Arrest Made in ‘Ritualistic' Triple Murder in Pensacola

Authorities said they have made an arrest in the murder of an elderly Florida woman and her two sons.

Donald Hartung Sr., 58, was arrested by the Escambia County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday. He was charged in charged with the premeditated murder of Voncile Smith, 77, Richard Smith, 49, and John Smith, 47. Investigators said Hartung is the son of Ms. Smith and half-brother of Richard and John.

"Initial research has led us to believe it was a ritualistic killing," Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said just after the discovery of the grisly murder scene. "The method of the murder — blunt force trauma, slit throats, positioning of bodies — and our person of interest has some ties to a faith or religion that is indicative of that. The time of the death on Tuesday also coincides with what’s referred to as a blue moon, which occurs every three years."

The family was killed sometime during a blue moon on July 28. That along with the manner of the murder prompting investigators to speculate that the murder may have involved witchcraft or was part of a ritualistic killing. Prosecutors would not release an exact motive, but said that they were not ruling that out and were also looking into possibility that financial gain was behind it. They also have not ruled out that the murder was prompted by employment of Richard Smith with the Department of Homeland Security in Pensacola.

Officials during a press conference on Tuesday said the arrest took a while because of the sheer amount of evidence, in particular DNA evidence experts had to shift through to secure an arrest.

"The initial crime scene because of the number of victims involved and other factors was one of the most complicated I have seen in my career," Florida State Attorney Bill Eddins.

Eddins will present the case against Hartung to a grand jury in the next few weeks. The State Attorney expects to seek the death penalty in the triple homicide.

Hartung remains in the Escambia County Jail.

App users: Click here to watch the YouTube clip of the press conference