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Local News

Arrest Made In 'Blue Moon' Slayings

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Dave Dunwoody
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  There’s been an arrest in connection with triple homicide that’s been dubbed “The Blue Moon Murders.”

Donald Hartung Sr., 58, was arrested Tuesday morning in connection with the triple homicide on July 31, at a residents on Deerfield Drive.

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan says Hartung is related to the victims -- the son of Voncile Smith and the half-brother of John and Richard Smith. They reportedly had been beaten and their throats cut, and Richard Smith had been shot. Morgan says one of the challenges was the sheer amount of evidence, such as the DNA collected at the scene.

“All of the individuals were related to each other,” said Morgan. “And therefore it took additional testing to separate out specific DNA. But the volume of this evidence – it took almost five days to process the crime scene.”

Hartung – who was arrested without incident, will be charged with three counts of first-degree, premeditated murder. State Attorney Bill Eddins says his office will seek the death penalty.

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Credit Escambia County Sheriff's Office
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Donald Hartung Sr.

  “One of the factors that is an aggravating factor in a case of this nature, in any homicide case, whether or not more than one person has been killed,” Eddins said. “Of course, in this case, three people have been. Those are aggravating factors, and they’re viewed and weighed.”

Because there was a second full moon in July around the time of the slayings, the case became known as the “Blue Moon Murders.” Initial research pointed to the possibility of a ritualistic killing – one of what Morgan calls three prevailing theories that are still under investigation.

“We’re looking at: was the [Dept. of Homeland Security] angle a motive of this?” said Morgan. “Was the fact that Mr. Hartung was engaged in [the occult]? There was (sic) some statements that he made, and there was some evidence found at his home, that clearly indicated that tie-in. And lastly, a motive for possible financial gain.”

At this point, Sheriff Morgan says it appears that Hartung is the lone suspect. State Attorney Bill Eddins says they will seek a grand jury indictment within the next two to three weeks.  In the meantime, they’re reviewing all aspects of the case, to ensure the proper motive is addressed.

“There are some indications of what the motive is,” Eddins said. “Those will become clearer as initial paperwork is made public.”

Because Richard Smith was a Homeland Security employee, the federal agency had been involved with the case. Hartung’s arrest ends that involvement.

Donald Hartung Sr. is being held in the Escambia County Jail without bond. He has retained legal counsel.