Murder of Holly Bobo
Holly Lynn Bobo
October 12, 1990
|Disappeared||April 13, 2011 (aged 20)|
Darden, Tennessee, U.S.
|Education||Tennessee Technology Center, Parsons, Tennessee, U.S.|
Holly Lynn Bobo (October 12, 1990 – c. April 13, 2011) was an American woman who disappeared on April 13, 2011, from her family home in Darden, Tennessee. Bobo was last seen alive by her brother, Clint, shortly before 8 a.m., walking into the woods outside her home with a man wearing camouflage. In September 2014, partial remains were found in northern Decatur County, and her death was ruled a homicide via a gunshot to the back of the head.
Six men have been arrested for varying degrees of involvement in the crime. However, only three of the six have been prosecuted. Most of the arrests were made on the basis of a confession by a man with an intellectual disability named John Dylan Adams, who told police he saw his brother, Zach, and another friend, Jason Autry, with Holly at his brother's home after her kidnapping. It is unknown what led police to question Dylan about Bobo's disappearance. Dylan, Zach, and Autry were charged with especially aggravated kidnapping, first-degree murder and rape. Of the other three men arrested, charges against two men were dropped, and one committed suicide without any charges being filed against him.
The case has been met with several setbacks such as the death of a suspect, multiple changes to the prosecutorial team, and disputes with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI). The prosecution has been heavily criticized for its refusal to produce evidence against the defendants, missing multiple discovery deadlines, and for making frequent changes to the charges against the defendants with little explanation. The TBI even briefly withdrew its services to the entire district after the prosecutor accused it of compromising the case by proceeding "so slowly that the culprits were always one step ahead and that TBI... was leaking information and possibly covering up evidence." Defense attorneys for the men said they still had yet to receive a bill of particulars detailing the case against their clients and the results of forensic testing done on evidence from the case over a year after the arrests were made, and filed motions to dismiss charges on the grounds of "silence or stonewalling." The arrests took place in early 2014, but it was not until July 2015 that it was announced that the defendants finally received access to all the evidence against them.
On September 22, 2017, a jury found Zach guilty on all charges, including first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison plus 50 years on September 23. He maintains his innocence. In January 2018, Zach's brother, Dylan, accepted an Alford plea and he was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
At the time of her disappearance, Holly Bobo was a 20-year-old nursing student in the Licensed Practical Nurse program at the University of Tennessee at Martin Parsons Center in Parsons, living with her parents and brother in Darden. Friends described her as shy and sweet. She was the cousin of country singer Whitney Duncan. In 2017, Duncan released a song called "Better Place" in memory of Holly.
A timeline of events on the morning of April 13, 2011, is given below, on the basis of witness statements and reported phone records:
- 4:30 a.m. Holly awoke to study for an exam.
- 7:30 a.m. Holly answered a call from her boyfriend, Drew Scott, who was turkey hunting nearby on her grandmother's property. Holly's parents had left for work by this point and her brother Clint was still asleep.
- 7:42 a.m. Holly made her last cell phone call. After this point, all phone calls and texts were incoming and unanswered. At some point after this call ended, a neighbor heard a scream from the Bobo residence.
- 7:46 a.m. The neighbor called his mother to tell her about the scream, who called Karen Bobo at work.
- 7:50 a.m. Clint was awakened by the family dogs barking and saw a man with Holly outside. "It appeared to be Holly kneeling down and Drew [Scott]. They looked like they were kneeled down, facing each other in the garage, and they were talking back and forth. Holly sounded very upset and heated. He was doing much of the talking, and she would answer back and things like that. I couldn't make out hardly any of the words. The only words I could make out from here were Holly saying, 'No, why?'" Clint said that he believed the couple were breaking up. At some point, Karen called home and spoke to Clint. "I said, 'Clint, that's not Drew. Get a gun and shoot him.'" Clint reportedly replied, "You want me to shoot Drew?", still believing the man was Holly's boyfriend.
- 7:55 a.m. Karen called 9-1-1, but because she was calling from work she reached the dispatcher for the wrong county. At home, Clint looked outside again and saw the man dressed in camouflage walking with Holly into the woods. At this point, he noted that the man with Holly was larger than Drew Scott. He tried to call Holly's cell phone as well as Scott's cell phone, but neither call was answered.
- 8:00 a.m. Karen called her house again. Clint told her what he saw and she instructed him to call 9-1-1. Clint got a loaded pistol and went outside, where he found bloodstains belonging to Holly in the carport, then dialed 9-1-1.
