court records.
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Investigators said they suspect Fulling on Wednesday night used gasoline to start a fire in the business building, just south of Whiteland Road, then went into the home connected to the business, sat in a chair and shot himself in the head, Bargersville Fire Chief Jason Ramey and Johnson County Deputy Coroner David Lutz said.
The fire, which could be seen from Interstate 65 and State Road 135, destroyed the property. Fire officials, including the Indiana Fire Marshal, continued to investigate Thursday.
Firefighters were called to the home just before 8 p.m. Wednesday, and were told a man might be trapped in the basement, Ramey said. Bargersville was one of several fire departments called to the home, and took the lead on the fire, he said.
Shortly after, neighbors and relatives told firefighters that the man inside might have a gun and want to harm himself, Ramey said.
Firefighters moved away from the home and determined, based on the size of the fire, that if anyone was inside, they could not have survived, Ramey said. A total of 26 trucks from five counties came to fight the fire for more than four hours, using more than 105,000 gallons of water, Ramey said.
The fire is still under investigation, but at this point investigators said the fire was set deliberately based on the size of the fire, how quickly it grew and three gasoline cans were found inside, Ramey said. Investigators suspect the fire was started in the business, and then spread to the home, he said. No other properties were damaged.
In addition to the gasoline, the fire was also fueled by natural gas that was connected to the home, and chemicals inside the graphics business also ignited, causing several explosions, Ramey said.
Once the majority of the fire was out, firefighters searched the basement of the home and did not find anyone inside. They made at least two other passes before they found Fulling in a bedroom, under debris, Ramey said.
No autopsy was performed, but the death was ruled a suicide by a gunshot wound to the head, David Lutz said. Investigators found Fulling in a recliner in his bedroom, with the gun in his lap, he said.
Fulling had recently borrowed the gun from a friend, saying it was for his protection, Lutz said. On Aug. 5, Fulling reported to police that someone had kicked in the front door of his home, but nothing was taken, according to police reports.
Residents and neighbors told fire officials that Fulling might have wanted to harm himself, Ramey said.
In November, Fulling had filed a lawsuit against Rush, saying the graphics business they had formed together had to be divided or liquidated after they ended their relationship. The two had lived together since 1990, according to the court filing. Fulling had inherited the Graham Road property from his mother, court records said. Rush could not be reached for comment.
The next month, Fulling, Rush and the business were sued as part of a mortgage foreclosure lawsuit on the property, which said they owed more than $76,000 on the mortgage and had a second mortgage for $31,000, according to court records.
Court records also said Rush owed Fulling $450,000 in a Mechanics lien, which can be filed by a person or business who has done construction work on a home and not been paid, according to the state department of financial institutions.
Rush filed for bankruptcy, citing the lien and mortgages, along with other business loans totaling more than $100,000, and gave up her interest in the business and property, according to court records.
The business, which made signs, banners, decals and other graphics, had been operating since 1990, according to filings with the Indiana Secretary of State. In February, Fulling created Graphics-R, which had the same address, the filing said.