Photo: Winder Police Department
Officials dig up a container with a body in it that was buried with a concrete slab over the top of it.
WINDER — As authorities try to determine whether a man’s body encased in concrete and buried in a Winder back yard is that of a former Pensacola newspaper reporter, two brothers from that Florida city are being held on charges they concealed the death.
A Georgia Bureau of Investigation autopsy Tuesday revealed the man died from blunt-force trauma to the back of his head. Medical examiners were still trying to identify the man via fingerprints, dental records and a tattoo, authorities said.
Pensacola police believe the body could be 30-year-old Sean Dugas, a former police and entertainment reporter with the Pensacola News Journal last heard from on Aug. 27, when he spoke with a female friend over the phone.
Dugas’ friend came to his Pensacola home to go out to lunch that Monday, but when she arrived to pick him up, a man who lived there said Dugas wasn’t home. She returned to the home Sept. 7 to find it empty, save a television, said Pensacola police Capt. David Alexander.
After repeated attempts to contact Dugas, his friend reported him missing Sept. 13. Pensacola police have been working it as a missing persons case since then.
Winder police spokesman Officer Chris Cooper said Dugas is believed to have been traveling with 31-year-old twin brothers Christopher and William Cormier since he was reported missing. The brothers moved from Florida about three weeks ago to rent a Winder home owned by their father in the 200 block of Sixth Avenue.
Meanwhile, Pensacola police developed unspecified leads in the missing persons case. They called their brethren in Winder on Monday, prompting a visit the modest home near downtown Winder.
Winder police obtained a search warrant after finding an area in the home’s back yard that appeared to have been recently disturbed. About 2 1/2 feet underground, police used heavy equipment to exhume the body, which was encased in concrete within a plastic container, Cooper said.
The Cormier brothers arrived home during the dig and were detained on charges of concealing the death of another person. Christopher Cormier is being held at the Barrow County Detention Center and his brother in Jackson County’s jail to prevent them from communicating with each other, Cooper said.
Any further charges will hinge on the results of the GBI autopsy.
The Cormiers’ father is cooperating with investigators. Cooper said the story his sons told him about the back-yard dig conflicts with what police found.
“The brothers originally told their father they were caring for the missing person’s dog but got tired of doing so and killed it and buried it,” Cooper said.
Two detectives from Pensacola have traveled to Barrow County to assist Winder police and the GBI. The jurisdiction where the man died has not been determined.
News that the dead man could be Dugas left the Pensacola News Journal staff in a funk Tuesday.
Dugas, recalled as kind-hearted and idiosyncratic, was a reporter for the newspaper and its website from 2005 to 2010, working his way up from a para-reporter to the police beat, said managing editor Ginny Graybiel. He’d also become known in the northwest Florida city for covering entertainment news and events with flair.
“All of us here are devastated,” Graybiel said in an e-mail. “Sean was a very friendly, spirited soul who had many friends in this area. We’re all going to miss him.”
In Pensacola, neighbors reported seeing a U-Haul truck on Sept. 3 at the house where Dugas was living. Police withheld the names Tuesday of all people involved.
“They saw at least one man removing items from the house,” Alexander said.
Neighbors asked that man about Dugas. The man said Dugas had been “beaten” and that he was going to live with him, Alexander said.