- 8:10 a.m. Police began to arrive at the Bobo residence.
- 8:17 a.m. Cell phone pings showed Holly's cell phone moving away from her home tower heading north. Her cell phone continued north to a wooded area near Interstate 40, where her remains were eventually found.
- 8:30–9:00 a.m. The cell phone stopped moving for 20–30 minutes. The cell phone then began traveling south again using a different route.
- 9:25 a.m. The last cell phone ping came from Holly's phone in the area where her phone and its SIM card were later found.
Clint described the man as being between 5′10″ and 6 feet tall (1.78–1.80 m), weighing 180–200 pounds (82–91 kg) and having dark hair sticking out from under his cap that was long enough to cover his neck and touch his collar. Clint said the man was wearing a hat and camouflage clothing from head to toe and identified the pattern as either Mossy Oak break up or leafy wear. He described the male voice he heard as a very deep and low.
Extensive searches of the area were conducted following Bobo's disappearance. Several items belonging to Bobo were found scattered throughout the town, including her lunchbox, a receipt with her name on it, a card from school, her cell phone, and the SIM card, which had been removed from it.
Early in the investigation, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) focused heavily on a registered sex offender who matched the witness description named Terry Britt. His home was wire-tapped and searched during the course of the investigation, but he was never charged.
In September 2014, Bobo's partial remains were found by ginseng hunters in a wooded area of northern Decatur County, Tennessee, just off of I-40, nearly 20 miles (32 km) from Darden. The owner of the property said it was not uncommon for people to hunt there without permission. One of the men who found the remains said he saw a large bucket in the woods, which he upturned. Details of the contents have not been released. He then spotted Bobo's remains spread on the ground behind him. Investigators recovered her skull, teeth, several ribs, and one shoulder blade. Her skull had a bullet hole in the back of it on the right with the trajectory going left, fracturing her left cheek bone when it exited.
A total of six men have been implicated in connection with Bobo's disappearance, with the first of the arrests occurring in March 2014, prior to the discovery of Holly's remains. Zach Adams, his brother Dylan Adams, and friend Jason Autry were ultimately charged with especially aggravated kidnapping, first-degree murder, and rape. Another two men, Jeffrey and Mark Pearcy, were arrested on charges of accessory after the fact and tampering with evidence; however charges against the Pearcy brothers were dropped. Another man, Shayne Austin, committed suicide.
It is unclear what initially led law enforcement to suspect these men, but the investigation began with the arrest of Dylan Adams on unrelated weapons charges. Following this arrest, he told police that he witnessed Bobo alive with his brother at Zach's home following her abduction. An affidavit for a search warrant states that Dylan told authorities that on April 13, 2011, he went to Zach's residence to get his truck. Dylan reportedly "observed Holly Lynn Bobo sitting in a green chair in the living room wearing a pink t-shirt, with Jason Wayne Autry standing just a few feet away." He also told police Zach was "wearing camouflage shorts, black cut-off-sleeve t-shirt and a pair of green Crocs" shoes. Dylan also said that Zach told him "he had raped Bobo and videotaped it." The alleged videotape has not been found. Dylan later recanted the confession and alleged that he was coerced, but his confession led to the arrests of Zach Adams, Jason Autry, and Shayne Austin. Many of the details contained in the confession were eventually found to be inconsistent with the known evidence, and the narrative presented later in court was vastly different. In early 2017, it was announced that Jason Autry had agreed to testify against Zach in exchange for leniency.
In 2014, District Attorney Matt Stowe said he and the TBI were still "actively looking" to bring criminal charges against additional people, although he declined to name the parties or the charges.
Shayne Kyle Austin was initially offered immunity in exchange for information regarding the location of Bobo's body. Phone records indicate that Austin was in contact with Adams several times on the day of Bobo's abduction and police believed that Austin helped dispose of the body. The agreement was withdrawn after Austin was unable or unwilling to lead them to the body and the district attorney released a statement saying that Austin "has not been completely truthful, forthcoming and cooperative as to any and all aspects of this investigation." In April, Austin's attorney filed a complaint against the State asking for an immediate and permanent injunction preventing the state from charging Austin. Austin was found deceased in February 2015 while in custody at the Henderson County Sheriff’s Department located in Lexington, TN while being held on unrelated previous charges of Theft and Burglary. He had committed suicide. Austin's attorney blamed the suicide on the continual threats of prosecution as well as the "witch hunt" style of investigation, where they relied on rumors instead of evidence. His attorney insists he had nothing to do with the murder and cooperated fully with police.
