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Crime News Final Moments

Mysterious Tattooed Man Sought After St. Augustine Artist Disappears from Bar

Harry Branson admitted he "completely f-ck-ng lost it,” as seen in security footage that captured the murder of 46-year-old St. Augustine artist Jordie Hudson.  

By Jax Miller

Police cracked the 2016 case of a missing artist known for channeling her pain through creativity after the woman’s Final Moments were captured on camera.

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Friends said 46-year-old Jordie Hudson created “visceral” art pieces unlike most had ever seen, describing her as a skillful woman whose abrasive nature revealed itself in her personality and art. Once a teenage student at the University of North Carolina’s School of the Arts and then spending part of her 20s at Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Hudson was well on her path of artistry.

Her tattooed body and punk-like demeanor helped her find a comfortable place in St. Augustine’s vibrant art scene.

“She was always on the fringe; she was always out to make a statement,” friend and art gallery owner Rob DePiazza told Final Moments, airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen. “Always a leader, never a follower.”

But Jordie’s success didn’t come without its struggles. For years, Hudson lived with the chronic effects of meningitis, which often limited her ability to speak and walk and left her reliant on numerous medications. In 2012, after suffering a near-fatal episode related to the disease, Hudson moved from Milledgeville, Georgia, to St. Augustine to be closer to her mother, Judy, who often took on the role of caretaker.

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Meanwhile, whatever darkness Hudson faced showed in her work, according to DePiazza, who showcased Hudson’s art at his Space:Eight gallery in 2012.

“That whole exhibition was under the context of her dying soon. Like, very soon,” said DePiazza.

However, the publicity of Hudson’s art helped her land the cover of the art magazine Folio Weekly, which seemed to renew Hudson’s spirits and help her find relief from her illness. It appeared things were taking a turn for the best, not just in her career, but for her health.

“Jordie was just thriving and creating art and not letting her illness drive her,” DePiazza continued.

Hudson’s Peculiar Disappearance and a Possible Crime Scene

Jordie Hudson featured on Final Moments

On Monday, April 11, 2016, Hudson’s mother, Judy, grew concerned when her daughter failed to show up for her weekly visit. Three days later, she filed a missing persons report with the St. Augustine Police Department, where Sergeants Jason Etheredge and Michal Ochkie worked.

Police began looking into police and hospital records that could help them locate Hudson when, on the same day of the report, someone alerted police to a troubling find at 88 Cedar Street.

“The homeowner had called and said he had seen somebody’s personal effects in his driveway, some blood on the sidewalk,” Sgt. Ochkie told Final Moments. “He wanted to make sure that nothing had occurred, that no one was hurt or injured.”

Sgt. Etheredge responded to the scene and found a pair of dark-framed glasses, which he collected as evidence. Upon returning to the police station, he said the glasses were a “dead ringer” to the ones seen in the photo of the recently reported missing woman, Jordie Hudson.

Etheredge and Ochkie went back to 88 Cedar Street to conduct a more intensive search of the area. This time, they found “arterial spray” and “puddles of blood” in the bushes near the road, pointing to a horrific event and possible death. In the underbrush, police found a steak knife.

“I just remember thinking, ‘Holy crap,’” said Sgt. Ochkie.

Police visited Hudson’s apartment, though nothing amiss caught their eye. But on their way out, neighbor Fred Stanley stopped Sgt. Ochkie and Sgt. Etheredge, explaining that on Saturday, April 9. 2016, he accompanied Hudson at The Giggling Gator, a place described by Sgt. Etheredge as a “dive bar” just half a mile from 88 Cedar Street.

Having heard of past criminal incidents at the bar, police officers knew to request surveillance footage to further their investigation with the help of now-retired St. Johns County Digital Forensics Detective David Causey.

Detectives’ Investigation leads to The Giggling Gator

Surveillance showed a “hectic” scene at The Giggling Gator, according to Sgt. Ochkie, a night of bar fights and a busy crowd. Hudson and Stanley were spotted there a little after 1:30 a.m., and according to friend and part-time barkeep Jose Nunez, Hudson’s “spirits were up.”

In the footage, Hudson wore the glasses later found in the Cedar Street driveway.

“Jordie was having a decent night, a good night,” Nunez told Final Moments.

But later in the early morning hours, Hudson and Stanley had what appeared to be “a verbal argument” while drinking shots of liquor, according to Sgt. Ochkie. Sgt. Ochkie said Hudson seemed “upset” and “agitated” before Stanley left the bar.

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Nothing from the videos suggested Stanley ever returned to The Giggling Gator.

Hudson stayed behind, having a few more drinks, and laughing and chatting away with Nunez, who was behind the bar. At around 3:00 a.m., Hudson and the bartender shared a few fun handshakes and hugged before Hudson exited the establishment.

“I just remember her saying, ‘I’m gonna go hang out with some people;’ I expected to see her later on that week,” said Nunez. “No idea that would have been the last time.”

A Mysterious Tattooed Man Outside the Bar

Bloody Knife Found at Jordie Hudson's Crime Scene

Investigators found surveillance footage from outside the bar, showing a large, tattooed man removing his shirt to fight another bar patron. Employees and bystanders, including Nunez, physically got involved to stop the fight just moments before Hudson was observed leaving the bar on camera. By then, those involved in the fight had dispersed.  

