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INDEPENDENCE — Grayson County officials secured three capital murder warrants Sunday charging a Crumpler, N.C., man in a triple homicide at a Mouth of Wilson tree farm last Thursday morning.
Frederick Phillip Hammer, 48, was questioned around midnight the day of the shootings on Jan. 24, at his home in Ashe County, N.C.
Three men were found dead of gunshot wounds that day at the Hudler Carolina Tree Farm on Charles Spencer Drive, off Route 16 near the Virginia/North Carolina line. Police theorize that the victims interrupted a robbery at the large Christmas tree farm, also the home of the farm’s owner, Ron Hudler.
Killed in the incident were Ron Hudler, 74, of Mouth of Wilson; his son, Fred Hudler, 45, of West Jefferson, N.C.; and farm worker John S. Miller, 25, of West Jefferson.
Grayson County Sheriff Richard Vaughan said Hammer became a person of interest in the case after further investigation. Hammer was taken into custody Saturday by the U.S. Marshal’s Service Fugitive Task Force in Punta Gorda, Fla., under a fugitive warrant for a probation violation in North Carolina. He is being held in custody by the Charlotte County (Fla.) Sheriff's Department.
Hammer was transported back to Virginia and appeared in Grayson court for arraignment on Tuesday. He is being held without bond at the New River Valley Regional Jail in Dublin.
The sheriff said at a press conference on Sunday that police had received numerous tips about the incident, but Hammer's arrest was the result of "pure investigation."
Vaughan said Hammer left for Florida sometime Friday and went to his stepfather's house, where he was apprehended Saturday about 6:30 p.m.
According to the sheriff, Ron Hudler had hired Hammer to do construction work on his house in the past. He was not a farm worker.
Ashe County (N.C.) Sheriff James Williams said at Sunday's press conference that Hammer is also a person of interest in the disappearance of Jimmy Blevins, an Ashe County man.
Police searched Hammer's house in Crumpler, N.C., on Saturday morning. Vaughan said some items were collected from the house, but wouldn't give specifics.
The sheriff would not comment on whether a murder weapon had been found, or about Hammer's background or how much money was missing from Hudler's home.
Vaughan said other charges against Hammer could be pending.
Grayson Commonwealth's Attorney Doug Vaught said that the death penalty could apply, because Hammer has been charged with capital murder.
Police have said they believe more than one person was involved in the robbery and shootings.
The Hudler family is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the persons responsible.
Officers were called at 11:53 a.m. to the farm about 200 feet from the Virginia/North Carolina line.
Fred Hudler’s brother, Bill, discovered the men dead and called police.
Vaughan said it appears Fred Hudler and John Miller had been out working on the farm before returning to Ronald Hudler’s residence. The two arrived at a garage next to the residence about 10:30 a.m. and were confronted by suspects attempting to steal a gun safe from the garage, police theorized.
At that point, authorities believe, both Fred Hudler and Miller were killed by gunfire.
The family told police it was not uncommon for Ron Hudler to keep a considerable amount of money in the safe.
Vaughan said some guns and an undisclosed amount of money are missing.
Authorities believe Ron Hudler was inside the home when he apparently heard the shots and came outside to investigate. Ron Hudler was shot outside, but Vaughan said the man made it back into the house, where he died. He was found in the living room.
Vaughan said Ron Hudler had been out of town for three weeks and was supposed to be gone longer. He returned home Jan. 23, the day before his death.
This leads police to believe that the suspects knew Hudler’s schedule and probably thought no one would be at home if they attempted to steal money and guns.
Vaughan said the suspects were also familiar with the scene of the crime.
Police say more than one weapon was used in the shootings, and more than one person was involved.
Vaughan thanked all the agencies who came to help with the investigation. "They put down all jurisdictional boundaries and worked tremendously as a team."
Agencies involved in the case included the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Secret Service, Virginia State Police, Virginia Department and Game and Inland Fisheries, N.C. State Bureau of Investigations, Ashe County Sheriff's Department, Galax Police Department, Wythe County Sheriff's Department and Charlotte County (Fla.) Sheriff's Department.
•Virginia State Police set up a command post near the Hudler farm and will take tips in reference to the case at 1-800-782-7764. Or, contact the Grayson County Sheriff’s Department at 236-9988.
In lieu of flowers, the Hudler family is asking donations be made to Boone Family Funeral Home, in care of Haleiwa Miller, daughter of John and Amanda Miller.
The address to send donations is:
P.O. Box 786
2005 Mount Jefferson Road
West Jefferson, N.C.