Jeff and Mark Pearcy
In July 2014, Jeffrey Pearcy and his brother Mark Pearcy were arrested and charged with accessory after the fact and tampering with evidence. They were arrested on the basis of allegations made by Jeff's former roommate Sandra King, who alleged that in May 2014, Jeff showed her part of a video showing Adams assaulting Bobo, who was tied up and crying. She told police that she watched only a small clip and did not see the sexual assault. Police arranged for King to make a recorded call to Jeff where she told him over the phone "That video of Holly, if it had been you, I would have watched it," to which he replied, "I know." King alleges that Pearcy's brother Mark shot the video.
Both brothers deny that a video existed and Jeff Pearcy denies knowing the other men who have been arrested for the crime. Jeff claims that he was unable to hear Sandra during the phone conversation and that his ex-wife's name is also Holly. Police have analyzed over 20 phones but have not found any video. Charges against both men were subsequently dropped and the narrative described at Zach Adams's trial did not include any mention of involvement by the Pearcy brothers.
Trial of Zach Adams
In September 2017, Zach Adams was the first to go on trial. The prosecution's case was largely circumstantial, as there was no DNA or other forensic evidence tying Zach to the murder. Jason Autry, the state's key witness, testified to a series of events that was drastically different from Dylan's confession. He testified that he himself was not involved in the abduction but that he went to Shayne Austin's home to buy drugs where he saw Zach, Dylan, and Shayne disposing of evidence from the crime. He said Zach had a body in the back of his truck wrapped up in a multi-colored blanket and Shayne was disposing of evidence in a burn barrel.
According to Jason Autry, he agreed to help Zach dispose of the body. They drove to a spot along the Tennessee River underneath the Interstate 40 bridge with plans to "gut" her so she didn't float to the top. After unloading her body from the bed of the truck, they realized she was still alive, so Zach shot her in the back of the head. Fearing that the noise of the gunshot might have attracted attention, they loaded her body back into the truck and Zach dropped Jason off. Autry testified that Zach later said that he'd dumped the body near a place called Kelly Ridge. (Her remains were found in a different location and it is unclear how the body ended up where it was ultimately found.)
The narrative presented at trial is that Zach, Shayne, and Dylan went to the Bobo residence to teach Clint Bobo to make meth, an allegation that Clint denies. Holly came out of the home "screaming and hollering" and that is when the men abducted her. The prosecution alleged that Shayne Austin was the man that Clint described as walking into the woods with Holly, as he is the only one who was close to the size of the man he described. The three men are alleged to have raped Holly in a local barn owned by the grandmother of both Shayne Austin and Jason Autry.
Two pieces of paper belonging to Holly, a receipt and a note card, were found on the road where Shayne Austin lived. The receipt was found 75 feet from Austin's driveway.
The prosecution also presented other pieces of circumstantial evidence linking Zach to the murder, including that he drove a white truck; a neighbor of the Bobo family had seen a white truck driving rapidly the morning of the murder. A number of other witnesses testified that Zach made statements implicating himself in her disappearance. Zach's then-girlfriend, Rebecca Earp, testified that "He said he would tie me up just like he did Holly Bobo and nobody would ever see me again." He also allegedly threatened Dylan after his arrest that he would "put him in a hole beside her" if he didn't keep his mouth shut.
A gun, listed as an Arminius model HW5, 32 caliber Smith & Wesson long revolver was introduced into evidence by the prosecution. A local man, Victor Dinsmore, led police to the gun, claiming that Shayne Austin and Jason Autry sold him the weapon in exchange for drugs. It was reportedly found under water. Forensic tests on the weapon failed to find any DNA or fingerprints on the weapon and prosecutors were unable to link the gun to the case with ballistics tests
On September 22, 2017, a jury found Zach Adams guilty on all charges, including first-degree murder, especially aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated rape. On September 23, 2017, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole and two consecutive terms of 25 years for both the kidnapping and rape convictions.
John Dylan Adams
On January 18, 2018, John Dylan Adams pled guilty to charges of facilitation of first-degree murder and especially aggravated kidnapping. He was sentenced to 15 years for facilitation of first-degree murder and 35 years for especially aggravated kidnapping. Those sentences are set to run concurrently, meaning he will serve 35 years without parole. Dylan entered an Alford plea, a type of guilty plea where the defendant does not admit to the criminal act and maintains his innocence but concedes that the prosecution's case may result in a guilty verdict.
