PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — A Pensacola murderer, deemed the “Blue Moon Killer,” was once thought to be a “ritualistic” killer. Now, officers know his attacks were much more personal attack. This is the story of Donald Hartung.
WKRG News 5 is looking back at the crimes that shocked the Gulf Coast. Voncile Smith, John William Smith and Richard Thomas Smith’s story is the fourth in the series.
On July 31, 2015, the bodies of three people were found inside of their home in Pensacola, according to the Washington Post. Voncile Smith, 77, John William Smith, 49, and Richard Thomas Smith, 47, were found three days after they were killed. Voncile was the mother of John and Richard. Deputies with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office went to the house for a welfare check after one of Richard Smith’s coworkers at the Department of Homeland Security reported him missing.
The Escambia County Sheriff at the time, David Morgan, said, “The elements of this case are odd, at best. We have a very reclusive family. Obviously, we’ve canvassed the neighborhood, spoken to people who’ve lived there for years and years. Neighbors have related to us that they’ve never met members of this family.”
According to Reuters, all three victims had their throats slit and had been badly beaten with a claw hammer. On top of that, Richard was also shot in the head, which deputies believed happened to immobilize him before the murders. Deputies also believed that the killings were ritualistic because their person of interest at the time was linked to religious practices they believed also involved ritualistic killings.
Morgan said, “The crime appears to have been part of a witchcraft practice linked to the July 31 ‘blue moon,’ a reference to the second of two full moons that appear in a calendar month.”
July 31 was not only the day the three bodies were found but also the day deputies raided the home of their suspect. Donald Wayne Hartung, 63, was the authorities’ main suspect in these killings. Hartung was the son of Voncile and half-brother to John and Richard. His home was searched by authorities, where they found some questionable evidence. Authorities allegedly found clothes Hartung was wearing during the murders, the possible murder weapons and a Pagan “worship room,” according to reporting done by CourtTV.
When news outlets heard about the evidence found inside the home and the July 31 Blue Moon, that is when they started to call him the “Blue Moon Killer.” CourtTV reported at the time that although the theory about the ritualistic killing was spreading like wildfire, investigators announced they believed the killing had nothing to do with rituals and had everything to do with finances. Allegedly, a co-worker of Hartung said Hartung had previously said he would inherit all his mother’s assets because he was the oldest living heir.
Hartung was officially arrested by deputies on Oct. 27, 2015, and was charged with three counts of first-degree premeditated murder with a weapon. He was ultimately sentenced to three consecutive life sentences after the jury deliberated only for an hour.