Georgia investigators have made few public statements in the gruesome murder of Debbie Collier, a 59-year-old Athens office manager found naked, burned and clutching a tree at the bottom of a rural embankment earlier this month – but they are expected to reveal more on Friday as the three-week mark approaches.
Collier’s daughter and husband reported her missing on Sept. 10 in Athens. Deputies with the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office found her remains 60 miles away the following afternoon, with “charring” on her stomach.
The daughter, Amanda Bearden, told Athens-Clarke police she received a Venmo payment of $2,385 and the message, “They are not going to let me go love you there is a key to the house in the blue flowerpot by the door.”
Bearden said her mother’s car was in the shop and identified her rental as a Chrysler Pacifica, which Habersham deputies found abandoned off Route 15, a quarter-mile from her body.
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The Venmo payment and the fact that Collier’s remains had been partially burned are key clues that detectives are likely dissecting as they make other investigative moves behind the scenes.
The burning, in particular, shows either extreme malice or an attempt to hide evidence, according to Teresa Leto, a retired first-grade homicide detective who served 30 years in the NYPD.
“We had cases where there was a mob hit, and the guy was really involved in ‘destroying’ somebody’s soul, so he would cut them up and place their body parts in different locations and ‘destroy the soul,’” she said. “It wasn’t enough that he killed them, he wanted to destroy them also. If you’re going to burn somebody either you’re very sadistic person or you want to destroy evidence.”
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Additionally, she said, investigators would be looking further back into Collier’s life, past relationships, and finances.
“They have to find everything out about her life, her finances, her daughter’s life,” she told Fox News Digital Wednesday. “Why she Venmoed $2,300 to her daughter with that bizarre, ‘They won’t let me go’ – what did that mean?”
Collier’s last known public sighting came at a Family Dollar store another 15 miles north. She left around 3:09 p.m., eight minutes before the Venmo payment was sent from her account, which she appears to have shared with her husband, Steven Collier.
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“Why was she giving her daughter money?” she said. “Was the daughter having a problem with somebody else in her life? Was she being blackmailed?”
Detectives served a search warrant at the daughter’s home on Sept. 14, Fox News Digital has reported, but the sheriff’s office has kept mum about what, if anything, they found there.
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Investigators are also likely looking into Collier’s romantic history and friendships.
“What was the relationship with the father of her daughter? Did she have other boyfriends?” Leto asked. “You would really have to see if she had any disputes with a boyfriend – a lot of times you have a bad relationship you’re not making police reports.”
She added, “So they’d have to track down all her friends to see if what she told everybody – if you’re having a bad relationship you’re gonna confide in one of your girlfriends, right?”
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Crime scene evidence and Collier’s remains were sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for analysis. The GBI deferred comment to the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office, the lead investigative agency, which has not yet revealed details about the lab results.
“You’re going to get every phone call she made and where they pinged from,” Leto said, along with text messages, communications through smartphone apps, including Venmo, social media details and even information on her finances.
Investigators may also be holding information close in order not to “spook” any potential suspects, she said.
Investigators have not publicly named any person of interest or suspect as of Wednesday evening.
But new evidence continued to emerge this week. The sheriff released surveillance video Monday showing Collier at the Family Dollar store. And Fox News Digital discovered an unfired round Tuesday about 20 to 30 yards uphill from the crime scene, in a public area, and immediately alerted investigators. Detectives arrived around 15 minutes later and placed it into a small evidence bag.
“That’s an important piece of evidence, and that’s something [one or more suspects] could’ve dropped on the way out the door,” Pat Diaz, a former Miami-Dade homicide detective with more than 30 years on the job, told Fox News Digital.
He said investigators would likely be looking into the possibility that someone forced Collier downhill at gunpoint but used something else to kill her.
“It’s not a recreational hunting round that you would find normally in that area,” he added. “That’s unusual. A hunter’s not using a .223 round, plus…it’s bow season.”