Independence, Va. — A North Carolina man has been charged with three counts of capital murder in the slayings of three people, including the owner of one of North Carolina's largest Christmas tree farms, authorities said Sunday.
Frederick Phillip Hammer, 48, of Crumpler, N.C., was being held in Punta Gorda, Fla., where he fled after police questioned him following the discovery of the three bodies in Virginia's Grayson County on Thursday, Sheriff Richard Vaughan said. Hammer waived extradition and will be brought back to Grayson County, Vaughan said.
Investigators said Ronald F. Hudler, 74; his son, Frederick D. Hudler, 45; and employee John S. Miller, 25, of West Jefferson, were shot to death during an attempted robbery on Ronald Hudler's property in Mouth of Wilson, Va., near the North Carolina border.
The younger Hudler and Miller had apparently been working on the family's tree farm in North Carolina and returned to Ronald Hudler's home, where they confronted people in the garage trying to steal a gun safe, the sheriff's office said. Both were fatally shot.
Ronald Hudler, who often kept sizable amounts of money in the safe, was shot and killed, apparently when he came outside to investigate the shots, authorities said.
Investigators in Ashe County, N.C., also want to talk to Hammer, who was a suspect in the disappearance of a Crumpler man with whom he occasionally worked, said Sheriff James Williams. Jimmy Lee Blevins has not been seen since February.
Hudler operated Hudler Carolina Tree Farms, with his three sons, Frederick, Bill and Dale, the mayor of West Jefferson, N.C.
The farm supplied an 18-foot Fraser fir to be the White House Christmas tree in 1995 and was featured in a WRAL documentary, "The Perfect Tree," shown in December 2007.
Hudler's family has offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction.