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If You Really Loved Me
Two Teenage Girls and a Shocking Double Murder
By Kevin F. McMurray
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2006 Kevin F. McMurray
All rights reserved.
Reverend Glenn Stringham was home relaxing after a long day at his church on the evening of Monday, August 2, 2004, when his phone rang. He was used to fielding calls from members of the congregation even after church hours. Due to the age of his flock, calls continually came in regarding a sudden hospital emergency or yet another death. No clergyman in Fayette County, Georgia, presided over more funerals than he.
The urgent phone call came from a neighbor of his good friends Carl and Sarah Collier, who lived in the north end of the county in the residential community of Riverdale, not far from metropolitan Atlanta. The Colliers were not only friends, but active and valued members of his senior adults' congregation at the Fayetteville First Baptist Church. The neighbor told Stringham that there was a police car with its lights flashing outside the Collier home. Stringham knew that meant one thing: the Colliers were having trouble, again, with their granddaughter Holly.
Without giving it a second thought the 59-year-old Baptist minister dialed the Colliers' home number, which he knew by heart. The answering machine picked up. Stringham wasn't surprised, surmising that they must be outside talking with the police officer. In his message he said that he knew they were having some "struggles," and if there was anything he could do, to not hesitate in calling him at home.
Within an hour Stringham got another call from the Colliers' neighbor. This time she was hysterical and blurted out that the elderly couple had been stabbed. Stringham said he would be right there.
Heading north up Route 314, the major thoroughfare from Fayetteville to the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport twenty miles distant, Stringham thought of the "struggles" that the Colliers had experienced of late.
He knew that they had taken 15-year-old Holly back into their home after a court appearance. Just last week they had accompanied her to juvenile court, where she was sentenced to probation after running away from the home of her mother's friend, where she had been staying. Stringham was afraid the youngster was heading down the same road as her mother Carla. It mystified him that Carla, who was currently in jail for selling marijuana to an undercover policeman had come from such a fine home, the same home that Carla's older brother Kevin had flourished in. Kevin, a year and a half older than Carla, was a University of Georgia graduate and had a good job with Delta airlines. He was also a regular church-goer, and owned a comfortable home just outside Fayetteville. Carla had dropped out of high school, was continually in trouble with the law, and had borne two children out of wedlock.
The Colliers had been very open with the problems they were having with their granddaughter. They had often consulted with Stringham and had asked their fellow congregants for their support and prayers.
Twenty-five minutes later, Stringham pulled up to the Colliers' modest ranch house on Plantation Drive. He could see that Fayette County Sheriff Randall Johnson was already there. Right then and there he knew the Colliers' neighbor had been right. Something terrible had happened.
Sheriff Johnson told his good friend Glen Stringham that Carl was dead on the kitchen floor and Sarah had been found in a pool of blood at the bottom of the basement steps, also dead. Johnson related to the stunned minister that there had been a horrific struggle and that there was blood everywhere. Stringham stood outside the Collier home as the crime-scene van arrived and detectives from the sheriff's department swarmed over the house. He learned from the sheriff what he himself had suspected. There was little doubt who had been responsible for the horrific act: Holly Harvey.
The Colliers' son Kevin should had been at work at the airport when he received a voice mail message on his cell phone at 8:30 PM, but he had gotten off early so he could attend orchestra practice at the First Baptist Church in the northern Atlanta suburb of Dunwoody. The rehearsal was for a dinner charity affair where they would be performing The Sound of Music. The voice on the message was Lisa Hargrove, a family friend who owned several houses with her husband Del in the Colliers' neighborhood.
The Hargroves had been checking out one of their houses, which was just across the street from Carl and Sarah's when they saw the patrol car. Like Glenn Stringham, the couple had thought that Holly must have been giving the Colliers problems again. Del had stepped into the carport and peered into the kitchen door window and seen Carl lying on the floor. One of the sheriff's deputies had observed him and warned him back. Del cautiously retreated to where his wife stood and told her what he'd seen. Lisa immediately called Kevin. She left a message on his voice mail that said there had been some "trouble" at his parents' place and for him to come home as soon as he could. When Kevin retrieved the message during a break, he dialed the cell number Lisa had given.
Lisa reiterated that there had been "some problems" at his parents' house and for him to come right over. Kevin asked whether it was an emergency, or if he could wait until rehearsal was over. She replied, "You should come now." Kevin said since he was all the way north in Dunwoody, it would take him at least an hour to get to the Riverdale house. On the drive south he called Lisa again. Kevin was worried and wanted more information. All Lisa would say was that it wasn't good, but Kevin persisted. He finally got it out of her that his dad was "hurt." He remembers that Lisa told him not to rush, which he thought was odd due to the apparent circumstances. Kevin stepped on the gas.
