Officers went looking for a dead black bear on Friday, but they found a dead human instead.
The discovery underneath a Bland County trailer led to murder charges and appears to have ended the search for a Tazewell County man reported missing last month. Officials said that David Allen Hayes, 45, of the Gratton community in Tazewell County, has been missing since June 29.
Officers started to suspect foul play in the disappearance, and Tazewell County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Plaster and his staff worked with deputies, following the investigative trail to Bland County, where a body believed to be Hayes was found on July 10.
At a press conference on Tuesday morning, Tazewell County Sheriff Brian Hieatt and Bland County Sheriff Jason Ramsey announced that two men – 25-year-old Justin Michael Hackler and 21-year-old Joshua Mitchell Hackler – are in custody and facing second-degree murder charges and a 47-year-old woman, Leslie Raquel Burner Hackler, is wanted on a conspiracy to commit second-degree murder charge.
According to search warrants, police went to 91 Rosebush Lane in Bastian on July 10 to investigate an illegal bear kill.
The warrant said Justin Hackler told two people that he had shot a 350-pound black bear that was getting into his trash and then buried it underneath his trailer.
“Hackler also stated if the smell gets too bad he was going to buried (sic) the bear carcass in concrete,” Bland County Deputy J.P. Agee wrote in the warrant.
Agee said one of the two people told him on Friday that he smelled a “decaying odor emitting from the Hackler property.”
After finding the body believed to be Hayes, police got another search warrant and collected a gun, ammunition, a butcher knife and sweatpants from the residence.
Police believe Hayes was killed with a small-caliber weapon.
Officers also collected a laptop computer, game camera, SD card, cell phones, a GPS tracker and a video game from the Bastian residence.
In that warrant, a Tazewell County deputy wrote that investigators were told Hayes had game cameras on his property.
“It is suspected that the cameras possibly have evidentiary value of the crime,” the officer wrote.
Both Justin Hackler and Joshua Hackler are being held at the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail in Tazewell.
Hieatt said the Sheriff’s Office is awaiting confirmation on the identification of the body from the medical examiner’s office but feels certain the body is Hayes. He also said he believes that Hayes was killed in Tazewell County and his body was dumped in Bastian.
No motive has been released, but Hieatt said Leslie Hackler was Hayes’ girlfriend. In the days after Hayes’ disappearance, Leslie Hackler shared social media posts asking for anyone with information on Hayes’ whereabouts to contact police.
Friday’s discovery was the second body found in Bland County in less than two months. In May, a 57-year-old Pennsylvania man’s body was located in a ditch near Interstate 77 in South Gap. He had been stabbed to death, police said. That killing remains under investigation.
Jeffrey Simmons can be reached at 228-6611, extension 19, or firstname.lastname@example.org. News & Press Editor Jim Talbert contributed to this story.
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