On August 29, 1994, Earl Conrad Bramblett murdered all 4 members of the Hodges family in Vinton, Virginia. He killed each family member and then set the home on fire.
Bramblett was sentenced to death in 1997 for the murders, and was executed by electric chair on April 9, 2003.
MURDERS AND INVESTIGATION
At around 4:30 AM on August 29, 1994, a passing motorist called to report a fire at the Hodges home. Firefighters and police were dispatched to the scene, where they found a fire raging throughout the home.
Once they got inside, they found 37-year-old Teresa Lynn Hodges, dead on a couch that was still burning beneath her. She had been strangled before being doused with diesel fuel.
Upstairs, law enforcement found the body of 41-year-old Blaine Hodges dead on his bed with a .22 caliber gun with the barrel removed laying next to him. He had been shot through his left temple, but had not been burned.
In a second bed, they found the couple's 2 daughters, Winter, 11 and Anah, 3. They had both been shot at close range, and the 3-year-old girl had mild burns on her body. Further inspection revealed that the phone lines had been purposefully disconnected, and that there was petroleum-based accelerant in several areas around the home.
Because Blaine's body was found next to the gun, the police originally theorized that Blaine was a family annihilator who had killed his family and then turned the gun on himself. It checked out, too. Blaine was a former U.S. Postal Service employee who was preparing to spend 6 months in federal prison for embezzlement. It was tragic, but seemed open and shut: not wanting to put his family through their patriarch being in federal jail, he ended their lives.
But upon further investigation, it was determined that the barrel of the weapon had been removed after Blaine had been killed. This meant that their primary suspect had been killed before the rest of his family.
Earl Bramblett, a close friend of the family, was interviewed by police. He wasn't a suspect at the time, police were just trying to learn about the Hodges family. The police mentioned that the home had been set on fire and they died, but did not mention that there was any other sort of violence. In a moment of serious criminal ineptitude, Bramblett angrily stated, "son of a bitch offed his family and killed himself", indicating obvious prior knowledge of the crime. Now, Bramblett was their prime suspect.
Once they had a person of interest, further incriminated evidence kept piling up. A car similar to his was seen driving past the home while it burned, without stopping. Drawings of stick figures with arrows pointing to the corresponding bullet holes on the Hodges' bodies were found at his job.
His sister provided the police with a box he had given to her, which contained several audiotapes. On some of them, he spoke candidly about his sexual attraction to 11-year-old Winter Hodges, and his belief that the family were conspiring to set him up for child molestation charges. It is believed that his attraction to Winter, and the family's obvious concerns with said attraction, was the motive for the murders. (Sorry, but in what circumstance would this be a normal thing to give to your sister?!)
Beyond the circumstantial evidence, physical evidence was found, as well. A pubic hair in the bedroom where the girls were found matched Bramblett, and a pair of jeans found soaking at his place of employment contained the same flammable liquid used to torch the Hodges's home. And, the bullets used to kill the family were the same as the ones found in his car.
Additionally, as a nail in the coffin, Bramblett punched his time card at work 20 minutes after the fire was started (the commute between the home and his job being exactly that length), and then, realizing his error, tried to black out the entry on his time card.
LEGAL PROCEEDINGS AND EXECUTION
Not much is mentioned about Bramblett's trial. He was arrested for murdering the family of 4 and was convicted. The jury deliberated for only 1 hour before sentencing him to death on December 16, 1977.
He made a clemency petition to the Governor of Virginia Mark Warner, but it was rejected, as was his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Once out of options, he was executed via the electric chair in Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Virginia on April 9, 2003 at 61 years of age.
Up until his dying breath, he proclaimed his innocence. "I didn't murder the Hodges family. I've never murdered anybody. I'm going to my death with a clear conscience. I am going to my death having had a great life because of my two great sons, Mike and Doug."
Earl Bramblett was also the primary suspect in the 1977 disappearance of 14-year-old girls who had disappeared from Roanoke, Virginia.
Tammy Akers and Angela Rader had run away together a couple of times in the past, so when they weren't seen after hanging out together, it wasn't a huge concern. But this time was different. They'd always eventually come home, but on February 7, 1977, they didn't.
For years, Tammy had been associated with Earl Bramblett. His father was known around town as "Old Man Bramblett" had a silk screen printing shop near Tammy's house, and she was given permission to help around, including cleaning and other odd jobs, for some cash. Bramblett took a liking to Tammy, but it seemed innocent at the time, as nobody knew that he was most definitely a pedophile at the time.
Tammy would often accompany Bramblett on family outings, and would spend the night at their home. He would buy her gifts, and she believed that the 2 were in love, and not that he was come creepy adult perv who wanted to have sex with a 14 year old. Her older sister attended some of the outings, and she reported that he fondled her on multiple occasions. But her reports weren't taken seriously, and she was told that she was "just jealous" of the attention her younger sister was receiving.
After Tammy and Angela disappeared, Bramblett had a group of youngsters over in his basement, when, according to the group, he went crazy. He started sobbing and said that he loved Tammy and wished he hadn't hurt her. He pulled out a gun and fired randomly into the walls, and bullets were found by investigators exactly where the witnesses told them they would be.
Even while on death row, Bramblett never admitted to anything in the missing teen's cases. He claimed he was drunk when he spoke about hurting Tammy and said that his words were misinterpreted.
During Bramblett's trial for the Hodges murder, 2 women testified that when they were 11 and 14 years old, Bramblett had given them alcohol and molested them. Though he was never charged with this, it further goes to show his pedophilic tendencies toward young girls, making it easy to believe that he likely was involved in the disappearance of Tammy and Angela.
I, personally, am glad that Bramblett is not a free man anymore, but I can't say that I am happy he is dead. I wonder if, given the chance, he would have provided information on the Tammy/Angela disappearance as leverage to get out of the death penalty. Him being dead, he will never be able to provide closure for the girls' families.
But also, people who proclaim their innocence until their dying breath scare me. Not because I don't think it is a normal thing to do, I think it is, but because the justice system has been wrong before. More than once! Morally, I am kind of wishy washy on the death penalty to be honest. If you murdered people, I don't think I morally have a problem with you being executed. (I wouldn't want to be the one to actually do it, but just knowing about it is okay with me.) But logistically, I'm kind of sliding into "hell no" territory for the death penalty. To me, as soon as ONE person was executed who was later determined to be innocent, the whole thing should have been called off. How are we going to continue to end lives when we know we might be ending innocent ones? It just doesn't seem like its worth the risk. Of course, it is also terrible that people can sit in prison for life while innocent, but to kill an innocent person seems like enough reason to throw the whole system away.
Is this to say that I think he's innocent? No. I definitely think he killed the Hodges family, and I definitely think he was a super perv that would have hurt other people had he remained free. But proclaiming innocence until your heart stops beating? It is enough to make you stop and think for at least a second.
Hopping off of the capital punishment soapbox. I hope that the Hodges family is resting in peace, and I wish for closure for Angela Rader and Tammy Akers.