For the second time this year, Florida Keys law enforcement officials closed a cold case homicide. The latest case to be resolved occurred on Big Pine in 2012.
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office reports that the body of 65-year-old Ronald Silvia was found in a burning motor home in the Seahorse Campground on Big Pine Key on Jan. 19, 2012. Autopsy results showed that Silvia was beaten and strangled to death. Fire investigators determined the fire was intentionally set on or around Silvia’s genital area after his death.
The investigation revealed that Silvia lived with 54-year-old Hugh Timothy Blanton and that the pair were in a romantic relationship. Witnesses and neighbors reported the two men had been arguing over a photo of Blanton’s genitals that Silvia reportedly had been sharing in the community.
Blanton fled the area after the fire. When he was arrested for hitchhiking in Broward County a month or so later, he was interviewed by detectives from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. Blanton admitted to befriending Silvia and admitted to living with him at the Seahorse Campground. He admitted to being upset with Silvia for showing others the picture. But Blanton claimed their relationship was platonic, despite neighbors and witnesses who stated it appeared to be romantic. Blanton admitted to using Silvia’s cell phone after the fire was reported.
Blanton was later extradited from Broward County to Massachusetts on an unrelated offense. He had two cell phones when he was booked into Broward County Jail. Detectives believed one of them may be Silvia’s. The cell phones were transferred from Broward County to Massachusetts, along with Blanton. The cell phones were subsequently disposed of at the Massachusetts detention facility and were never recovered.
In May of this year, Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Unit Detective Vince Weiner reexamined the case and had DNA swabs taken of Blanton, who was incarcerated in Volusia County, Florida on another unrelated offense. In this instance, Blanton denied knowing Silvia or ever being in the Florida Keys. The FDLE crime lab found that Blanton’s DNA was found under Silvia’s fingernails.
A warrant was obtained for Blanton’s arrest, and on Oct. 9, he was arrested by police in Daytona Beach, where he remains in custody. Blanton will be returned to the Keys to face murder and arson charges forfthe death of Silvia.
“I am extremely proud of the hard work done by Detective Vince Weiner and the Major Crimes Unit in this case,” said Sheriff Rick Ramsay. “I am adamant when I say this agency is committed to the relentless pursuit of all criminals. But we can’t do it alone. Time and time again, we are only able to announce such good news given the ongoing partnerships we have with other law enforcement in this community, in this case our friends at the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.”
Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward agreed, citing the “great” effort between the sheriff’s office and the his office. “Although some cases may go cold, they are never forgotten and we will always work to resolve them.”
This is the second cold case murder in the Keys to be solved this year by Weiner and MCSO’s law enforcement partners via the use of improved DNA techniques.
Ramsay announced in June that Weiner, working with the FDLE, closed a decades-old homicide known as the “Valentine Jane Doe” murder. The body of a previously unidentified female victim was discovered on Feb. 15, 1991, in a wooded area off U.S. 1 near MM 35, near Big Pine Key.
The female was identified earlier this year as 18-year-old Wanda Deann Kirkum of Hornell, New York. It was determined after a national database search that Kirkum was never officially reported missing to law enforcement. Both her parents are now deceased.
Her killer — also previously unknown — was identified as Robert Lynn Bradley, who himself died as the victim of a homicide in Tarrant County, Texas, in April 1992, at the age of 31.
That case garnered national media attention and was featured on various true crime television programs in the decades it went unresolved.