(NEW YORK) — A tight-knit, one-road Georgia island has been rocked by the mysterious death of a town official who was known as a family man and church leader.
The body of Tom Sublett, 52, was found floating in a marina less than a mile from his home on the picturesque St. Simons Island on Dec. 11. He was found with his hands bound in front of him and with a gunshot wound to the head. An autopsy concluded he died by drowning, authorities said.
His silver Toyota was about 150 yards away. Sublett’s wife Carol had reported him missing the night before when he didn’t come home from a regular poker game.
“This is a small community that basically has one road on and off the island and only one road that goes the full length of the island,” a longtime friend, Cap Fendig, told ABC News. “It’s a shocking event. Crime, certainly violent crime, is almost totally unheard of.”
Sublett was the Glynn County Commissioner and was serving the final month of his four-year term when he died.
The Glynn County Police Department released a list of evidence that was found at the death scene, including blood samples, a laptop, a gun holster, magazine rounds and empty prescription bottles. There is no gun on the evidence list and authorities will not comment on whether a weapon has been found.
Fendig, 58, is a life-long resident of the island and said he had been friends with Sublett for many years. Fendig served as county commissioner for eight years.
“I was quite shocked and very upset at the loss of a friend and the possibility that he was murdered,” Fendig said. “He was a nice guy, a good leader, open-minded, a strong leader in the church, had a big family and long community ties. It’s just not the norm.”
Fendig said he last communicated with Sublett about a week before his death. He emailed him to thank him for his service as county commissioner and said they should go fishing once his term was up. He said Sublett replied that he looked forward to doing that.
Fendig’s brother, also a close friend of Sublett’s, saw him the day of his death. The two men pulled up beside each other at a stop light, waved and then chatted on the phone for a few minutes.
Fendig’s brother said there was “no indication” from that conversation that anything was wrong or unusual with Sublett.
The case has been classified a “death investigation,” according to spokesman John Bankhead of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). The GBI is leading the investigation.
Despite a $50,000 reward offered for information in the town, Bankhead said that “very little, if any, information” has come in.
Police have been tight-lipped about the case, leading many on the island of about 18,000 people to speculate.
“They have not [said much] and that leaves more to the imagination,” Fendig said.
Fendig said unsubstantiated rumors are circulating about possible financial troubles, an insurance policy, real estate problems and family issues. There has also been speculation in the community about whether the death was a murder or a suicide. The Sublett family did not respond to a request for comment.
“People are clear that this wasn’t an impulsive or random act of violence. It either was self-inflicted or a professional hit,” Fendig said, based on the amount of evidence at the scene.
“It’s left the community very unsettled,” he said. “He was an elected official, a leader in his church and, on the surface, a strong family guy. It’s very disconcerting for everyone.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Chuck Johnston, CNN Newswire
Ray Sanchez, CNN Newswire