‘Nobody worked her case hard enough:’ After 51 years, N.C. family continues to search for the truth

MANTEO, N.C. – July 1, 1967, was the last day 19-year-old Brenda Joyce Holland would breathe in the salty air of the Outer Banks.

Holland, a student at Campbell College, was working that summer as a makeup supervisor for the "Lost Colony" outdoor drama. According to reports and old newspaper clips, one night, after the play was over, Holland left the theater with one of the actors, Danny Barber.

According to old writings about the investigation, the two went on a date, walked out on Jennette’s Pier, and went back to Barber’s house - but when he fell asleep, Holland walked home.

The young woman never made it home and never showed up for work the following day. It was not until five days later that a pilot with the Civil Air Patrol would discover Holland’s body in the Albermarle Sound, washed up against a stump.

Her sister, Kim Thorn, was only 9 years old when she found out she would never see her big sister Brenda again. Thorn remembers that time in her life as a very tragic one, when her entire family had a terrible time coping and understanding what had happened.

News 3 recently spoke to Thorn, who has been looking for answers to her sister’s murder for as long as she can remember.

Brenda Joyce Holland

Thorn told News 3 where her own investigating has led her, thanks to help from investigative journalist John Railey and former Dare County Deputy Buddy Tillett.

Back in 1967, Dare County Sheriff Frank Cahoon told the Holland family all leads pointed to Danny Barber as the killer, but Barber was never charged. The sheriff told the Holland family they needed more evidence to file charges.

Years went by, no charges were filed and Brenda’s mother and father died without any certainty of who their daughter’s killer was.

In 1986, years after the murder, a friend came to the Holland’s home, carrying with them an article about a woman named Dotty Fry. In the article, Thorn tells News 3 Fry wrote about how her late ex-husband, Dr. Linus Edwards, had killed a woman years ago, mistaking that woman to be Dotty.

Edwards was the only dentist in town and at the time, Fry was also a well-known member of the community. Years later when Thorn met with Fry, she learned how worried Fry was to come forward with the information.

Dr. Edwards killed himself in 1971. Thorn said justice was served because the killer was no longer walking among them, free from the crime he committed.

Of course, Thorn looked to get to the bottom of whether or not this new theory was true, but she hit roadblock after roadblock. Thorn wanted to see pictures; evidence taken from the 1967 crime scene.

“When the pictures were developed, there was nothing on the film,” she was told. But here is the biggest puzzle of all, the real kicker: “Someone told someone to wash her clothes, then we find out years later that all that evidence was destroyed, thrown away -  literally thrown away.”

Thorn knows forensic scientists will never be able to test that evidence because of what she calls "the good ole boys club."

Holland's family wants the cold case file left open, because though there is no evidence and they think they know who the killer was, that does not take away from the unprofessional handling by the former sheriff’s office. Thorn said, “I want it remembered. I want it at the top of the list for unsolved murders in North Carolina. They need to remember that sometimes the 'good ole boys club' doesn’t work and it's wrong.”

Investigative journalist John Railey has written a series of columns about the "Lost Colony murder" for the Coastland Times and is working on a book on this entire story.

“The sea will cover things up and the sounds will cover things up just like the old shipwrecks that come unearthed now and again. Just as when we have storms roll in, sooner or later something will break with this,” he said.

Former Dare County Deputy Buddy Tillett also met with News 3 and said he has been obsessed with this case since he first heard about it as a kid. He said he interviewed several people close to the case and tried to reopen it when he was a deputy for the county but was always told there was nowhere to go with it.

He said it was upsetting to people in the community because Manteo did not have many murders.

Railey said through all his digging, he cannot find anything to point to anyone else as the murderer.

“Dr. Edwards commits suicide in 1971 and they hardly lift another finger on the case. It's almost they were like, 'Game over; that was our killer,'" Railey said.

Thorn said she is disappointed that more could not be done to prove Edwards was the murderer. She said she was also told there is no autopsy from the medical examiner's office. She said she has always wanted to know the truth, and though she feels like she has her closure, she is using her sister’s story as an example of what law enforcement agencies should not do.

To anyone else seeking the truth for those who can't, Thorn has this piece of advice: “Do whatever it takes. Don’t give up asking questions and keep searching for answers, but don’t give up.”