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Woman Shoots And Kills 2 Husbands In The Same California Home Years Apart
Colleen Harris said the first time she shot a partner, it had been self-defense. When another husband turned up dead, she insisted she couldn't remember the day.
Colleen Harris claimed she had no memory of killing her third husband, Bob Harris. It was the same excuse she gave decades earlier when she killed her second husband.
Robert Harris was born in 1940 and grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. An avid outdoorsman, Harris worked for the U.S. Forest Service as administrator for the Lake Tahoe region. He married and had three children with his first wife, according to "Snapped," airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen. But after his children grew up, Bob and his wife divorced. He remained close with his kids, but also enjoyed the untethered life of a bachelor.
While working in El Dorado County, California in the late 1980s, Harris reconnected with middle school girlfriend Colleen Batten. Like Bob, Colleen was single with grown children. Her second husband, James Batten, had been a surveyor and left behind a successful business which she took over following his death in 1985.
After dating for four years, Bob and Colleen married in 1990. Afterward, he moved into her large home in Placerville, California, outside Sacramento. They seemed to have a happy life, and over two decades after they got together, Bob and Colleen decided to retire. They spent their free time socializing and volunteering for causes near and far.
“He always was doing something productive and she was kind of that way too. They were happy,” Bob’s son-in-law Phil Stirling told “Snapped.”
But on the evening of January 6, 2013, Colleen’s attorney, David Weiner, called 911 in El Dorado County to report a dead body at the Harris’ home in Placerville.
When the dispatcher asked what happened, Weiner responded, “I can’t tell you. I’m an attorney. I’m just relaying information that I received,” as heard on the call, which was obtained by “Snapped.”
“He stated that he was at his office in Cameron Park and he was not on scene with the person and he refused to answer most questions,” El Dorado County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Michael Lensing said.
Officers with the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office rushed to the home, not sure what they were walking into. From outside, they could see 70-year-old Colleen walking around the house. She was instructed to come outside.
Colleen told deputies they would find her husband Bob in bed.
“I put a blanket over him. I saw a little blood,” she said in her recorded statements to police, which were obtained by “Snapped.”
Her demeanor was odd, though, investigators later claimed.
“When she was looking at me it was almost like she was looking right through me,” El Dorado County Sheriff’s Detective Michael Roberts told “Snapped.” “I started to think that maybe she wasn’t in her right frame of mind.”
Inside the home, authorities found the body of 72-year-old Rob Harris in bed, as his wife described. Blood was splattered on the walls and floor and a double barrel shotgun lay beside him.
“There appeared to be a gunshot wound to the side of the face. His face was missing,” said Roberts.
Authorities were initially unsure whether they were dealing with a suicide or a murder. The placement of the gun and the nature of the wound suggested the latter.
“The entry wound was large and there was gunpowder residue that would indicate that the end of the weapon that was used was several inches away from his head,” said Lensing. “This was not a suicide. This was a homicide.”
Congealed blood and rigor mortis led investigators to believe that Harris had been dead for hours. Besides the bloody scene in the bedroom, the rest of the home was clean and well cared for.
Investigators brought Colleen in for questioning. She put her feet up on a chair and seemed relaxed.
Colleen claimed to have no knowledge of what happened to her husband and couldn’t remember anything from earlier that day. She said her last memories were from the night before when they took down Christmas decorations and watched a movie.
“I remember seeing a gun and I saw my husband bleeding,” she calmly told investigators in her interview, obtained by “Snapped,” before adding, “I thought maybe he was having a nosebleed. He gets a lot of nosebleeds.”
Colleen then said she had been in a “gray fog,” according to Placerville’s Mountain Democrat newspaper. When told Bob was dead, she was overcome with emotion.
But during her interview, investigators learned that in July 1985 Colleen had fatally shot her second husband, James Batten, in the same home where she lived with Bob.
After shooting Batten, Colleen called 911 and told the dispatcher, “I think I shot my husband,” as heard on the 1985 call, which was obtained by “Snapped.”
Collen claimed not to remember the shooting but would later allege it was done in self-defense after Batten sexually assaulted her when she presented him with divorce papers. She also alleged Batten had molested her daughter from a previous marriage and was physically abusive, according to PEOPLE.
Colleen was charged with Batten’s murder but was ultimately acquitted, reported The Mountain Democrat. Her defense lawyer was David Weiner.
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When asked about the 1985 killing, Colleen claimed it happened so long ago that she couldn't remember how her second husband died.
In speaking with Bob’s family, investigators learned that the Harris’ marriage had hit a rough patch. Colleen believed Bob was having an affair with a woman in Mongolia who he had met while doing volunteer work to preserve Siberia’s Lake Baikal.
Colleen told investigators about the affair herself but claimed it didn’t bother her. She said she loved Bob unconditionally.
On January 9, 2013, Colleen Harris, 70, was arrested on suspicion of murder in the death of her husband, Robert Harris, according to the Los Angeles Times. Following her interrogation, Colleen was taken to a local hospital for a physical and mental evaluation. Injuries to her fingers and chest were consistent with the kickback of firing a shotgun at close range.
Investigators also met with Bob’s daughter, Pam Sterling, who said her father knew Colleen had killed her second husband but believed her claims that it was done in self defense.
Pam said Colleen was upset by Bob’s alleged affair, claiming her father felt he was in danger and had begun divorce proceedings in September 2012. Two months later, Colleen convinced Bob to move back temporarily. She was going to have hip surgery and he agreed to help her convalesce. Upon her recovery, he planned to move to a home he had in Lake Tahoe.
The night before the murder, Colleen had texted Pam and claimed she had caught Bob on the phone with his girlfriend from Mongolia, Pam told investigators.
“Colleen was actually angry about the relationship dissolving. Colleen never mentioned that to us or anything about Bob leaving the home,” said Lensing.
Investigators obtained a search warrant for the Harris’ home. There, they found numerous diaries, hand-written by Colleen, which stretched back to the 1980s but weren’t written in chronological order.
“She portrays herself in the journals as a faithful, loving wife whose husband, Bob, is mistreating her and she forgives him,” said District Attorney JoeAlexander. “There’s aspects of them that would suggest they’re fabricated. Some of the entries had dates and most didn’t.
Colleen’s cellphone records were subpoenaed. Her GPS data revealed that following Bob’s murder she drove three hours south to San Francisco to visit her son, Wesley Thornberry. He wasn’t home so she left a note, which was later lost, according to the Mountain Democrat.
On her way home, her car broke down and she called AAA, the outlet reported.
A recording of Colleen’s call to AAA showed her speaking clearly and articulately, giving her location and describing her car trouble.
“This wasn’t a woman who was in a fog. This wasn’t a woman who remained at the [home)] address like she claimed,” said Alexander.
Investigators learned that Colleen and Bob had divorced for a year in 2004 without telling anyone. This was done so that Colleen could continue receiving survivor benefits from the death of her second husband, James Batten. Upon securing the benefits, she and Bob remarried.
Colleen and Bob had a combined estate valued at approximately $1 million. She would presumably have benefited financially from his death.
The case went to trial, and after deliberating for two hours, a jury found Colleen Ann Harris, 73, guilty of murder in April 2015.
That June, she was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 50 years, according to the Mountain Democrat.
Colleen Harris died in prison in July 2022. She was 80 years old.
For more on this case and others like it, watch "Snapped," airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen, or stream episodes here.
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