Summary of Private Thoughts Case of Hodges Family and Fire (Earl Bramblett)
On August 29, 1994, firefighters in Vinton, Virginia, were called to a house fire on VIRGINIA AVENUE. When the fire was extinguished, rescuers found the bodies of all four members of the Hodges family:
- Blaine Hodges (41-year-old)
- Teresa Hodges, Blaine’s wife (37-year-old)
- Winter Hodges, daughter (11-year-old)
- Anah Hodges, daughter (3-year-old)
At preliminary scene examination, it looked like a murder-suicide where Blaine Hodges killed his family and then took his own life.
- Teresa Hodges was strangled to death on a sofa, downstairs. Along his body, there is an empty diesel fuel can.
- Both girls, Winter and Anah, were shot to death.
- Blaine Hodges was shot dead in the master bedroom. On the floor, a 22-caliber pistol was found
Investigator’s Thoughts on Blaine’s Motivation for Murdering His Family: He was fired from his job after being accused of stealing $4,600. And was on the verge of being arrested for a short time.
However, the theory was proven false by the autopsy and medical examiner report. As per the report:
- Blaine Hodges didn’t have any soot in his lungs or breathing passages— a classic sign of postmortem burning.
- Blaine’s body showed more signs of decay than his wife and daughters— Blaine was dead for many hours before the death of Teresa and her daughters.
Police interviewed all of the Hodges’ relatives and his friends including Blaine’s best friend— Earl Bramblett who spent more time with Hodges’s family.
With a warrant, police searched Bramblett’s home and found numerous crime novels and also an article describing a case where the pistol was used with no barrel. Investigators now consider him as the prime suspect.
Evidence against Bramblett:
- An eyewitness saw a red pickup truck leaving Hodges’s driveway. Bramblett owned a one but white.
- Several .22 caliber cartridge shells were found in the truck.
Evidence from Bramblett’s Workplace:
- One entry on Bramblett’s time card had been blacked out.
- Police found a pair of Bramblett’s blue jeans soaking in a backroom sink.
- Police discovered a page torn from a desk in a dumpster behind Bramblett’s workplace.
Bramblett owned a Storage locker: While going through Bramblett’s trash, police found a notice from a storage locker rental service from “Winter’s Mini Storage.”
The locker had tons of audio tape boxes. On listening, investigators found that Bramblett’s had a “pedophilic(sexual attraction towards prepubescent children) towards Winter Hodges.
All evidence makes Bramblett the prime suspect, and a primal motive in killing the Hodges family. This ends up arresting him after nearly two years of investigations.
Evidence Against Earl Bramblett in Private Thoughts Case of Hodges Family
|Empty diesel-fuel Can
|Nearby Teresa Hodge’s body
|Elemental analysis for determining fuel type
|Bramblett blue jeans
|Soaking in backroom sink
|Elemental analysis to match the fuel from Empty diesel fuel Can.
|.22-caliber pistol with no barrel
|Found nearby Blaine’s side
|Ballistic analysis of firing a pin with test bullets
|.22-caliber cartridge shells
|Back of the truck
|Ballistic analysis was done by comparing firing a pin
|White pickup truck
|Sodium-vapor road lighting near the Hodges home, make white truck appear red.
|An article stated a case where the firing was done without a barrel.
|Elemental analysis by FBI
|Bramblett Time card
|Comparison of handwriting
|Bramblett workplace dumpster
|Torn pages described facts that police hadn’t released to the public.
|Winter Mini Storage
|Have numerous audio tapes about Bramblett’s thoughts about little Winter Hodges.
How does Forensic Analysis Help The Private Thoughts Forensic File Case?
Following are the evidence that help investigators to caught Earl Bramblett and solved the mystery behind the fire in Hodges house:
1. Why No Barrel in Firearm?
Land and groove marks are of important pieces of evidence that forensic ballistic experts compare. But in Hodges’s family murder case, there was no barrel, hence test fired bullets can’t be compared with the ones that were found in Blaine and their daughter’s body.
A .22 caliber pistol without a barrel was found near the Blaines Hodges body. That makes it suspicious why someone kills himself by deliberately removing the barrel.
Later, it was found that Bramblett had removed the pistol’s barrel to make it difficult for forensic experts to compare. He got the idea from reading a case in a detective magazine about a murder committed with a pistol with no barrel.
2. Ballistics Analysis of Shell Casing
The firing pin marks from the firing pin are used when shell casing is available. Similarly, in the Private Thoughts Forensic File case, a test bullet was fired, revealing firing pin marks over the shell casing.
Under a comparison microscope, both cartridge case—test fire shell and from Bramblett’s truck—was compared. They matched.
3. Elemental Analysis of Lead Bullets
Elemental analyses are usually done to determine and compare two bullets of the same origin. Manufacturers add different markers to make their ammunition individualistic to their companies.
These markers are usually derived from changing a small proportion of elements in their composition and impurities.
Elemental analysis of bullet fragments from the bodies was analyzed by the FBI, and it was proven that the bullets were from the same batch of molten metal that was found in unused bullets from Earl Bramblett’s home.
4. Arson and Gas Chromatography
For analyzing the fuel composition, gas chromatography is mainly used with the Head-space method of extracting samples. In this method, fire debris is placed in an airtight metal can with an opening for inserting the charcoal tube to absorb vapors.
The charcoal tube is then introduced into gas chromatography, with a Mass spectrometer as a detector. This indicates the type of fuel used in the arson and its elemental composition.
Tom Simpson, the Arson Investigator, used the charcoal-tube method with gas chromatography and mass spectrometer to determine the possible fuel type from the fuel can and Bramblett’s jean stains. He concluded that both have the same origin.
5. Document Examination of Time Stamp Card
The forensic documents examiner, Gordon Menzies uses Video Spectral Comparator with various light sources in an attempt to see underneath the blacked-out entry. Read More: Check a list of 20+ tools that are used by Forensic Document Analysts.
The result came out as an original entry of “508M” which means 5:08, Morning. According to the driveway, it took about 20 minutes to get back from Hodges’s home to Bramblett’s workplace.
Handwriting analysis of the time cards also concluded that the writing belongs to Bramblett.
6. Drawing From the Garbage
In Bramblett’s workplace dumpster, police found a drawing with some rough human drawings with a circle and pointing arrows.
Investigators believed that:
- pointing arrows represent gunshot wounds, and
- a circle at the neck represents strangulation.
These details about Hodges’s family were never released to the public. This simply means that it was only known to the culprit.
Secondly, on handwriting examination, the examiner found similarities with Bramblett’s handwriting such as a very outsized, lowercase ‘k’ that resembles a capital ‘R’ and concluded that both may belong to Bramblett.
7. Audiotapes from Storage Room
There were numerous audio tapes in the storage room.
While going through each of them, investigators find unusual behavior and sexual attraction of Earl Bramblett toward Winter Hodges.
As per one of the recordings, Bramblett believes that Blaine Hodges his daughter Winter Hodges was bait for getting out of the fine for the trial that he would go to have for the charge of embezzlement of $4500.
But it was all of Bramblett’s imagination.
Punishment to Earl Bramblett
Earl Bramblett was charged with four first-degree murders and sentenced to death. He was executed on April 9, 2003, in Virginia’s electric chair.
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