Blaming a murder on a butler was sometimes the popular thing to do in the old murder mystery movies.

But magician Gus Searcy, a 35-year-old who also doubles as an inventor and businessman, doesn't mind anyone blaming his butler for all types of acts.Of course, his butler actually is "Butler in a Box," a sophisticated electronic and computerized device that could make people very lazy in a hurry, depending on how extensively it is used. Or it could make injured, handicapped or ill people very independent in a hurry.

Searcy's butler is a voice-activated device that does almost everything except change the oil in a car but it can turn on a light that will make changing the oil easier.

Not one to mince words, Searcy believes his Butler in a Box is 10 years ahead of its time because it can perform so many functions that people are skeptical about the device. But a Searcy demonstration can quickly remove skepticism.

One of his butlers has been installed at Western Rehabilitation Institute in Sandy in a medical environment. Interwest Medical of Salt Lake City, distributor of Butler in a Box, arranged for the demonstration.

It will be used in an apartment at Western, a place that serves as a go-between for people who are nearly ready to be released to their homes after lengthy stays for rehabilitation from illness or injury.

With the butler sitting on a night stand, Searcy says, "Godfrey," and the device answers, "Yes, master," in a lifelike voice. "Light," says Searcy. Two seconds later a light near the bed comes on. A few seconds later, Searcy says "Good night" and "Godfrey" turns off the light.

These functions are only the bare beginning of what the Butler in a Box can do. Responding to either voice commands or touch, Butler in a Box can perform 256 functions including turning on the morning coffee, turning on radios or televisions, dialing the telephone, turning on sprinkling systems, discouraging burglars or keeping track of children who might wake up and roam the house at night.

Butler in a Box gives the owner complete command of his house through four methods of operation such as "smart clocks" that will turn appliances on at prescribed times, touch, situation (activation of alarms) and voice command. It is sensitive to four different voices and even responds to foreign languages.

It is unobtrusive-looking because of its small dimensions, less than 11 inches tall, less than 9 inches wide and slightly over 3 inches deep. It looks like a stereo speaker, and it's amazing so much can be done with such a small package.

Butler in a Box works through standard house wiring by plugging in lamp or appliance modules into electrical outlets.

The device also can be rigged with a sensor that is placed in the lawn and when it rains it will keep the sprinkling system turned off until the lawn dries and then the sprinklers will come on again.

One of the most important functions of Butler in a Box, especially for homeowners worried about burglaries, is the anti-intrusion function. A sensor is placed in a strategic location and when an intruder passes that spot if a password isn't given, all of the lights in the house begin blinking and, depending on what devices are desired, horns sound and sirens go off.

Searcy said Butler in a Box can also be programmed to say something to the intruder like, "You had better get out of here or I'll call the police."

He said there are so many applications for his invention that it takes several hours to learn them all. A videotape is included in the purchase price so owners can learn all of the functions.

How did Searcy, the magician, who also had computer knowledge, come to invent Butler in a Box?

People watching his magic show asked him why he didn't turn the lights off with magic the way he made coins disappear. Shortly after getting a start on his invention, he met West German Franz Kavan and within six months had developed a rudimentary voice interactive computer system.

In 1984, the Searcy-Kavan combine organized Mastervoice, and in 1985 the company received $2.3 million in venture capital, established administrative, research and development offices in Los Alamitos, Calif., and completed plans for production and marketing.

At the demonstration, one woman asked Searcy how much his device costs. Searcy, in turn, asked the woman how much she thought is cost. "$20,000 was the reply. Searcy said the cost is $1,495, which brought some "oohs" from those attending the demonstration.