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Mysterious Death Of Mother Found Naked, Burned In A Ravine Ruled Suicide, Officials Say
Debbie Collier's death sparked a homicide investigation after officials learned she sent an unprompted Venmo payment to her daughter with a message stating, "they are not going to let me go."
The death of a Georgia mother who sent her adult daughter a mysterious text has been ruled a suicide.
The disappearance and death of 59-year-old Debbie Collier had investigators scratching their heads after her naked and burned body was found on Sept. 11 in a Clarkesville ravine — about 20 miles north of her Athens, Georgia, home. On Friday, Habersham County officials, once referring to Collier’s death as “deliberate and personal” during their initial homicide investigation, have now determined that Collier died by suicide, according to local news outlet Now Habersham.
“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,” said the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office in a statement to the local outlet.
According to Friday’s release, the GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) ruled Collier died of “inhalation of superheated gases, thermal injuries, and hydrocodone intoxication.”
“It’s pretty evident that she started the fire,” said Habersham Deputy Coroner Ken Franklin. “From what I saw and what I considered to be the case is that this was a self-inflicted death, but I was relying on the results of the autopsy and the doctor at the lab to make the final call.”
The postmortem findings, which included gasoline found on Collier’s clothes, were consistent with a flash fire caused by the accelerant’s vapors, according to Now Habersham.
It was unclear whether or not Collier wore the clothes containing gasoline, as previous reports stated she was found naked at the crime scene.
The bombshell findings are the latest in a bizarre case that has conjured multiple theories due to the events preceding the discovery of Collier’s body and the circumstances of the crime scene.
On the morning of Sept. 10, Collier’s husband of nine years reported his wife and her rental car missing from their Athens home, not long before she allegedly sent an unprompted Venmo payment of $2,385 to her adult daughter, Amanda Bearden. The transaction came with a text reading, “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.”
Authorities believe Collier authored the text from her phone on Sept. 10 while sitting in the parking lot of a Clayton, Georgia, Family Dollar store — just 13 miles from where Collier’s body would soon be found. Surveillance video from the store showed the then-missing woman purchasing a torch lighter, a double pack of paper towels, a reusable tote bag, a rain poncho and a tarp.
Several of the items were found with Collier’s body less than 24 hours later, when SiriusXM contacted Habersham County officials, alerting them that their system in Collier’s rental car had been traced to a wooded area in Clarkesville. Authorities referred to the area as a “pull-off that leads to an old logging road” off Georgia State Route 15.
On the scene, K9 units led authorities to the “remains of a fire” near an uprooted tree. Further along, investigators found a “partially burnt” tarp and a “nude female laying on her back, grasping a small tree with her right hand.” Officials noted “charring” to Collier’s abdominal region.
Amanda Bearden, who arrived on the scene in a “hysterical state,” told authorities her mother took pain-relieving medication on account of back problems and was incapable of walking long distances, according to an incident report reviewed by Oxygen.com. She also claimed her mother was not suicidal and had no history of mental health concerns.
Bearden seemingly had a change of heart during an appearance on the "Crime on The Record” podcast, saying that she believed her mother was, in fact, capable of taking her own life, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“I think she was dealing with stuff that she didn’t want to burden me with,” Bearden said in her interview. “No one saw her that day prior on (Sept. 10). There were actions, my mom was like giving away things that, you know, now looking back on, I’m like, ‘Well, that was weird.’… there were some comments that she made. She had taken that whole week off, well, the week of this happening, off from work.”
According to Now Habersham, Bearden claimed Collier had “tears in her eyes” during their last interaction, adding, “I'd never seen her that sad.”
Bearden came under suspicion after media reports highlighted her history of substance abuse and a tumultuous relationship with her boyfriend, according to Now Habersham. The payment received just one day before Collier's body was found only peddled speculation.
Bearden and her boyfriend had moved back to Athens from Maryland just days before Collier’s disappearance and death, according to Fox Atlanta affiliate WAGA-TV.
Collier’s son, Jeffrey Bearden — who once questioned whether or not it was his mother captured on Family Dollar surveillance video — said he had his suspicions about Collier's death, according to NBC Atlanta affiliate WXIA-TV.
"I do not think my sister has the capacity to hurt my mom; she was my mom's lifeline," said Jeffrey. “But I don’t trust the people that my sister hangs out with, and that’s my concern.”
On Oct. 27, Jeffrey Bearden filed an official complaint against the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office, citing “leaks” from the agency and claiming that when he asked for information on the case, Sheriff Joey Terrell allegedly “found it appropriate to snicker and laugh at my situation,” according to Now Habersham.
“I am no longer confident in this investigation or HCSO’s ability to manage or adequately investigate my mother's death," Jeffrey stated in his complaint in hopes of having the case transferred to another agency.
The complaint resulted in no change, according to the local outlet.
Amanda Bearden, on the other hand, praised investigators for their work, which was detailed in the sheriff’s office’s release on Friday, according to the local outlet.
“From the initial discovery on Sept. 11, 2022, to date, the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division has remained vigilant in seeking out and following up on every possible lead regarding Deborrah Collier’s actions on the weekend of her death,” officials stated. “Investigators have met with the medical examiner’s office and spoke with the medical examiner in regard to the results of the autopsy, reviewed the findings of items submitted to the crime lab for analysis, reviewed the reports and records received in response to the 26 search warrants and subpoenas issued in relation to every form of social media, electronic communication, cellular tracking data, and banking records, and reviewed information gathered from the 20+ interviews of family members and potential witnesses.”
Habersham officials thanked a number of law enforcement agencies for their assistance with the investigation, including the GBI, the State Fire Marshal’s Office, the FBI and several local agencies, Now Habersham reported.
“The Habersham County Sheriff’s Office would also like to extend our deepest sympathies to Mrs. Collier’s family and friends,” said officials. “It is our hope and prayer that the findings of this investigation provide some form of closure and allow for the healing process to begin.”