Crime

Reward offered in missing body case; Palmetto man arrested

PALMETTO -- After the arrest of a Palmetto man on suspicion of killing a man in Virginia, the victim's brother said he is "relieved the guy will be brought to justice" and hoped that a $20,000 reward would encourage people to provide information on the whereabouts of his brother's body.

Freddie Lee Hall, Jr. was arrested April 5 at his Palmetto home after a Portsmouth, Va., grand jury indicted him on a charge of first-degree murder for the death of James Kenneth Britt, according to an arrest report.

Britt was reported missing in April 2011, said Jan Westerbeck, a detective with the Portsmouth Police Department. Police conducting a well-being check on Britt found evidence suggesting he could have been harmed or injured, she said, but would not elaborate on the details since the investigation is ongoing.

His body was never found, Westerbeck said.

"First, we had offered a house, a car, and $10,000

cash to see if we got responses," said James' brother, William Britt in a phone interview Tuesday. "But we got no responses. Now in the situation where he is incarcerated, maybe people will talk without fear of repercussion."

William Britt said the reward for information was reduced to $20,000 since Hall had been arrested.

"I want to find Jimmy's body," he said.

In August 2011, the Britt family was granted a petition from a Portsmouth circuit court judge that declared James Britt dead, said Westerbeck.

William Britt said the only reason the family decided to declare his brother dead was because it would be "the only way" police would investigate the case as a death and not a missing person situation.

Westerbeck told the Bradenton Herald it was an "unusual case" since the department was "going forward with murder charges and we still haven't found the body."

In April 2011, William Britt said he accompanied police to his brother's house and found blood stains in different parts of the house.

"There was blood all over the walls," Britt, 49, said. "There was enough blood evidence in the house to indicate Jimmy was murdered."

James Kenneth Britt was described by his brother as a hardworking local car dealer who "didn't put up with nonsense."

"He was strictly business," Britt said. "He put himself through college, we didn't grow up rich, our mom waited on tables, he was very intellectual, analytical."

James Kenneth Britt was 49 at the time he disappeared, Britt said. He was not married and did not have any children, according to Britt.

Britt said his brother's co-workers told him that Hall and his brother had at least three arguments during the course of two weeks prior to James Britt's disappearance.

Arthur Veras said in a phone interview that he used to work with James Britt and that Hall and Britt were having a disagreement over unfinished auto repairs.

"Freddie had done work on a car but never fixed it and took the money," Veras said. "And Jim wanted the money back, that's how it all started."

Veras said James Britt never expressed concerns over his own safety.

Hall used to rent a space from James Britt to do auto repairs, according to William Britt.

A Manatee County Sheriff's Office document stated that Hall signed a waiver of extradition and would "knowingly and voluntarily consent" to his return to Virginia.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Hall remained in custody at a Manatee County jail pending transportation arrangements made by Virginia officials, said Dave Bristow, spokesman for the county's sheriff's office.

Hall, 52, is a former Manatee County Rural Health Services employee, hired by the nonprofit in August 2011.

He was terminated last month after officials were approached by Portsmouth and FBI officials about his background, said an organization employee.

Sharon Wall, director of human resources for the nonprofit, said it "came to light" that Hall had falsified information on his resume and application.

A background check prior to his employment did not produce any information that would prevent the organization from hiring him, said Sharon Wall director of human resources for the nonprofit.

Hall worked as a pharmacy operations and compliance director and did not have any direct contact with patients, according to Wall.

Portsmouth's detective said that anyone with information on the case can call the crime line at 1-888-LOCK-U-UP.

Miriam Valverde, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow on Twitter @MiriamValverde.

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