Despite confessions from Autry, Austin, and Dylan Adams, all men arrested for the crime have vehemently denied involvement in the disappearance at some point and have accused the state of coercive tactics. Early in the case, Autry claimed that investigators tried to get him to testify falsely against Zach Adams. The family of Dylan Adams, who is mentally disabled, claimed that "[T]hey kept him up all night, would not give him anything to eat or drink and finally he said, 'What do you want me to say?'" According to family members, Dylan has some ability to read but cannot perform other tasks such as telling time, and they believe that Dylan is being manipulated.
At the trial for Zach, it was alleged that the state used unethical investigatory techniques to coerce a confession from Dylan. In 2014, Dylan was arrested on federal gun charges that would have ended in a lengthy prison sentence. The prosecutor, who was also handling the Bobo case, arranged a no-jail plea deal on the condition that he go live with a retired police officer, Dennis Benjamin, whom Dylan did not know. Five weeks later, Benjamin called 911 to report that he had someone in his home that wanted to confess to the murder of Holly Bobo. Despite the fact that this confession led to the arrests, much of what he confessed to did not match the evidence.
Dylan's mother claims that there was extensive coercion in his interrogation: "In this statement Dylan is trying to tell his story as to what happened, and you've got this TBI agent saying, 'Don't you mean this? Don't you mean it happened like this?' And, 'No, Dylan, it went down like this.' And you can honestly tell at [that] point that Dylan, I can as his mother, he gave up. He's like, 'OK, if that's what you said, OK,'" Cindy Adams said.
Jeffrey Pearcy also claims the statements regarding his involvement were fabricated by King to assist her son, who has been in prison for 14 years and has 24 years left on his sentence. "I have been up front and honest about everything. I have willingly given them everything. Take it, I mean, it's there," he said. "My heart goes out to the Bobo family. It could have very well been one of my kids. For someone to give them false hope, and that's exactly what's been done to them," he said. "But for the justice system to just haul someone in and destroy their whole life, I mean, there's no sense in that at all."
Zach Adams defense
At Zach Adams's trial, his defense contended that he was "100% innocent." The defense alleged that Jason Autry concocted a story in exchange for a reduced sentence and that although some of his story seemed to be corroborated he had access to all these details through discovery. They also pointed to the fact that cell phone pings do not follow the path that Holly's cell phone takes and that none of the men matched the witness description given by Clint Bobo. Zach, Dylan, and Jason were all too tall and were either too slim or too heavy to be the abductor. Shayne Austin was the correct weight and height, but Clint described a man with dark hair that covered his neck; Shayne had short red hair.
Former TBI agent Terry Dicus, who was the lead investigator on the case, testified for the defense. He told the jury that he ruled the men out early in the case because Shayne Austin passed a polygraph, their alibis checked out, and cell phone records put Zach and Holly several miles apart during the critical time frame. According to a defense expert, Zach's and Holly's cell phones were in separate sectors nearly the entire time frame of her abduction; the cell phones came into the same sector only at about 9:10 a.m., over an hour later. Dicus also noted that for Autry's story to fit with the cell phone pings, they would have to drive 106 miles per hour, a scenario that is unlikely on the winding gravel roads they traveled. The defense also noted that all four men had been ruled out as the originator of a palmprint found on Holly's car, while another suspect, Terry Britt, could not be excluded.
Zach's defense attorney, Jennifer Thompson, contends that the initial suspect in the case, Terry Britt, was the real killer, saying that he "has never been cleared by the TBI and in fact it appears the government has more evidence of his guilt than it does of the three defendants charged in the present case."
Britt is a convicted sex offender who has been convicted of three separate rapes and, as of 2017[update], is serving time in prison for the 2008 kidnapping and attempted rape of another woman. It was argued at trial that Britt fit the physical description and had a history of stalking blond women. Clint Bobo also identified a voice sample of Britt's voice as being very similar to the voice he heard that morning.
Former TBI agent Terry Dicus testified that Britt had fabricated an alibi for that morning. Britt told investigators that his wife stayed home from work that morning to help him install a bathtub. Through the investigation, Dicus discovered that his wife, Janet, had gone to work that morning but Terry called and made her leave "on the biggest news day" of the county's history. The Britts did produce a handwritten receipt for the bathtub, but the store had no record of the sale. According to Dicus, Britt's wife had been with him on previous occasions where Britt had stalked girls. Britt also could not be excluded as the contributor of the handprint. He also testified that following Holly's abduction, Terry Britt allegedly changed his appearance by cutting his hair.
