By MELISSA NELSON-GABRIEL
PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) - Investigators in the Florida Panhandle are looking into the deaths of a woman and her two adult sons as a ritualistic killing that could be connected to the recent blue moon.
Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said they've identified a person of interest in the July 28 deaths of 77-year-old Voncile Smith, 49-year-old Richard Smith and 47-year-old John Smith.
"Initial research had led us to believe it was a ritualistic killing," Morgan said Tuesday.
Asked to elaborate, Morgan said, "The method of the murder - blunt force trauma ... positioning of the bodies - and our person of interest has some ties to a faith or religion that is indicative of that."
Morgan also said the time of death on Tuesday "coincides with what's referred to as a blue moon, which occurs every three years." He noted that the information is "still in the speculative stage."
All three victims were struck multiple times with a claw hammer and had their throats slit, and Richard Smith also had a gunshot to his right ear, Morgan said.
The crime scene was "very complex" and took several days to work through, Morgan said. He added that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is assisting in the investigation. Investigators are awaiting lab results on evidence processed at the home.
The sheriff noted that both men were "very tall" and were "potentially very physically powerful." There were no signs of forced entry and investigators found a large amount of cash inside a safe at the home, which led them to rule out robbery as a motive.
He said the victims were known to be "very reclusive, very secretive."
The bodies were discovered Friday in their Pensacola-area home after a request for a welfare check. Investigators believe the Smiths were killed about 7 p.m. on July 28.
The blue moon, a rare second full moon in a single month, occurred on Friday, July 31, three days after the killings. The sheriff did not explain the discrepancy, and it was not addressed in a news release issued Wednesday morning.
Richard Smith was employed by the Department of Homeland Security and worked at Naval Air Station Pensacola, but officials with the Naval Criminal Investigative Services "have determined there are no issues involving ... national security elements," Morgan said.
That information could not be confirmed immediately with NCIS officials.