Forged by serial killer, long-distance bond is sealed by Phillies

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A shared interest in justice spurred by a serial killer led to the meeting of Joan Uffelman and Grayson County Sheriff Richard A. Vaughan.

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.  

Vaughan said he was gratified that he had played a role in obtaining justice for Uffelman and her children and wanted to meet her. Uffelman said she was initially hesitant, but Vaughan's sincerity -- as well as his timing -- won her over. She said that she seldom discusses the past; however, she said the case had come up a week earlier in a discussion with a friend about delayed justice.

"I'm so glad I agreed to meet him," she said of Vaughan. "He and his wife and two children were just very, very lovely people. We had a nice visit."

Vaughan said the visit capped an enjoyable Philadelphia vacation that included Phillies games, Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Art Museum and a photo with the Rocky statue. He explained that the trip was prompted in part by Roger Manuel, the brother of Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and a member of Vaughan's church, in Fries, Va.

Calling the trip "a great experience for the entire family," Vaughan said he particularly valued the opportunity to meet Uffelman.

"I assured her that Hammer was locked away for good, and that he would never be roaming the streets of any town again," he said, adding that "it felt good" to tell her that.

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