A U.S. Marshals senior inspector testified that at one point, Britt said, "Sounds like you have it all figured out," and said he would "plead to it," but did not clarify specific charges or conditions for a plea deal.
Criticisms of the prosecution
The criminal case against the men charged has been met with strong criticism and conflict between members of the prosecution, complicating the investigation. District Attorney Matt Stowe was elected to office in the summer of 2014 following the arrests and stated that he believes he was elected in part due to skepticism regarding the arrests and questions over whether enough evidence exists against them to obtain a conviction. "[Voters] wanted another set of eyes on this Holly Bobo case; they weren't happy with everything that was coming out of there, and I think that they wanted someone else to take a look and someone else to say, 'We know what's going on.'"
In the fall of 2014, Jason Autry's attorney, John Herbison, accused the prosecutor of arresting the defendants without probable cause as an unethical "investigatory technique", then adding and dropping charges strategically before hearings to avoid having to produce evidence against the defendants. In October 2014, when evidence tampering charges were dropped against Dylan Adams just days after he was charged with rape, Herbison said: "If those reports are correct, it means that they're just playing games," Herbison said. "They charged him with something less serious in order to keep him locked up, and then when it comes time to answer questions about the charge, they dismiss that and charge him with a more serious charge in circuit court, where he's not entitled to a preliminary hearing."
He also noted the state's similar treatment of Mark Pearcy to avoid hearings. In August 2014, the state failed to arrange transport for Pearcy to the courthouse causing the hearing to be rescheduled for September, but just prior to the new hearing the charges against him were dropped with the explanation given that Pearcy was facing unrelated federal charges and they were being forced to wait to proceed with the state charges. Herbison said the laws regarding the charges would not preclude the state charges. "If the state is claiming that is the case, the prosecutor is either ill-informed or being disingenuous," he said. Charges were never reinstated and the case against his brother, Jeff, was similarly dropped.
Zach Adams's attorney, Jennifer Thompson, repeatedly said that evidence was not turned over to the defense. For example, in 2014, DA Matt Stowe made a statement that because Holly was menstruating at the time of her abduction there was a lot of DNA evidence in Zachary Adams's Decatur County home. No DNA evidence was ever turned over to the defense or produced at trial. She also said that the medical examiner referred to materials that were never given to her.
On December 17, 2014, nine months after Zach Adams's arrest, Judge Creed McGinley chastised prosecutors for delays in the case and for the state's failure to turn over evidence to the defense. "I am absolutely out of patience with these cases not moving," he said. Judge McGinley ordered that a bill of particulars be filed for Zachary Adams's case within seven days and that discovery take place immediately. The prosecution ignored both deadlines. In response, attorneys for the men filed motions to dismiss charges. The motions filed accused the state of "silence or stonewalling", stating that, among other things, the state had yet to disclose evidence that the skull found belonged to Bobo. "It would appear to me if they had a skull with a dental match they would have given that to us right away. It's a little suspicious why we don't have that forensic information," said Autry's attorney Fletcher Long.
Following the hearing in December 2014, a dispute regarding the handling of the case led the TBI to briefly drop its investigation of the case and cut ties with the entire district, saying District Attorney Matt Stowe had accused them of misconduct. The TBI agreed to come back on the case after Stowe recused himself from the case and Jennifer Nichols was appointed as special prosecutor. Following Stowe's allegations of misconduct by the TBI, the defense attorneys working on the case stated that they intended to subpoena Stowe to question him regarding the alleged misconduct. Emails by Wally Kirby, Executive Director of Tennessee District Attorney's Conference, revealed that Stowe accused TBI of compromising the case by proceeding "so slowly that the culprits were always one step ahead and that TBI...was leaking information and possibly covering up evidence."
The case attracted a high level of national media coverage. Discovery Channel published an article several months after her disappearance, discussing how the high levels of media coverage, including some instances of inaccurate media coverage, hurt the investigation. A notable example of misinformation was the description of her last known movements. Early reports inaccurately reported that Bobo was dragged into the woods. Clint later clarified that Holly had, in fact, walked with the man wearing camouflage into the woods, either willingly or by coercion. This clarification led to rumors that Clint had changed his story and was a suspect in his sister's disappearance. Whitney Duncan defended him in an April 17 Twitter statement, stating that he was innocent and not a suspect in the case. Some early sources also erroneously reported that the skull was found on property owned by Zach Adams's family. Her body was found 10 miles away from Adams's property on land owned by the Tubbs family.
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