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Cold Justice: Discovery of skull leads to murder indictment

Yolanda McClary (left) and Kelly out strategy to solve cold cases on TNT.
Yolanda McClary (left) and Kelly out strategy to solve cold cases on TNT.

The discovery of a skull in the backyard of a Chattanooga, Tenn. resident led to an indictment for murder in the Friday, March 7 episode of Cold Justice on TNT. A lady was demolishing weeds in her backyard when she encountered a human skull staring up at her.

"We usually start with a body and a murder weapon, but we don't have that in this case so we'll have to build a circumstantial evidence case," former Las Vegas Police Department investigator Yolanda McClary said at the beginning of the show. McClary is the real-life model for the character of Marg Helgenberger on CSI.

The discovery of the skull led investigators to the skeleton which was found atop nearby Billy Goat Mountain concealed beneath a bag and four tires. It was believed an animal must have carried the skull from the mountaintop to the backyard.

The murder victim disappeared on August 18, 1997. The discovery of her skull on May 29, 1999 and her skeleton a few days later transformed the case from a missing persons situation to murder.

The murder of 28-year old Vicki Hollingsworth has remained unsolved for more than 16 years when former Houston prosecutor Kelly Siegler and McClary roll into town to help Chattanooga law enforcement solve the case. Siegler, who won more than 60 murder jury trials without a loss, lends her expertise to the analysis of the legal problems.

"It could be a crime of passion. With a 15-year statute of limitations we could be already barred from prosecuting that type of case unless we can find a way around that," Siegler said.

Siegler further said, "The spouse is often the first suspect. In this case we also had an abusive husband. She'd seen others since they split. No body was found for two years."

Chattanooga prosecutor Neil Pinkson advised the TNT Cold Justice team he would need a motive, a timeline and a mode of operation before he would feel comfortable prosecuting the case. If Siegler, McClary and the TNT can come up with evidence to cover those elements he will present the case to a grand jury for prosecution.

The team established a timeline beginning at 5 a.m. when Vicki was supposed to pick up her ex-husband at his place and drive him to work. McClary said it would have taken him 15 minutes to drive the body to Billy Goat Mountain after he murdered her. She then deduced another 10 minutes would be required for him to return her car to her parents' house where she was living. Could he walk home from there without being seen? Yolanda believes it was so early he could accomplish that without being seen.

Siegler, who first became interested in cold cases while being a top prosecutor in Harris County, said the next step after the timeline was to connect with Vicki's friends. Adolphus Mitchell told them Vicki and her husband were arguing the weekend she disappeared. He heard the suspect say, "If I can't have her nobody will."

Siegler mused that those are famous last words she has heard in countless murder cases she handled while seeking justice in the district attorney's office in Houston.

While talking with acquaintances of Vicki, the Cold Justice team learns one of two five foot four twins who like to work on cars may have been an eyewitness to the murder. Steve Spingola, another investigator brought on board the team for this episode, said, "Shouldn't be too hard. Two five foot-four twins."

An e-mail sent to the Chattanooga Police Department reveals Connell and Donnell Moreland are the twins. Connell is brought into the TNT van where he is questioned. Connell said, "I worked on their car. He killed that girl. Him and her left together while I worked on that car."

Everyone is encouraged by what Connell has said. Will he be the key eyewitness that breaks the case wide open?

"I was not an eyewitness," he finished.

While Connell does not provide the hoped for breakthrough evidence, a trail of ex-wives and girlfriends of Vicki's boyfriend provide dramatic evidence. One ex even said when she dated him seven years before Vicki he took her to a bridge and dangled her over the side by her legs. I said, "Please pull me back." She was afraid he would drop into the river.

Instead, he drove her up to Billy Goat Hill where Vicki's body was found which not only proves mode of operation and knowledge of the crime scene, but also showed concealment. The concealment element helped them circumvent the statute of limitations and prosecute the suspect for first degree murder.

In an ending thrilling enough to be in a John Grisham novel, prosecutor Pinkson confides to the TNT team he has enough evidence to seek an indictment and will compose an arrest warrant for the suspect. Seigler, McClary, Orlando Martinez and the rest of the Cold Justice team then find the suspect in Amarillo, Tex. and handcuff him.

The relatives of Vicki thanked the Cold Justice team for solving the case.

"I don't have to think no more when they're going to solve this case," one of the female relatives said in relief.

"I think the Lord has made it possible for something to happen. We want to thank ya'll," another family member said to Siegler and McClary as they meet in her home.

Siegler said, "This is a case of saving a life in the future."

The suspect will be extradited from Texas to Tennessee to face the music. And it won't be the Grand Ole Opry.

Fans may follow Cold Justice each Friday at 8/7 CST on TNT until the summer.

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