Three months after he and his wife took in Holly, their rebellious 15-year-old granddaughter, Carl Collier confided some disturbing news to his son Kevin. “She said she was going to kill us,” Carl told him. Kevin knew his niece was troubled, but he thought the trouble was limited to smoking pot and running away. But just to be on the safe side, “I told him, ‘Any little thing, you need to call 911,’ ” Kevin says. “I wish we’d taken that a little more seriously.”
Five days later, police found the blood-soaked bodies of Carl, 75, and his wife of 53 years, Sarah, 73, inside their white brick ranch-style home in Fayetteville, Ga. Carl, a retired airline supervisor, was stabbed at least a dozen times; Sarah, a retired bank teller, 22 times. The next day, cops arrested Holly Harvey and her girlfriend, Sandy Ketchum, 16, at a house on Tybee Island, where they had driven in Carl’s stolen pickup. On Holly’s forearm was a casually inked to-do list: “kill, keys, money, jewelry.” To the Colliers’ neighbors, 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 life to their granddaughter because of their love for her.”
Some might say the road to the Colliers’ tragic death began in 1967, when they adopted their daughter Carla, now 37. Although they were conscientious parents who insisted on regular bedtimes and getting to know all their children’s friends, they had difficulties with Carla as a teen. She battled them constantly over her choice of friends and her drug and alcohol use, says her brother Kevin, 38. Through the years, Carla was jailed three times in connection with drug and alcohol violations.
Holly was born in March 1989. Her father and Carla’s common-law husband, Gene Harvey, had also been in trouble with the law. (He has played no role in Holly’s life since.) Although well behaved as a child, as a teen Holly began to rival her mother’s wild ways. “She used to sneak out of the house when her mother was at work. I had to go up and down the street to chase her down,” says Carla’s ex-boyfriend Scott Moore. He often found her with Sandy, who lived nearby with her father, Tim Ketchum. The girls became friends in middle school, and at some point became romantically involved. Sandy, according to a statement her father gave in court, often ran away from home and was on probation for drug use.
Then, in April 2003, Carla was arrested for marijuana possession with intent to sell. After her mother began serving a three-year prison term, Holly was alone—and her grandparents took her in. “They loved Holly and wanted to provide a wholesome home for her,” says longtime family friend John Webster. “But she couldn’t live under the rules, and the rules”—come home each night, no drinking, no smoking pot or cigarettes in the house—”weren’t that strict.”
As the arguing intensified, her grandparents forbade her to see Sandy—less because of their romance than her police record, says Kevin. Nevertheless, on June 10, the pair ran away together, turning up four days later 20 miles away in Griffin, Ga., at the home of Sandy’s birth mother, Sandra Maddox. When they did it again a couple of weeks later, the Colliers, at wit’s end, reported Holly to authorities and she was placed on probation. “As soon as they walked out of court, she fired a cigarette up,” Kevin says his father told him. She stubbed it out on her grandfather’s truck. “Dad was ready to carry her right back inside. Mom said, ‘No, she’s been through enough today.’ ” At dinner that Sunday, the Colliers told Kevin that Holly had become enraged when they forbade her to take their pickup truck to the beach—even though she had no driver’s license.
The next afternoon, police say, Holly’s grandparents went to her downstairs bedroom after smelling marijuana. She attacked her grandmother with a kitchen knife while Sandy, who’d been lying in wait, leaped out to help Holly. “I finished with Mrs. Collier,” Sandy told police, “then went to join Holly”—who had chased her grandfather up the stairs. When the girls were picked up on Tybee Island, staying with some boys they’d just met, police found jewelry from the Colliers’ home. According to one of the arresting officers, Bruce Jordan, Holly laughed as she was arrested. “She was callous and cocky,” he said. No trial date has been set, but the girls—who face life in prison if convicted—are described by their lawyers as remorseful. Meanwhile, Holly’s mother, Carla, can only watch the destruction unfold from afar. “My family has suffered a great loss,” Carla said in a statement from prison. “I’ve lost three people whom I love.”
Judy Chidester, Holly’s court-appointed attorney, says, “I think Holly is still in a state of shock.” So too is Kevin Collier. “I’m sure they hoped they would get Holly to turn her life around,” he says of his parents. “They obviously didn’t expect this to be their payment.”
Bob Meadows. Jeff Truesdell in Fayetteville