When a Virginia sheriff visited Philadelphia earlier this month with his family, his to-do list included standard tourist fare like the Liberty Bell, as well as an unusual wish: meeting the widow of a Philadelphia police officer slain in 1978.
Grayson County Sheriff Richard A. Vaughan said he wanted to meet Joan Uffelman and assure her that Frederick "Freddie" Hammer, who had confessed to at least five murders since killing Philadelphia Police Officer Charles Uffelman on Oct. 13, 1978, would never leave prison.
Like other law-enforcement officials in southern Virginia and northern North Carolina, Vaughan was appalled when he learned about Hammer's background, which included a complex series of legal decisions that led to his acquittal of Uffelman's 1978 murder in May 1986. Hammer, who had grown up in Chester and Lancaster Counties, relocated to the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina after his release from prison and began a new life as a handyman -- one that would eventually turn deadly.
Authorities have connected Hammer to four slayings; however, he claims to be responsible for at least 15. He is serving multiple life sentences for the Jan. 24, 2008, robbery and execution-style murders of three men at the Hudler Carolina Tree Farm in Grayson County, where Hammer once worked. In 2009, sheriffs found the body of Jimmy Blevins, Hammer's cousin who had vanished, exactly where Hammer told them he had buried it two years earlier.