Are they really closing the case like this?
When Debbie Collier was found dead last year, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind this was murder — the only question was who did this, and why. The Georgia mom was found dead down an embankment on the side of Highway 15, about an hour away from her home in Athens. There was a tote bag and a tarp, and the body was reported as completely naked and partially burned.
Even her final words screamed foul play, as she sent her daughter a couple thousand bucks on Venmo along with the haunting message:
“They’re not going to let me go, love you”
Kidnapping gone wrong? Serial killer? What was this?
Then in November we got an answer — just not one we expected. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation‘s medical examiner’s office ruled the manner of death a suicide. In a press release, they assured the public they had spent two months “following up on every possible lead” but ultimately came to their shocking conclusion:
“A detailed examination of all gathered information has enabled investigators to determine, based on factual evidence and data, that Mrs. Collier’s death was self-inflicted.”
The cause of death, per the release, was listed as a combination of “Inhalation of Superheated Gases, Thermal Injuries, and Hydrocodone Intoxication.” The implication we have no choice but to read from that is the 59-year-old real estate office manager and mother of two got high and set herself on fire. On purpose? The manner wasn’t death by misadventure or accident — it was ruled suicide.
That was difficult enough to understand at the time. But The NY Post obtained the full autopsy report on Monday, and it’s even stranger. The police initially referred to the burns as “what appeared to be charring to her abdomen.” But based on the cause of death it seemed clear there was more than just some superficial charring. Indeed, the full report says she actually had “second and third degree burns involving 80% of the total body surface area.” Her face and scalp were covered in third degree burns, and she had “charred leathery skin” all over. That’s a lot of burns. The report explains:
“Autopsy examination revealed thermal injuries of the external body surface and of the traceal mucosa (windpipe), no deposited soot in the airway, and no significant elevation of blood carboxyhemoglobin.”
The report — which mentions finding no other injuries — suggests a “flash fire” caused by the melted gas can near the body. The drugs are an interesting inclusion in the cause of death, considering she seemed to die from the fire. The implication of her actions changes so much when drugs are present — but we also know she was prescribed hydrocodone by her doctor for a back injury. And the picture being painted of someone going on a bender and accidentally setting themselves on fire isn’t what the report says. It says she did this to herself — that it wasn’t an accident.
It sounds like a truly horrible way to die. According to the CDC, in 2020 the most common means of suicide among women was firearm, followed by suffocation, drugs, poison, fall, drowning, and cutting. Self-immolation? That’s a statistical zero.
There’s no explanation at all in the report of how the medical examiner’s office came to the conclusion this was suicide — just this:
“Investigation by law enforcement revealed circumstances consistent with a self-intentioned act and that she was alone at the time of the incident.”
So the cops decided it was suicide. But they didn’t say how they figured that. Nor did they explain how she ended up down the hill, grasping a tree, completely nude.
We know she bought a lighter and the tarp herself that day at the Family Dollar — it was the last time anyone saw her alive. But is that enough to conclude she died by suicide in such a way?? The police seemed so sure this was a “targeted” attack early on. What changed? Maybe they just discovered something too awful to share publicly? If this really was a suicide, such a painful one, what unimaginable and despair-inducing news for the poor family.
What do YOU think of this wrinkle in the case? Are we reading too much into it?
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, help is available. Consider contacting the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988, by calling, texting, or chatting, or go to 988lifeline.org.
[Image via Debbie Collier/Facebook/11Alive/YouTube.]