Athens woman’s death appears ‘deliberate and personal,’ officials say

Credit: Habersham County Sheriff’s Office

Credit: Habersham County Sheriff’s Office

Cops narrow timeline but release few new details weeks after 59-year-old found dead

Investigators believe an Athens woman who was found partially burned and topless in the woods in Habersham County was murdered by someone she knew, officials said Friday.

“We do not believe that this is a random act of violence. We do not believe this is the act of a serial killer,” Habersham Chief Deputy Murray Kogod said during a news conference. “We believe that this act was deliberate and personal.”

Sheriff’s deputies said they had slightly narrowed the timeline for 59-year-old Deborrah “Debbie” Collier’s death, but released few other new details.

Officials previously said Collier was last seen at a Family Dollar store in Clayton at 3:09 p.m. on Sept. 10, the day before her body was found. During Friday’s news conference, deputies said new security footage showed Collier remained in the parking lot for about 10 minutes before driving away, moving back her last known sighting to 3:19 p.m.

Collier’s daughter, Amanda Bearden, told police she received a Venmo payment for $2,385 from her mother at 3:17 p.m. with an alarming message: “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.”

ExploreSheriff: Athens woman last seen in store before being found dead in NE Georgia

Bearden told police she attempted to call Collier but got no answer, according to an incident report. More than two hours after receiving the message and getting no response from her mother, Bearden reported Collier as missing.

Investigators said Collier was alone in her car and unaccompanied in the store.

“In the video, the victim appears to be calm and not in fear of anything,” the sheriff’s office said earlier this week.

Investigator George Cason, who is leading the case, confirmed that Bearden had received the Venmo payment from her mother, but could not say if it was sent from Collier’s phone while she sat in the Family Dollar parking lot. Collier’s phone was found at the crime scene and is in the sheriff’s office’s possession, Cason said. Investigators have served multiple search warrants with different cell service carriers as they work to trace Collier’s phone records, he added.

After leaving the parking lot, Collier drove south on Ga. 15 toward Little Falls, just inside Habersham, Cason said. He added that he is working to get more security footage from businesses along Collier’s route between Rabun and Habersham counties.

“We encourage any businesses along that route that might have cameras, please reach out to us,” Cason said.

Collier’s car was last seen on the road before she stopped at Family Dollar, according to Cason. Her Chrysler Pacifica, a rental car she was using after her own car was damaged in a wreck, was seen traveling north on Ga. 15 just after 2:15 p.m. The car was captured on cameras at the Tallulah Falls School, Cason said.

Explore‘They are not going to let me go’: Athens woman found dead in NE Georgia

Investigators have not been able to find the car as it traveled back south. Cason said Ga. 15 is “one of the most heavily trafficked roads in northeast Georgia” and estimated that 150,000-160,000 cars travel on it each day.

The cause and time of Collier’s death are still unknown, according to Cason. Investigators are waiting for a report from the medical examiner’s office, but Cason said they would provide updates as soon as the report is received. He said there was no visible trauma to Collier’s body other than the burns.

Investigators also do not believe Collier’s death was drug-related, Kogod said, despite initial reports. Kogod explained that patrol officers responding to the scene would have noted any possible cause of death at the time, and the unusual nature of Collier’s death meant drugs could not immediately be ruled out. However, after more than two weeks of investigation, the evidence “is not leading us in that direction,” Kogod said.

Despite the mysterious note attached to Collier’s Venmo payment to her daughter, investigators do not believe the 59-year-old was kidnapped.

“I’ll tell you straight up, right here: As far as this investigation goes, it seems like once we get on track with something, a curveball comes out of nowhere,” Cason said. “That’s why we’re staying diligent and trying to stay on top of things and following up with leads.”

Anyone with information related to Collier’s movements or other details related to the case is asked to call Cason at 706-839-0560.