TAMPA — One day during the summer of 1984, two friends went camping in New England. One returned, and the other, 25-year-old Christopher Bird, is still missing.
Now the second camper, Richard Brunt, a man with ties to Tampa and a previous manslaughter conviction, is a suspect in Bird's murder, court records show.
The cold case came to light in Hillsborough County through a summons issued by a New Hampshire judge ordering Brunt's son Samuel to testify before a grand jury last week.
Bird, a schoolteacher from Haverhill, Mass., was reported missing by his wife, Donna, on July 30, 1984. Donna Bird told Massachusetts State Police that her husband and Richard Brunt left on a camping trip four days earlier, according to court documents. She said the two had been friends about seven months. Christopher Bird's car was found abandoned in Methuen, Mass., and Brunt was the last person to report seeing him alive, records say.
A number of agencies have investigated the disappearance over the years. The New Hampshire Department of Justice Cold Case Unit took up the case.
"Over the past year a great deal of effort has gone into learning the details of the 1984 investigation of Mr. Bird's disappearance," the unit's 2016 status report states."
New Hampshire State Police traveled to Brandon in April to confront Richard Brunt with their suspicions, according to a summons request from the state's Attorney General's Office.
Samuel Brunt, 36, interrupted the police and advised his father to stop speaking with them, doing so on two successive days — April 4 and 5, according to the summons request.
Samuel Brunt told his father in the presence of the police that he knew about the three-decades-old case because his mother had informed him, the summons request says.
Samuel Brunt declined to give police his mobile phone number, the summons request says. He said he would contact them later but never did.
Last month, the Attorney General's Office obtained the summons for Samuel Brunt, declaring there is probable cause to suspect "Richard Brunt was responsible for the disappearance and murder of Christopher Bird, on July 30, 1984 or soon after," and that his son may be a material witness.
Samuel Brunt was called to appear before the grand jury on Friday. It's unclear if he did so. He declined to comment when reached by phone Tuesday.
Richard Brunt could not be reached by phone or at two Tampa addresses listed for him.
Susan G. Morrell, senior assistant attorney general in Concord, N.H., also declined to comment on the case.
Acting on a warrant in the case, Tampa police on April 17 secured DNA and fingerprints from Richard Brunt.
Nine years before the camping trip, Richard Brunt was charged with second-degree murder in Plantation, state records show. News reports at the time say Brunt had stabbed his roommate to death after the man "threatened to leave him and live with someone else." He was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading "no contest" to manslaughter.
Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.