* * *
Plantation Drive rises from Route 314 for about a quarter mile, until it crests, then drops down gently to where number 226 sits on the left side of the bucolic tree-lined street. Kevin Collier saw cops "everywhere." He remembers thinking "This isn't good." Pulling over, he noticed the crime-scene tape draped around the house and knew at that moment that both of his parents were gone. In stunned silence he surveyed the familiar surroundings. It seemed as if the entire neighborhood was out in the street gawking at the flashing police car lights and the uniformed men continually entering and exiting the split-level white brick ranch house that he had grown up in.
Sheriff Johnson was waiting for Kevin. The first words out of the mouth of the long-serving county sheriff were, "Remember how you saw them last."
Kevin blurted out that "Holly must have done this."
Looking around, he noticed his father's truck was gone. The police wouldn't let Kevin near the house. Staring at it, he could see figures moving about inside and camera flashes going off, giving the whole scene an eerie, surreal effect. Then he found himself being bombarded with questions from the police, especially in regards to his father's truck, a 2002 indigo blue Chevrolet Silverado.
In a state of shock he answered as best he could, continually muttering that "Holly must have done this."CHAPTER 2
Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Jordan is the director of investigations for the Fayette County Sheriff's Office. In the state of Georgia he has the reputation of being somewhat of a supercop. With a soft Southern drawl and a passing resemblance to former President Bill Clinton, the respected police detective also has a reputation for being single-minded in his pursuit of felons. The 44-year-old Jordan has his detractors, namely the local public defenders, who have complained that he has been too forthcoming with information about ongoing criminal cases. His "camera-friendly" reputation notwithstanding, nobody in the legal system or the media can argue with his success.
Jordan started as the nighttime radio operator with the sheriff's department in 1979 when he was just 19 years old and attending a local junior college. The young man impressed his superiors with his work ethic and proficiency and after just six months, he was offered a patrolman's job. He weighed the offer against the prospect of three more years of college and opted for the paycheck, telling himself he'd finish school at a later date. He never did, but his decision, Jordan would come to reflect, had been the right one.
Bruce Jordan's employment with the sheriff's department coincided with a population boom in Fayette County. It was an affluent populace that was in need of additional police protection. The county police department underwent massive changes in size as well as attitude, from an Andy Griffith type of mentality to a big city cop atmosphere. It was heady stuff for the hardworking Jordan. After just three years he was promoted to sergeant, then quickly detective sergeant and in 1988, division commander of detectives. In the summer of 2004, Bruce Jordan was lieutenant colonel, commanded forty detectives, and oversaw all criminal investigations, the K-9 corps, and the tactical division in the 250-man department. When the county decided to buy a helicopter for the sheriff's office, Jordan took a pilot's course and often flew it himself. When the department started a scuba diving unit, Jordan became certified, and took part in underwater searches for bodies and crime evidence. Bruce Jordan likes to think of himself as "a hands-on type of cop."
The once-rural Fayette County began inching up in murder rates as its population grew. Two reasons why Jordan is the longest sitting chief investigator for the sheriff's department are that during his term he personally worked every homicide, and that there is someone sitting in jail for committing each and every one of them. One murder prior to his employment, however, remained unsolved.
During 1977, the first year of Sheriff Randall Johnson's long tenure, Liddie Matthews Evans' partially decomposed body had been found floating in a portion of the Flint River that flowed through Fayette County. The cause of death was a gunshot wound.
In 1997 Jordan was researching what would be his first book, Death Unexpected: The Violent Deaths of Fayette, when he came across the case, which had become known as one of "the Flint River Murders." Jordan remembers thinking, "I believe I might be able to solve this case." In 2002 Jordan and Fayette County Sergeant Tracey Carroll went back and not only unraveled the mysterious homicide in their jurisdiction, but also the four other unsolved murder cases in adjoining counties. It was a compelling story of betrayal and murder.
Carl Patton Jr. had been a strong-arm for his uncle, Fred Wyatt, a notoriously brutal Atlanta drug trafficker. Curiously, Wyatt had spread the word that his hulking nephew was a hit man to intimidate customers who were in payment arrears — as if Wyatt's clientele didn't already live in fear of him.
