The mysterious death of Debbie Collier of Athens, who was found three weeks ago in a forested ravine in the mountains of northeast Georgia, was described Friday by investigators as “a very complex case” with many unanswered questions.
But Habersham County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Murray Kogod told reporters at a news conference telecast live by several media outlets that they don’t believe Collier’s death was random. Instead, they believe it was committed by someone she knew.
“We believe the act was deliberate and personal,” Kogod said. A motive is unknown, according to the investigators.
“This case is very complex in nature and has a lot of questions and unknowns that are not typical for a death investigation,” said Kogod, added that investigators were treating Collier's death as a murder.
Autopsy results on a cause of death are not complete
Autopsy results on a cause of death are not complete, according to Kogod, but the evidence that led investigators initially to believe it was a homicide were burn marks on her body. Media reports described her body as naked.
Collier had also sent her daughter a cryptic message on the day she disappeared that said in part “they are not going to let me go.”
Collier, 59, was reported missing on Sept. 10 by her husband, Steve Collier, and her daughter, Amanda Bearden, from the Collier home on Rocky Drive in north Athens. The husband had been gone that day working at a parking lot for a University of Georgia football game.
What was Collier doing?
Investigators do not know why Collier drove to the northeast Georgia mountains that day. Collier’s body was found in Habersham County just south of the town of Tallulah Falls.
A security video at a Family Dollar store in Clayton shows Collier was in the store that day purchasing several items. The store is about 12 miles north of Tallulah Falls.
Investigators had earlier released images of Collier in the Family Dollar and on Friday they announced they had a video from a neighboring business that showed her leaving the store and going to her rented 2022 Chrysler Pacifica in the parking lot.
This footage shows Collier walking to the van at 3:09 p.m. She gets inside and remains until 3:19 p.m., then she leaves driving south on U.S. Highway 441 in the direction of Habersham County, according to Kogod.
She is not seen again until her body is found at 12:44 p.m. Sept. 11, the deputy said.
Searching for evidence
Habersham County Investigator George Cason made a public plea for anyone with cameras along that route of Highway 441 to contact them if they may have footage of Collier’s vehicle.
Collier, who worked the front office at Carriage House Realty in Athens, did not know anyone in the mountain area, nor was she known to leave home under such circumstances, according to what her family told investigators.
Cason would not describe where search warrants have been served, but he said the victim’s phone, which was found at the crime scene, along with those owned by family members are being searched for evidence, which will also help fill in gaps on the timeline of her conduct.
“We basically don’t want to show our hands before we have facts,” he said.
Collier’s body was found after a radio satellite service provided a location for the Chrysler found abandoned off Highway 441 in a wooded area Kogod described as U.S. Forest Service land. Investigators had said earlier that her body was down an embankment along with other items she had purchased at the store.
The Athens-Clarke police report shows that the daughter told an officer that her mother sent her $2,385 through Venmo, an online money-sharing service. Along with the money was a message from Collier saying that “they are not going to let me go love you there is a key to the house in the blue flower pot by the door.”
Amanda Bearden told the officer the message “scared her” and she tried calling her mother, but there was no answer.
This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: Mountain slaying of Debbie Collier is complex, laced with 'unknowns'