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Bones identified as female reported missing since 1979
A 1979 Daytona Beach Police Department and Georgia Bureau of Investigation cold case has been at least partially solved after bones found in the Newington area on Dec. 6, 1986 by a hunter have been identified as Tammy Hollins, 14, of Daytona Beach.
Tammy Hollins and her mother Diane Hollins, 30, have been reported missing since June 11, 1979 when they vanished and never returned to their Park Drive home. Diane’s whereabouts are still unknown.
Skeletal remains including “long bones” and a partial skull were found by a hunter and his dog near Orchard Road in Screven County Dec. 6, 1986. The case was given to Lamon Gillis with the GBI.
Gillis remembered the remains were found on the first day of deer hunting season and the location was at a possible “lover’s lane” or site with very light trash dumping.
“Remains were found and I was there that Saturday night,” he said. “We started investigating Sunday morning.”
After evidence collection the case went cold and Gillis retired in 1995 without solving the case. From there it was passed on to Gerald Hill at the GBI.
Hill, nicknamed “Cold Trail” by his supervising officer Harry Coursey after solving a double homicide in Effingham County that had gone cold, takes great pride in solving unidentified remains cases.
“I could never let a case go,” he said. “You’re looking at a case as though that’s a person and that person is connected to a family looking for them.”
In the late 70s, no DNA evidence was available and no witnesses saw what happened to the mother and daughter.
Detective Clem Malek, City of Daytona Beach cold case/missing person, said forensic evidence was a burgeoning field and the forensic autopsies performed could be largely varied from one examiner to the next – which is why when the skull and bones were first found Tammy was not the suspected deceased person.
“When you’re talking about bones it depends on the forensic exam,” Malek said. “The description of the person that the bones depict can be completely different.”
At first the remains could have been a possible missing person in Screven, but were ruled out after the forensic pathologist looked at the evidence, Hill said.
“In 1986 we had nothing but blood type testing,” he said. “All the technologies have bloomed and 10 years from now this technology will look like an old wheel.”
The evidence was stored in Atlanta by the GBI as the case eventually went cold. In 2007 Hill took another look at the site and bones with GBI forensic anthropologist Rick Snow, and it was decided to send a “long bone” or tibia to the FBI for mitochondrial DNA sampling.
“Had he not submitted that bone we wouldn’t be here talking,” Hill said.
When Hill retired in 2008, GBI agent Tony Lima picked up the case in 2012 and was responsible for asking the FBI about the bone report. The lab report had been sent to GBI headquarters in Atlanta and stated the evidence could not exclude DNA connected with a maternal relative to Tammy Hollins.
In the case file, after interviews collected by Hill, an early 80s visit by Florida investigators came very close to where the body was, but one wrong turn threw off the rest of the directions and the body was not found then. There are no paper records of the alleged visit, and the memory is from word-of-mouth reports by officers working during that time period.
Because of this memory, however, Lima contacted Daytona Beach, where Diane and Tammy were reported missing, and asked them for information.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children tracked down Hollins’ biological father and his DNA was taken.
“All I did on this end was identify and collect the DNA of the biological father and (Diane’s) two sisters,” Malek said. “GBI sent the bone and the computer did the rest of that work.”
How Tammy ended up dead and dropped off in Screven County is still a mystery, unfortunately. The most obvious suspect, Malek said, was Ben Ponder, a boyfriend of Diane’s and now deceased, who was from Screven County. Ponder died in Hope Springs, Ark., in 2009, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
The case is still an open investigation because Diane is missing and Tammy’s cause of death is unknown.
“We still need to find Diane and who is responsible for Tammy’s death,” Lima said.
Family members in Florida can now receive some closure, Malek said.
“I talk to mothers all the time, they have that hope that daughters go missing and then return,” he said. “If you don’t identify the deceased person, then they could turn up the next day. (The families) have closure with this.”
Investigator Brett Dickerson said through the coordination of multiple agencies the case was solved.
“Tammy’s remains went unidentified until technology caught up with the determined efforts of the GBI agents and other law enforcement officers who worked on this case. Had it not been for this advance in DNA processing ability, the remains may very well have remained in a box in the evidence room despite the hundreds and hundreds of hours spent trying to find out what happened to this person, and why,” Dickerson said. “The GBI did an outstanding job of passing the case along over the years so that it wasn’t neglected, and they turned over every stone they encountered.
“The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also deserves to be recognized for everything they do – they were an important part of the identification process, and the services they provide for families with missing children are extraordinary.”
Hill also said he was not the only one to be commended for his efforts.
“I’m not going to sit here and take credit for everyone else’s work,” he said. “I’m pleased it all led up to this person being identified. There is no greater feeling than identifying the remains of a human being.”
The bones were first reported to the Newington Police Department, which then reported them to the Screven County Sheriff’s Office, and the GBI got involved after it was apparent the remains were human.
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