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Crime News Snapped: Killer Couples

Man Living a Double Life Hatches Wild Murder Plot to Take Out His Fiancé a Month Before Wedding

“Sometimes you can be sleeping with a snake and don’t even know it,” said the family of slain nurse Carla Knowlton on Snapped: Killer Couples.

By Grace Jidoun

When her first marriage ended after 17 years, Carla Knowlton “wanted to be happy, she wanted to have a husband, and she just wanted to be loved,” said her daughter Kanaka Bryd on Snapped: Killer Couples, airing on Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.

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Enter Elbert Holder, a “fancy dresser” and “a bit of a hustler” who swept the vulnerable single mom off her feet when she was fresh off a painful divorce. Little did she know, her would-be Romeo was a criminal living a double life that included a longtime girlfriend.

During a supposed “roadside robbery” in June 2001, Carla was shot to death in Elbert’s car on a rural highway in Arkansas just one month before their wedding date. At least, that’s the story 46-year-old Elbert gave police, describing how he deftly dodged flying bullets that came so close one grazed his cap.

But as more clues surfaced during the police investigation, things weren’t adding up.

“Sometimes you can be sleeping with a snake and don’t even know it,” remarked Carla’s sister, Lorri Knowlton, on Snapped: Killer Couples.

What was Carla Knowlton and Elbert Holder’s relationship like?

Carla grew up in Helena, Arkansas, and as the oldest of six children, she was a “mother hen” to her siblings.

“She was the disciplinarian,” recalled brother Stacey Knowlton, adding that “she always wanted to help people. That was her calling.”

Carla and Elbert Holder featured on Snapped: Killer Couples episode 1717

Her college plans were put on hold when she got pregnant with her first child, Kanaka. Determined to make a life for herself and her daughter, the single mom went back to school to become a home health care nurse and eventually found love, too. She married and had two more children before divorcing in 1998.

Described by her sister as a “social butterfly,” it wasn’t too long after the divorce when Carla met Elbert Holder.


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“He kept us laughing, showered her with a lot of attention, a lot of affection, he did a lot of things she’d never have,” remembered Kanaka.

It would soon come to light that Elbert funded their fun vacations and outings by allegedly running insurance scams in Louisiana. In one worker's comp scheme, he claimed he injured his back on a Mississippi River boat and sought $140,000. He supplemented that income by selling sex toys and porn videos from the back of his truck, alleged Carla’s brother Stacey.

“A street guy … Nothing legit,” he told Snapped. “I was like, what is Carla doing with him? … She got caught on to that bad boy deal.”

After two years together, Elbert proposed, and the date was set for a destination wedding in the Bahamas — but Carla never lived long enough to walk down the aisle.

How was Elbert Holder caught?

Elbert's original story was that while driving with Carla on June 21, 2001, she was killed during a robbery. Elbert claimed he had stopped on a remote stretch of freeway to check under his hood when two masked men in a black Cadillac stole his wallet and fired on him with a shotgun. He dodged out of the way, narrowly escaping death, and had a graze wound on his arm and a bullet hole in his cap to prove it.

Carla was in the car when she was shot twice in the head and once in the chest, dying instantly.

Carla and Elbert Holder featured on Snapped: Killer Couples episode 1717

"There were red flags all over the place,” revealed Todd Murray, a former Phillips County deputy prosecutor.

The graze wound on his arm was superficial, but even more damning was a discovery made by forensics when they scrutinized the residue on the hat and determined that the shot came from very close-range.

“It didn’t make sense that Elbert was shot in the hat, but the bullet missed his head,” said Brian Miller, another former prosecutor. A witness also placed a second car at the scene, but it wasn’t a black Cadillac.

Then, a tip came in to help investigators. An unknown woman called the police to say she loaned her car to Brenda Dixon the night before and had picked it up on the same highway where Carla was killed. She noticed dirt and grass on the outside and found the murder weapon, a shotgun, in the trunk. What’s more, the car matched the description from the witness.

Investigators moved to arrest the pair. Brenda ultimately confessed to conspiring to murder Carla, and she fingered Elbert as the mastermind.

Why was Carla Knowlton murdered?

Unbeknownst to Carla, Elbert had been living a double life with Brenda, who was the mother of his son.

“He was going from her house to Carla’s house,” said Carla’s mother.

Defense attorney Gerald Coleman noted that “jealousy is a powerful motivating factor in a lot of murders.” Brenda was “the woman on the side, and she maybe thought that would come to an end when he married Carla,” added Miller.

Elbert Holder featured on Snapped: Killer Couples episode 1717

Carla also accidentally tipped off Elbert’s lawyers about his disability scheme when she answered the phone one day and said he was out riding a motorcycle, according to Snapped: Killer Couples. Brenda told police Elbert feared Carla would testify against him in the insurance fraud case and hatched a plan to bring about her demise before the trial date, asking Brenda and several other people to do the dirty work. When they all refused, Brenda claimed Elbert allegedly hired a triggerman named Greg Jenkins.

 “Holder was a scam artist, and Carla got caught in the crossfire,” stated Miller.

What happened to Brenda Dixon and Elbert Holder?

There was no DNA evidence linking Elbert or Jenkins to the murder, only Brenda’s testimony, which was shaky at best considering she was a co-defendant. At the jury trial, Elbert attempted to turn the tables and pin everything on Brenda.

Investigators, however, worked diligently to corroborate Brenda’s testimony. According to Brenda, Elbert put a bullet through his hat the day before the murder, and the police crime lab discovered it was from the same type of gun Elbert owned, which was found near the crime scene. 

Brenda also claimed she did not see the actual shooting but heard an extra gunshot, which would account for Elbert’s superficial graze wound on his arm. The police also debunked Elbert’s car trouble story and determined the shotgun they found was the murder weapon.

All three suspects were charged with the full force of the law: capital murder. Elbert narrowly escaped the death penalty, getting life in prison without parole, which was later reduced to 40 years on appeal. Brenda, meanwhile, was sentenced to 10 years behind bars as a co-conspirator.

As for the alleged gunman, even though witnesses came forward connecting him to the murder, he was acquitted due to a lack of physical evidence.

Reflecting on the tragic case, Miller told Snapped: Killer Couples, “The plan was how to we make this murder happen. But there was no plan for what happens after the murder.”

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