It’s that time again! And maybe that time is occurring too much? I’m waffling on that, considering making True Crime Tuesday a bi-weekly post to give myself more room to research and write. But we’ll see.
So, last week I wrote about The Snapchat Murders – the story of two young girls who are the victims of a still-free killer.
This week, let’s turn that concept on its head. This is the story of two young girls who are the killers.
Holly Harvey and Sandra Ketchum.
They were called the teenage Thelma and Louise by the media…and sure they stole a car and were on the run, but the down and dirty details are much more gruesome than the classic chick flick.
In the summer of 2004, Holly was 15 and had lived a difficult life.
She was abused from birth by a drug-addicted mother, whose petty crimes kept her in and out of jail. Because of her mother’s choices, Holly was raised by her grandparents, Carl and Sarah Collier. They were both retired, married 53 years, and hitting the stride of their 70s.
Holly met Sandra the year before. Sandra was gay. And despite the religious household she was being raised in, Holly was accepting of Sandra. They became fast friends, and at some point that friendship became romantic.
In a note, Holly wrote to Sandra: “I’m glad I found U. God sent U to me (I don’t care what it says about gay people in the Bible).”
Their small town in Georgia was, unsurprisingly, hostile to the girls. They were regularly called derogatory names and picked on. Instead of facing that negativity, the girls started skipping school to hang out together, just the two of them. Skipping classes escalated to smoking pot and drinking. They felt like no one in the world understood them or accepted them, except each other. They ran away together, returning after sleeping in a car for 4 days without money and food. The girls also escalated to harder drugs – cocaine, meth and speed. And when they ran away again a couple of weeks after the first attempt the Colliers, at their wit’s end, reported Holly to authorities and she was placed on probation.
Holly struggled with depression. She became more and more combative at home, often fighting with her grandparents where she’d say over and over again that she would kill them. She threatened suicide multiple times and in a journal, she wrote a poem that contained the line: “All I want to do is kill.”
Holly had been on anti-depressants, but once she started living with her devoutly Christian grandparents, they took her off the medication, instead believing they could “pray away” whatever issues Holly was struggling with.
Between the drugs, the drinking, the combative attitude at home, the issues with the law and the lesbian relationship, Carl and Sarah Collier were losing their God-fearing minds. They did not approve of Holly’s life and demanded that she end her relationship with Sandra, less because of their sexuality and more so because Sandra was also on probation and they considered her a bad influence, according to their son Kevin. Holly refused and instead she and Sandra came up with a plan to be together forever, their decision making fuelled by marijuana laced with crack.
Holly and Sandra decided to lure Carl and Sarah into the basement by smoking weed and blasting music in Holly’s basement bedroom. On her arm, Holly wrote out her to-do list: “kill-keys-money-jewellery.”
Sandra suggested they hit the Collier’s over the head with a lamp. But Holly wanted to up the ante. She went to the kitchen and came back with “the biggest knife I could find.” Holly practised stabbing a mattress to test their method and the weapon’s sharpness.
When her grandmother came downstairs, Holly attacked, stabbing Sarah. Carl barrelled down the stairs to his wife’s defence and Holly stabbed him in the chest. Carl made a run for it and Holly chased as Sandra leapt out from her hiding spot to finish off Sarah.
“I finished with Mrs. Collier,” Sandy told police, “then went to join Holly.”
Carl tried to get to the phone, throwing a coffee cup at Holly in his own defence. But Holly dodged him, pulling the home phone out of the wall as she stalked him through the house. Together the girls stabbed Carl Collier more than a dozen times. The murders were brutal and frenzied. Holly reported having to jump over a pool of blood to leave the house.
The girls grabbed the keys to the truck, took whatever cash and jewellery they could find, drove to a friend’s house – Sarah Polk – to clean up and then headed for the Georgia coast to spend time on the beach. When asked why they were covered in blood the girls told their friend they’d been attacked by someone. But after some time had passed, the girls giggled and admitted to the murder, saying they were free.
Police were informed by Polk’s mother, who called 911. “They have blood all over them. Knives and everything.” Police found the blood-soaked bodies inside the white-brick ranch style home in Fayetteville, Georgia.
To the Colliers’ neighbours, the crime was particularly brutal, considering the patience the couple had shown with Holly. “Many times they could have thrown up their hands and said, ‘I quit,’” says their pastor, Rev. Glenn Stringham. “They chose, basically, to give their lives to their granddaughter because of their love for her.”
Being the naive teenager girls that they were, the couple never considered how to elude capture. Police tracked the girls’ movements for hours via their cell phones that they were using to call friends and brag about how they’d escaped the Collier’s and their oppressive home.
US Marshalls eventually caught up with the girls who were staying on Tybee Island, about four hours away from the crime scene. They had met a pair of brothers, new to the area with their mother, and the family had generously given them a place to stay for the night. Cops crashed the house, arresting the girls. After being cuffed, two knives from the kitchen had been found in the girls’ possession. Had they been planning to hurt this kind family as well? The answer is unknown.
After their arrest, Holly pointed blame at her girlfriend, Sandra, saying it was Sandra who told her to run upstairs after her grandfather in the heat of the attack. Sandra, however, told Lt. Col. Bruce Jordan of the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department that Holly “had been discussing killing her grandparents for days,” according to a written summary of the interview she gave police the day after the killings.
At trial, the teens had faced two counts of felony murder, two counts of malice murder and one count of armed robbery. The maximum sentence the girls could have received was life in prison without parole. They were tried as adults. The pair pleaded guilty – Sandra showing signs of remorse and agreeing to testify against her girlfriend – and were sentenced to life in prison in 2005.
When asked why she killed her grandparents, Holly stated: “For Sandy, so we could be together.”
Judge Pascal English asked Holly if she thought doing 20 years in prison after murdering her grandparents was “a good deal”, she said no.
What should happen to her, he asked?
“I think I should be dead,” the girl replied.
“We both agree on that,” he muttered.
Sandra would be offered parole after 14 years; Harvey after 20. Sandra’s lighter sentence was justified by her cooperation with the police and the remorse she showed afterwards. Something Holly did not.
Until next time, Booknerds…