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Crime News Sins of the South

Three Men Found Dead at Christmas Tree Farm in Apparent Robbery Gone Wrong

While serving multiple life sentences for three murders, Freddie Hammer revealed he also killed his own nephew.

By Joe Dziemianowicz

A Christmas tree farm on the borderline of North Carolina and Virginia was known for years for its ties to happy holidays.

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Watch Sins of the South on Oxygen Sundays at 7/6c and next day on Peacock. 

But on the morning of January 24, 2008, it became the site of a brutal triple homicide. Frederick “Fred” Hudler, 45, his father Ronald “Ron” Hudler, 74, and their employee, John Miller, 25, were dead from gunshots to their heads, reported swvatoday.com.

“We had backup come from everywhere,” now-retired Ashe County, NC, Sheriff James Williams told Sins of the South, airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.

Because the crime fell within the Virginia state line, Sheriff Richard Vaughan, Grayson County, VA, took the lead on the case. He and Williams worked in collaboration.

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The 3 Victims

Detectives learned that Ron Hudler married “several times,” said Williams. He had three sons — Fred and Bill, who worked on the farm, and Dale.

“I grew up with no father, so Fred kind of took that role,” said Ashe County resident Andrew Bresler. “He’d say these one-liners that would make you bust out laughing.”

Miller was working his first season on the farm. “He hadn’t been married too long,” said Williams. “Just trying to make an extra dollar with a new baby.”

Crime Scene Clues Collected

The murder scene was processed. Investigators found round pieces of glass that appeared to be from a rifle scope, .22 shell casings, and evidence that a large safe kept in the garage had been moved.  

“We felt that this was a robbery gone bad,” said Vaughan.

Ron’s secretary informed police that there had been about $10,000 in the safe. She and Ron were the only ones who had keys to the safe.

Investigators also learned that Bill Hudler, who discovered the bodies, had financial troubles, according to Sins of the South.

“Bill’s comment was that he had no idea who could have done this,” said Vaughan. “But there was blood on his clothing.”

Sheriffs determined that the blood on Bill’s clothing was transferred to him when he tried to help Fred. Investigators concluded that both Bill and Dale Hudler weren’t suspects.

Freddie Hammer emerges as a suspect

Sheriffs began by determining who knew about the safe. “We talked to workers, but we didn’t develop any leads,” said Vaughan.

Dale Hudler’s wife suggested they talk to firewood seller Freddie Hammer, who used to work on the farm and was always in the area.

Detectives learned that Hammer had been questioned in 2007 about the disappearance of his nephew, 41-year-old Jimmy Blevins.

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At the time Blevins went missing, people considered that his drinking problem was a factor, according to Williams. “We searched around the woods,” he said, “but we never found anything.”

Hammer was the last person seen with Blevins and was interrogated by police. “In the end, we didn’t have enough to charge him on Jimmy.”

Vaughan questioned Hammer about the Christmas tree farm slayings. He told the official that on the day of the murders he was in nearby Todd, NC, working on his friend Marlon’s house.

Bullet Casings Offer Possible Lead

Bullet casings collected at the farm outnumbered gunshot wounds sustained by the murder victims. Sheriffs considered that one of the victims may have gotten control of the killer’s gun and fired off a round.

Sheriffs checked this possibility and found that a man had come into a local hospital for a gunshot wound to the hand. It appeared to be a new lead, but it quickly turned into a dead end.

“Hospital workers confirmed that it was a self-inflicted wound,” said Vaughan. “It wasn’t connected to our crime.”

Sheriffs focus on Freddie Hammer

Freddie Hammer featured on Sins Of The South Episode 106

Sheriffs questioned Marlon about the events of January 24. “He told me that he did see Freddie Hammer that day,” said Vaughan. “But he didn’t see him that morning.”

Sheriffs had enough circumstantial evidence to get a search warrant for Hammer’s residence. Ashe County and Grayson County officials scoured his properties.

An initial search of Hammer’s truck turned up no clues. The vehicle was impounded so that a forensics team could take a closer look.

But near Hammer’s camper, sheriffs found remains of clothing that had recently been burned.

Vaughan tried to interview Hammer but learned that he and his wife had gone to Punta Gorda, Florida.

“We called U.S. Marshals to locate Freddie Hammer,” said Vaughan. “Then our team executed the search of his home in North Carolina.”

Evidence revealed that Hammer was in dire financial straits.

In addition, Hammer’s stepson “indicated that there was a .22 rifle with a scope that was missing from Freddie’s house,” said Grayson County Commonwealth Attorney Douglas Vaught.

Sheriffs obtained murder warrants at this point. In Florida, U.S. Marshals took Hammer into custody. He denied any wrongdoing, according to Sins of the South.

Investigators focused on building a solid case. Convenience store security footage placed Hammer in the Hudler farm area at the time of the crime.

In addition, paint found on Hammer’s truck matched scratch marks on Hudler’s safe. “That put Freddy Hammer’s vehicle at the crime scene,” said Vaught. “But we needed the murder weapon.”

A jailhouse letter and map lead to murder weapon

In May 2009, investigators discovered correspondence and a map that belonged to an inmate at New River Valley Regional Jail in Dublin, Virginia, where Hudler was held.

“In this letter, this inmate says, ‘I’ve gotten to meet this guy here, Freddie Hammer,’” said Vaught. “All I’ve got to do is to go get rid of a couple of guns and he’s gonna give me some money.”

Detectives Work to Uncover the Motive in Ron Hudler’s Death

The map led investigators to Hammer’s camper in Cripple Creek. Nearby they found a buried box stuffed with about $10,000 and a .22 rifle.

“That was the nail in his coffin,” said Williams.

“Once we laid out all this new evidence to them, they were ready to plead,” said Vaughan.

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Freddie Hammer arrested and tried for triple murder

Hammer, then 49, told sheriffs that he was strapped for cash. He’d planned the robbery to coincide with Ron being out of town but was surprised to find Miller on the farm.

Miller was shot first in the garage and the gunshot noise brought Fred running. Hammer shot Fred through the garage door.

Inside the house, Hammer encountered Ron, who’d come home a day early. Hammer demanded the keys to the safe. "Ron said, ‘I don’t care what you do to me, just let me call 911 for my son,’” said Williams.

Hammer then shot Ron and snatched the money out of the safe. Then he shot Fred, whose body was in the driveway, another time.

For the triple homicide, Hammer received seven life sentences, reported the Winston-Salem Journal.

Freddie Hammer admits he killed his nephew

Behind bars, Hammer tried to make a deal with law enforcement. He said he’d reveal where Blevins’ body was in exchange for the $15,000 reward the family offered.

Investigators then learned that Blevins threatened to take Hammer to court over $1,500 he owed him. In retaliation, Hammer took Blevins to a landfill. "He shot him in the back of the head, pushed him into the hole and covered him up with some building materials,” said Vaughan.

In December 2010, Hammer received an additional life sentence — and no payout. “He didn't realize he couldn’t profit from this crime,” said Williams.

To learn more about the “Blue Ridge Bloodshed” case, watch Sins of the South, airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.

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