Man arrested for murder in Big Pine Key cold case


Sheriff Rick Ramsay announced Friday that the Sheriff’s Office, working in conjunction with the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, has resolved and closed a cold case homicide for the second time this year.


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 postmortem.


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 subsequently fled the area after the fire. He was arrested for hitchhiking in Broward County approximately a month later whereupon he was interviewed by Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Detectives. 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 aforementioned picture. But Blanton claimed their relationship was plutonic, 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 would subsequently be extradited from Broward County to Massachusetts on an unrelated offense. Blanton had two cell phones in his possession when he was booked into Broward County Jail and 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 then incarcerated in Volusia County, Florida on another unrelated offense. In this instance, Blanton denied knowing Silvia or ever being in the Florida Keys. The FLDE Crime Lab found that Blanton’s DNA was underneath Silvia’s fingernails.


A warrant was obtained for Blanton’s arrest. Daytona Beach Police arrested Blanton on that warrant early Friday where he remains in custody. Blanton will be returned to the Keys where he face murder and arson charges in the 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 that 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.


“This case exemplifies a great, corroborative effort between the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office,” said State Attorney Dennis Ward. “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 the Major Crimes Unit Detective Weiner and our law enforcement partners via the use of improved DNA techniques.


Sheriff Ramsay announced in June that Detective Wiener, working in conjunction with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 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 Mile Marker 35.


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 Kikhum 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 myriad true crime television programs in the decades it went unresolved.