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Missing W.Va. man died of blunt force trauma, according to preliminary autopsy reports

July 11, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The body exhumed Wednesday morning from a shallow grave behind a mobile home near Falling Waters, W.Va., was verified to be James Darrell Tucker, Berkeley County Sheriff W. Randy Smith said Thursday.

The cause of death of the 34-year-old Falling Waters man was blunt force trauma, Smith said of preliminary autopsy results released by the West Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Charleston.

"He wasn't shot, wasn't stabbed," said Smith, who reported in a press release that Tucker received multiple skull fractures.

Tucker's identity was verified through dental record comparison. The lead sheriff's department investigator, Deputy Sgt. T.M. Snyder, observed the identification process and autopsy before returning to Martinsburg, Smith said.

Tucker, who was reported missing June 29, was buried about 2 feet down in a wooded area behind a trailer rented by Carl Eugene Manford, 50, of 230 Kurtis Drive.

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Manford has been charged with Tucker's death and is being held without bond in Eastern Regional Jail.

Smith declined to elaborate on a murder weapon or how many times Tucker might have been struck.

Police have said Tucker was Manford's drug supplier, but Smith declined to specify the drugs involved in what has been described by police as an "extensive drug relationship" between the men.

"This investigation isn't over yet," Smith said. "It will continue probably until we get to trial, if necessary."

"We conducted another search of (Manford's) residence based on the results of the autopsy," Smith said.

By Wednesday morning, police had removed a lot of blood evidence from Manford's home, which still was off limits to anyone other than sheriff's department investigators through Thursday.

Manford was detained Tuesday night along Crawford Quarry Road by the sheriff less than 30 minutes after investigators determined that Manford's home appeared to be where the homicide happened, Smith said.

Smith said he spotted Manford riding in a truck as a passenger who supposedly was returning home when the sheriff stopped the vehicle.

"Our investigators worked 29 hours straight ... from the time we got our first legitimate information about this case (until the body was exhumed)," Smith said.

Snyder, along with investigating sheriff's deputies Lt. Gary Harmison, Sgt. Brendan Hall, Cpl. Christopher McCulley and Chief Deputy Kenneth Lemaster Jr., was supported by members of the sheriff's reserve at Manford's home for 14 hours, beginning Tuesday about 8 p.m. until leaving the scene Wednesday about 10 a.m.

Tucker's family was notified of the positive identification of the body Thursday about 5:30 p.m., less than two days after the sheriff asked them to provide investigators with dental records for verification purposes.

Tucker's father did not immediately return a message left on his mobile phone Thursday.

Friends and family on Thursday established a fund at Centra Bank for Tucker's 2-year-old son, Andrew James Tucker. People may make contributions at any of Centra's Berkeley County branches.

The boy's mother, Christi Tucker, said Wednesday that his father loved spending time with their child, even as their 13-year relationship deteriorated into a "friendly" divorce that was all but finalized in June.

Tucker was reported missing within hours after he failed to show up for work at the family's Hedgesville, W.Va., area gaming business.

Tucker's father found his son's white 2006 Pontiac convertible near the Plaza Hotel in Halfway near Valley Mall on the morning of June 29.

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