Soon, Hudson approached the unidentified man with tattoos and struck up a conversation, and the pair walked into the night with a third, unknown individual.

Though police had yet to learn the tattooed man’s identity, employees ID’d his fighting opponent, who told detectives he only knew the tattooed man as “Harry.”

Police then traced possible routes between The Giggling Gator and 88 Cedar Street, collecting security footage from nearby residences of the historic neighborhood. Soon, they found grainy footage from a bed and breakfast showing two individuals walking along Cedar Street, believed to be Hudson and the tattooed stranger.

The third person was not with the pair, as reviewed in footage published by Final Moments.

Hudson and the man could be seen stepping off the road and into a shadowy area at 88 Cedar Street, appearing to argue, according to Sgt. Ochkie. Soon, the lights of a passing car illuminated the pair, and investigators were “shocked” by what they saw.

Jordie Hudson’s Murder Caught on Tape

“You see what appears to be an upward motion with the male’s hands, as if he’s stabbing the female,” Sgt. Ochkie told Final Moments. “And the next thing you see is she’s on the ground, and he’s dragging her body into the driveway.”

Ultimately, the camera caught Hudson’s murder.

“I watched that video, and you can see him pick her up and throw her on the ground several times, and then finally, at one point, he picks her up and throws her over a little white picket fence and just walks away like nothing had happened,” said Det. Causey.

“The difficult part was,” Det. Causey continued. “There’s no ifs, ands, or buts, in my mind: I was watching Jordie get murdered.”

A few hours later, at around 6:30 a.m., the bed and breakfast camera captured a vehicle returning to the scene. The man believed to be “Harry” reappears with a woman of short stature, acting as the lookout. Then, the tattooed suspect collected Hudson’s body and placed it in the backseat before he and the unknown woman drove away.

Reviewing video evidence back at the police station, one detective recognized the vehicle as a Nissan Versa, and soon, they learned it belonged to a woman named Judith Branson.

Her son would be Harry Branson, a tattooed man who’d had previous run-ins with the law.

Police interview Christeen Thomas

Detectives visited Branson’s mother, and eventually, she allowed them to search the Nissan.

“We opened up the doors, and we saw a lot of reddish-brown stains that appeared to be blood,” Sgt. Etheredge told Final Moments. The blood would later match to the victim, Jordie Hudson.

By then, Harry Branson was on the run, and his mother claimed not to know his whereabouts.

In an attempt to identify the woman who’d returned with Branson to the crime scene, investigators looked into Branson’s recent history, finding a domestic incident between him and his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Christeen Thomas.

Thomas matched the woman seen on Cedar Street, standing at four feet, 11 inches. When brought in for questioning, Thomas initially denied ever going near Cedar Street and was uncooperative with detectives, as seen in the interrogation video on Final Moments.

Sgt. Etheredge confronted Thomas with the surveillance evidence and suggested she “fess up.”

Thomas caved, claiming she’d received a call from Branson, who told her that he’d gotten in a fight with a woman who’d tried robbing him, Thomas told detectives.

“All of a sudden, she pulled a knife on him,” said Thomas, adding that Branson “pushed her or whatever,” causing Hudson to fly over the fence.

Thomas said she and Branson collected Hudson’s body from Cedar Street and then drove it to Branson’s property by County Route 13 in rural St. Johns County. For her role, Thomas was arrested on April 19, 2016, and charged with being an accessory to murder.

That same day, police — with the help of U.S. Marshals — found Branson hiding away behind some homes just half a mile away from his residence. While en route to the police station, he gave his version of events of what happened when he killed Hudson.

The Arrest and Conviction of Harry Branson

Unveiling Christeen and Harry's "Bonnie and Clyde" Tattoos

Branson initially claimed Hudson and another man offered to give him a ride home but that their vehicle was parked on Cedar Street, toward which they began walking. The suspect said Hudson and the third person pulled out knives and attempted to rob him.

The story contradicted what police observed on video, and when confronted about the evidence, Branson changed his story.

Branson said he “snapped” after Hudson said something to make him angry, but he couldn’t remember what, as heard in recorded audio. He confessed that he “completely f-cking lost it” when he punched Hudson in the face before Hudson allegedly pulled the knife.

He then said he wrestled the knife away from Hudson and stabbed her in the throat.

Branson told detectives he buried Hudson on his property and built a fire pit above the disturbed dirt in an attempt to cover his tracks.

“She was wrapped up in a shower curtain in a hole about three feet down,” Sgt. Etheredge told Final Moments.

A postmortem examination revealed Branson also removed the victim’s fingers to get her rings, either in an attempt to conceal her identity or to rob the jewels, according to Senior Reporter Dan Scanlan for the Florida Times-Union. Scanlan said one of the digits had been inserted into one of Hudson’s neck wounds.

Harry Branson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and abuse of a corpse, sentenced to serve 50 years in prison. His girlfriend, Christeen Thomas, pleaded guilty to accessory to second-degree murder and was sentenced to serve eight years behind bars.

“Nobody deserves what happened to her,” said bartender and friend Jose Nunez. “It makes you think [of] what she could have done… it weighs heavy on you, something I will never forget.”

Jordie Hudson’s art remains on display in St. Augustine.

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