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Just two days after Brittney Wood disappeared in 2012 in Alabama, her uncle—and the last known person to see her alive—was found shot to death in the woods.
But was Donald "Donnie" Holland’s death a suicide or murder?
Local authorities have consistently said that Donnie died of a suicide, with Baldwin County Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack telling AL.com in 2015 that the suicide ruling remains intact “based on all available evidence.”
But others have questioned the location of the fatal gunshot, which entered through the back of Donnie’s head, and believe it’s possible someone else pulled the trigger.
“To put the gun behind their head would be very odd, I don’t know of any suicide that was done in that position,” firearms expert Cameron Bucy, a professional witness in self-defense cases, told “Monster in the Shadows,” a new Peacock docuseries on the Wood case available to stream Thursday.
At the time of his death, Donnie had been under investigation for involvement in a disturbing child sex ring involving many of his own family members.
Just 30 minutes before he was scheduled to meet with investigators to discuss the allegations, he died of a fatal gunshot while sitting in his vehicle, which was left still running in a clearing overlooking Fish River, according to authorities.
“I believe that Donnie Holland probably knew that if he showed up, he was going to be arrested and therefore, he actually took his own life approximately 30 minutes before he was due to meet with us,” Eric Winberg, a former detective with the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office said in the three-part series.
The gunshot wound was in the back of his head, behind his ear, according to The Associated Press. Investigators believed he had been killed with a small gun that actually belonged to Brittney; it was the only one found in the vehicle.
Brittney’s best friend, Tiffany Bailey, told “Monster in the Shadows” that Brittney had purchased the gun for protection not long before she disappeared.
“I don’t know if she got it because of, like, what she was going to do or what was happening or, like, was going on for her to get the gun or anything like that,” she said. “Maybe because she was tiny and had to protect herself, but what she was protecting herself from, I don’t know.”
Brittney’s mother, Chessie Wood, told “Monster in the Shadows” that Donnie was discovered still gurgling blood by his wife Wendy Holland and their friend Jennifer Gonzales Moore about a mile off the main road.
Donnie was transported to a local hospital, but later died from the wound. While at the hospital, Chessie told producers that Donnie had bags placed on his hands so that investigators would later be able to test for the presence of gunshot residue, but the bags were removed without the test ever being done.
“Generally, it’s four to five hours till unpreserved gunshot residue is gone and, you know, hands in bags it’s being preserved, so I don’t understand why that wasn’t done even if they thought it was an apparent suicide,” said Becca Johnson, a private investigator working to find Brittney Wood.
Winberg confirmed in the series that the test “was not conducted” because it wasn’t one performed by the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences at the time.
Bucy, the firearms expert, said brain matter and bone fragments would have also likely been embedded into his hands if he had shot himself, but no test was done to determine that either.
Bucy also questioned in the docuseries the unusual placement of the gunshot wound.
“If somebody wants to make sure they are going to kill themselves and not survive it, they’re gonna typically get a larger caliber and they are gonna put it in a location of the body where they are going to be more assured it’s gonna do it’s job, and that said, they are going to do it in a more relaxed or comfortable position,” he said.
Despite the lingering questions surrounding Donnie’s death, authorities say the shooting remains classified as a suicide.
“Given the blood stain evidence in the vehicle and the location of the pistol, and the entrance wound to his head, it was all consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” Winberg said.
Mack told AL.com in 2015 that authorities also believe that Brittney is dead—although what happened to the 19-year-old remains a mystery.
“All of those leads which could be followed up on have been to date,” he said. “It is our belief she is deceased and her body has been concealed.”
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