Ironically a woman by the name of Marie Jackson Wyatt, who was Fred Wyatt's common-law wife hired Carl to kill his uncle in 1977. It wasn't the first time she had employed the services of Carl Patton. In 1973 she'd had him kill her first husband, Richard Russell Jackson.
Marie Wyatt had wanted her second husband dead ever since he had left her for another woman, Betty Jo Ephlin. At Marie's behest, he had killed Betty Jo, but Patton was reluctant to kill his uncle. Finally out of fear for his own life, Patton, knowing that his uncle suspected him in the murder of his girlfriend, shot Wyatt in the head during a purported hunting trip. He placed Wyatt's body in his Volkswagen Rabbit and ran it into a moving train in Clayton County to conceal his crime. As it would turn out, it was a sloppy cover-up attempt. The crime-scene photo of the wreck clearly showed a bullet hole in Wyatt's head.
One month later Patton further covered his murderous trail by shooting Liddie Matthews Evans and her boyfriend Joe Cleveland to death in Patton's DeKalb County trailer home. Apparently Patton was afraid that Matthews and Cleveland had information that could link Patton to the deaths of Fred Wyatt and Betty Jo Ephlin.
It was a twisted trail of murders where all the bodies, except his uncle's, were dumped in the Flint River.
Bruce Jordan and Tracey Carroll spent four months tracking down potential witnesses. They also found mention of a piece of evidence in the twenty-five-year-old case files: a bloody cushion that had been found in a camper in Carl Patton's backyard. In 1977 Patton's property had been searched, since he had been a suspect in the murders.
Back in the 1970s, before effective DNA forensic testing, all that could be determined from the stain was the blood type. The two detectives believed that if they could find that cushion, they could link it to the floater, Liddie Matthews Evans, through DNA. Jordan and Carroll got the unusual permission of Clayton County's chief of police to search the department's evidence room. Within ten minutes they found the cushion. Liddie Matthews Evans' body was exhumed in Alabama and transported back to Atlanta. Due to the age and decomposition of the corpse, the medical examiners were only able to get a partial DNA profile, but Jordan and Carroll tracked down the victim's children. Their profiles of the victim matched the ones lifted from the bloody cushion.
By this time, Patton was living two counties over from Fayette in Henry County, with his wife and his grandchildren, who had been deserted by their parents. Jordan had the home staked out by his sniper team to observe Patton's movements and whether he was accustomed to carrying a firearm. The Fayette County detectives then paid the Pattons a late night visit. They were separated for interrogation and Jordan explained the situation to the mum wife, Norma J. Patton. He told her that if she had helped with the murders, "she should keep quiet," but if all she'd done was help hide bodies, then she "had better talk" to him. Jordan then threw a color photo of the body of the victim on the table. Liddie Matthews Evans had been raped and mutilated after death. The crime-scene photo showed the water-logged corpse dressed in slacks with her vagina exposed. Jordan told Norma that semen had been found in the vaginal cavity. He then tried a ruse. He told Norma they had a DNA match that proved it was her husband's semen. Jordan asked her if she had known what her husband had done to the body. While the woman studied the grisly photo, she quietly shook her head from side to side. Jordan said that he believed her. Patton's wife, in a whisper, finally said, "All I did was help hide bodies."
Carl Patton Jr. was eventually connected to all five murders. He confessed and got five consecutive life sentences without the chance of parole.
Bruce Jordan thought that would be the last he would ever hear of the serial murderer. But Patton would later surprise Jordan with a phone call and a strange request. He had seen the Fayette County lawman on the TV news long before his arrest, thinking at the time that if he ever saw that face in person, he knew he "was done." After telling Jordan that, he then asked a favor. He said he had a daughter who had been missing two and a half years, adding, "And I didn't kill her." He wanted Jordan to apply the same diligence he'd used in capturing him towards finding his lost daughter. Jordan agreed to look into the disappearance. He found her three days later.
Jordan, after making an inquiry to the Fulton County Medical Examiner's office in Atlanta, learned that they had an unidentified dismembered body on their hands. The medical examiners had determined it was the body of a Caucasian male. Apparently they questioned their own findings after Jordan inquired about the unidentified corpse. The second re-examination suggested otherwise. Jordan received a tip from an inside source telling him of the misidentification. He called and demanded an explanation. According to Jordan, the coroner tried to keep it secret that they had been mistaken. It was an embarrassing lapse by the big city morgue. Through DNA, the body was identified as Carl Patton's daughter, Melissa Wolfenberger.
Excerpted from If You Really Loved Me by Kevin F. McMurray. Copyright © 2006 Kevin F. McMurray. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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