Tears for murdered village postmistress - VIDEO
After the raider fled with money from the safe at Melsonby Village Shop and Post Office, near Richmond, Robin Garbutt, 44, found his 40-year-old spouse dead from head injuries in the upstairs living quarters.
As detectives vowed to bring the killer to justice yesterday post office bosses reacted with horror to the murder which has sent shock waves through the industry.
Peter Finlay, branch secretary of the National Federation of SubPostmasters (NFSP) in the North East, said: "Everyone at the Federation is devastated to learn of this appalling tragedy.
"Local members of the NFSP have offered their full support to her family and will assist in any way possible. This incident once again illustrates the dangers subpostmasters face on a daily basis."
Paula Vennells, the Post Office's network director, said: "Everyone at the Post Office is shocked and appalled at the terrible death of Mrs Diana Garbutt, who was dedicated to serving all the community in Melsonby, North Yorkshire, where she lived.
"Our thoughts are with her family at this very sad and difficult time and we will be doing all we can to support them. We urge anyone with any information on this terrible crime to contact the police immediately."
Det Supt Lewis Raw, leading the 30-strong murder investigation team, said: "This is a shocking crime, which has left Mr Garbutt distraught and the residents of Melsonby very shocked and saddened.
"Police are determined to bring Mrs Garbutt's killer to justice. However, we need the assistance of members of the public who were in the area at the time to come forward."
Just after Mr Garbutt opened the post office counter, he was confronted by the raider, who was about 6ft and skinny.
He wore a tight black balaclava mask, dark blue long sleeved T- shirt and dark blue/ black coloured jeans which were low on the waist with large pockets at the back.
The man, who escaped with a "significant amount" of money, was carrying a firearm at his right hand side, but police have confirmed Mrs Garbutt was not shot.
The black holdall with two loop handles on top was made of shiny plastic with an open zip and might have had a black towel inside.
Police want to hear from anyone in the village from 4am until 9am, including customers being served in the shop just before the gunman appeared.
Det Supt Raw said it would have been a fairly busy time with people travelling to work or school. He appealed for sightings of suspicious or unknown vehicles and the darkly clothed masked man, and reports of anyone finding a discarded balaclava.
There may have been more people involved in the crime.
Local garage owner Bill Nixon said up to 40 children had been buying sweets from the shop minutes before the tragedy unfolded, although police cannot confirm this.
It is thought the Garbutts moved to Melsonby about seven years ago from the York area and had been married for five or six years. She was said to have a military background.
After the store was targeted by armed robbers in March last year, the couple put the business up for sale but then decided to stay.
Linda Ling, who works part-time in the shop and lives in a nearby cottage, described them as "a lovely couple, just very devoted. I feel very sorry for Robin. I don't know how he'll go on without her".
Detectives say there are similarities with the previous raid, for which no one was arrested.
He added: "Obviously, Mr Garbutt is distraught.
"He has helped us from the start of the inquiry and we'll do everything we can to support him throughout this investigation."
The number for witnesses to call is 01904 669576.
Countdown to brutal killing
Tuesday 4.30am: Mr Garbutt opens the village shop after getting up and leaving his wife upstairs. He works downstairs, serving customers.
8.15am. Linda Ling, who works part-time in the
shop and lives in a nearby cottage, opens her curtains. She sees children waiting for the bus, and goes to make her bed.
8.30am. Mr Garbutt opens the post office counter. Shortly afterwards the gunman appears from the private quarters, claiming "We have your wife".
A local garage owner claims the shop was filled with up to 40 children buying sweets. Police are unable to confirm this.
8.30am to 8.38am. The suspect or suspects are believed to have left the premises. Mr Garbutt dials 999 and requests an ambulance. Mrs Ling and other residents get their first hint that something is wrong as the 999 vehicle arrives.
8.38am. Police are called to shop by North Yorkshire ambulance service. Mrs Garbutt's body is found. She is certified dead at the scene by ambulance service paramedics. A post mortem examination later reveals she died from head injuries.
8.30pm. North Yorkshire Police announce the investigation is now a murder inquiry.