PLANT CITY — The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office has released dramatic new details about an Easter weekend shooting that left two brothers in a well-known ranching family dead and a third man injured.
6 Months Ago
6 Months Ago
1 Week Ago
Deputies say Milton Varn, 62, fatally shot his brother Perry Varn and another man, George "Terry" Long, in a domestic dispute Saturday at the family's ranch on Varn Road. Milton Varn then threatened to shoot his ex-wife Joanne Varn, who, fearing for her life, shot him dead in self-defense, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Deputies found the bodies of the two brothers when they arrived. Long, 71, who is now married to Joanne Varn, was hit in the shoulder. He was treated and released from Tampa General Hospital this week.
Joanne Varn, 61, has not been charged with a crime. After evidence testing has been completed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Sheriff's Office investigators will meet with the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office to review the case and decide whether charges will be filed.
Deputies had previously reported that the two brothers and Long were hit in an exchange of gunfire, but did not say who shot whom.
The shots rang out about 2 p.m. in a thousand-acre pasture at the Rocking V Ranch, 5501 Varn Road, bringing a violent end to a contentious relationship between the two brothers and wiping out a generation of the well-known, longtime ranch family.
Milton and Perry, 66, are the sons of the late Lamar "Ed" Varn, who died in 2012 at age 90. His widow Martha — Milton and Perry's mother — still lives on the sprawling ranch north of downtown Plant City.
Official records of the bad blood date back at least to 2009, when Milton Varn was arrested and charged with battering his brother, court records show.
According to a Sheriff's Office report at the time, Perry Varn told deputies he arrived at the family's machine shop and saw the his brother was cutting up a metal rod that belonged to Perry. When Perry told his brother the rod belonged to him, "he dropped his tools, got in my face and slugged me," Perry said in a written statement.
Perry told deputies that he fell back, dazed, then grabbed a two-by-four board.
"He told me to go ahead. He would break every bone in my body," Perry wrote. "I walked off."
Perry told deputies then that he had been disabled since he broke his back on a horse, and could not defend himself against Milton.
"He stated that he and Milton has (sic) a long standing dispute between them," a deputy wrote in the report.
A witness, John Ruffin Ayscue, told deputies he'd been friends with the brothers since high school and they "have not gotten along through the years," according to the report.
Milton Varn refused to give a statement about the incident. Prosecutors later dropped the misdemeanor charge.
In May 2012, Milton Varn was again charged with battering his brother. In that case, Perry Varn told deputies that he got into an argument with his brother after he found Milton's cows in their mother's hay field, according to an arrest report. Perry said a gate had been left open, so he drove out the cows. At that point, Perry said, the men argued and Milton punched him in the jaw. Perry said he fell on a fence, then got up and fled, the report states.
Court records Milton Varn was found guilty and sentenced to probation. He was ordered not to have violent contact with his brother and to pay $629 in fines and court costs, records show.
Then, in 2015, Perry petitioned the court for a protective order against his brother. In the filing in Hillsborough circuit court, Perry wrote that Milton came to his mother's house on Nov. 12 and declared that Perry "had until sundown to pay 1,900 dollars or he would take care on (sic) my a-- cowboy justice style."
Perry Varn wrote that his brother had a hand on his knife as he made the threat, and that $1,900 dollars "was what the judge fined him when he was found guilty in court in Plant City of assault."
It's unclear to which case Perry Varn was referring. Court records do not show an assault charge against Milton Varn or a case resulting in a $1,900 fine. A judge denied Perry Varn's petition, finding that the facts of the allegations weren't sufficient to warrant a protective order.
Ed Varn's estate remains listed in county property records as the owner of the ranch. Only two people are listed in corporate records as managers of the limited liability company that runs the ranch — Perry Varn and his mother, Martha.
A Facebook page for the ranch said it offers "outdoor weddings, company picnics, horse boarding, trail riding and much more." The page was no longer active this week.
Family members reached this week by the Tampa Bay Times have declined to comment.
Perry Varn had five children and five grandchildren, according to an online obituary posted by Haught Funeral Home, which is handling arrangements for both brothers. He was a member of Faith Temple Assembly of God, served in the Army National Guard and enjoyed hunting and motorcycles, especially dirt bikes, according to his obituary.
Milton's survivors include a son, James. Photos posted by friends on family show Milton was also an avid outdoorsman.
Both brothers were members of the Ironworkers Union #397.
On Saturday, family and friends of the brothers will gather for back-to-back services in Plant City.
Visitation for Perry Varn begins at 10 a.m. at Faith Assembly of God, 4240 North Frontage Road. Funeral service will follow at 11.
Milton's memorial service begins at 1 p.m. at the Rocking V Ranch. Afterward, according to a Facebook post by Perry's son P.J., friends and family will gather for lunch.
Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at email@example.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.
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