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Evidence collected at crime scene, murder suspect's home

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — The man charged with three counts of capital murder at a Grayson County tree farm last month has drawn scrutiny from police in other cases.

According to Pennsylvania court documents, Frederick Phillip Hammer, 48, previously served prison time after being convicted of killing an off-duty Philadelphia police officer in 1978. Six years later, a judge ordered a new trial at which Hammer was acquitted of charges.

Hammer was arrested Jan. 26 in connection with the shooting deaths two days earlier of Ronald Hudler, 74; his son, Fred Hudler, 45; and tree farm worker John Miller Jr., 25.

The arrest warrant shed light on why investigators were led to him as a suspect.

According to the warrant, police searched his North Carolina home and found two guns and a scope missing.

Broken pieces of a scope were found near one of the victims at the crime scene on Charles Spencer Road, as well as shell casings of the calibers matching the missing guns.

One victim was wounded by a larger bullet, according to the warrant — possibly a .38 caliber. Each of the three had wounds from a smaller weapon, possibly a .25 caliber.

Hammer’s truck was found at the home of a close relative in West Jefferson, N.C. The warrant said empty cartridge boxes and a cloth gun handbag were found in the truck.

The warrant said tire impressions from the garage where one of the slayings occurred match tires on Hammer’s truck as well. It says officers who searched it believed it had been recently washed.

According to the warrant, witnesses placed Hammer driving toward the Hudler home around 9:10 a.m. and another placed him traveling away from the area between 12:30 and 1:30.

Officers arrived on the scene shortly before 1 p.m.

Hammer was questioned on the night of the slayings and the warrant said at first he was non-compliant.

His story was that he was at a friend’s house all morning and had not been on the Hudler property. Officers contacted the person he was supposedly with and could not confirm his alibi.

Hammer fled to Florida with his wife in a Ford Thunderbird the next day.

The warrant says that Hammer went by the tree farm’s office on Jan. 22 to say he owed money to one of the Hudlers and was questioning where he was. He asked where Ronald Hudler was and was told he had been out of town for three weeks and would return by the end of the week.

Authorities said all along that they believed the person responsible knew Ronald Hudler’s schedule.

Police searched a camper in Wythe County, believing he may have visited the site on Cripple Creek Road the day of the shootings. According to court documents, officers found partially-burned clothing in a fire pit near the camper.

Hammer was back in Virginia on Monday and made a court appearance on Tuesday morning. He was arraigned in Grayson General District Court on the murder charges.

Jonathon Venzie and James C. Turk were appointed as attorneys. Hammer was transferred back to New River Valley Regional Jail in Dublin, where he is held without bond.

Hammer is listed as a person of interest in the case of a missing man in Ashe County, N.C., as well.

Ashe County Sheriff James Williams said circumstances of last week’s slayings “certainly renews our interest in him, and at some point, when the time is appropriate, we will interview him again about the Jimmy Blevins case.”

Blevins went missing Feb. 27, 2007. He worked for Hammer at times. “They were friends at one point and he was also related through Mr. Hammer’s wife,” Williams said.

The sheriff said Hammer drew interest in that case because he was the last person to be seen with Blevins on the evening of his disappearance.

Police believe Blevins is deceased, and this past summer searched Hammer’s North Carolina home for evidence.

“An extensive search was conducted,” Williams said. “We searched a burning pit near his residence as well as other places on his property and several places he had been working.”

The case remains unsolved, as does a Dec. 19, 2005 slaying in Ashe County, N.C., in which Tim Shatley was shot to death on Route 16.

Sheriff Williams said there is no evidence linking Hammer to the Shatley homicide.

He said it was coincidental that Blevins lived within 1,000 feet of where Shatley was shot and within a few miles of where the Christmas-tree farm slayings occurred.

Grayson Commonwealth’s Attorney Douglas Vaught said because the charges are capital, the death penalty could be sought against Hammer.