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MURDER MYSTERY: Someone She Knew: The Tracy Altom Holloway Murder

An inscription on a rock at the base of Tracy's gravestone reads, in part, "You'll never be forgotten."

Provided by Holloway’s Family

On the morning of June 27, 1997, Donna May received a call that her daughter, Tracy Altom Holloway, had not shown up for work. Tracy was a hairdresser and managed a beauty shop and tanning salon in Searcy, Arkansas. She was known as a responsible person, and her unexplained absence raised concerns. May drove to her daughter’s house in Searcy and banged on the door.

 “I didn’t want to open the door,” May said. “I really did not want to open the door. I was praying she would come to it.” But Tracy did not answer, so May used her key to get in. The door had two locks. One could be opened only from the inside. The other was a doorknob lock. May’s key turned in the knob, and the door opened.

“I knew then that something was really wrong because she would have had the door locked from the inside. She was very conscientious and scared to be by herself. She was scared to be home alone at night. I walked in, and the bedroom was to the immediate right. I looked in and saw her feet and blood everywhere, and I backed out. I was a nurse, but I just couldn’t go in. I think I screamed at her, and I think I looked back again, praying that she would sit up. I backed out again, screaming, and there was a lady next door, mowing the yard. She heard me and came over.”

The neighbor called 911, and officers with the Searcy Police Department were dispatched to the residence. They secured the area and notified the Criminal Investigation Division and the White County Coroner, who pronounced Tracy Altom Holloway dead at the scene. She had been beaten to death, sustaining severe trauma to her face and head. More than a decade later, the murder remains unsolved, but the investigation is ongoing. Though police did not discover a weapon, they did find DNA.

 Terri Lee, media relations coordinator, spoke on behalf of the Searcy Police Department.

“DNA has been tested and has come back inconclusive,” Lee said. “The last time DNA was tested was in 2007.”

Although Tracy’s death has been characterized as a crime of passion, she was not raped; so Lee was asked in what form the DNA was found — for example, blood or tissue under the victim’s fingernails, or a hair or perspiration that wasn’t hers. That particular piece of information, however, is not being released. Lee did say investigators have three persons of interest. Tracy knew all three for a long time, according to her mother.

“But I just can’t see any one of them being able to do it,” May said. It is the “why” as much as the “who” that haunts her. Why would anyone want to unleash such rage against a young woman who, as May described Tracy, “was so much fun and so full of life? She lit up a room when she came in. She enjoyed going to church. Tracy was good. We were like best friends. I had her when I was 17, and we grew up together. I miss her so.”

 Tracy was not May’s only child to suffer an untimely death. A son, Brian David Stephenson, was killed in a car accident in 1990 soon after he turned 20; Tracy celebrated her 30th birthday the day before she was slain. That night she had gone out to play pool with a girlfriend. Such a social occasion was a rare treat for Tracy because she was the hard-working single mother of a 2-year-old son, and she was not dating anyone at the time of her death. Tracy drove her friend home sometime around 1:30 a.m. and then went home. She would have secured both locks before getting ready for bed.

May believes the killer was someone who knew Tracy. “She had on a little bitty, flimsy nightgown,” May said. “She opened the door like that, so it was somebody she trusted.” She went on to say Tracy must have been struck from behind and rendered unconscious before the savage beating that killed her. Otherwise, “There would have been a terrible fight because Tracy was a stout girl. Toe-to-toe and face-to-face, there would have been a terrible battle.”

But there were no signs of a struggle, no signs of forced entry, and no items were stolen. Tracy was left lying in a dignified position with her hands crossed and her gown modestly covering her. Then locking the doorknob from within, the killer fled. The exact time of death has yet to be determined, according to May, but police believe the murder occurred sometime after 3 a.m. Neighbors did not report hearing or seeing anything suspicious during the night.

Lee said, “At this time” none of the persons of interest are female. Forensic specialists have been unable to determine gender from the DNA evidence. May was also asked if the killer might be a woman, and she said, “It could have been,” but her chief suspect is a man. She did not want to elaborate and said finding her daughter that morning was “like an out-of-body experience. Everything just went somewhere, my soul and everything. I died that day. I withdrew within myself so much that there were no tears. There was just anger.” And the nagging questions, “Why? Who did this and why?”

Tracy’s baby boy was with his father on the night of the murder; he has been a tremendous consolation to her. “I’ve had him to hang onto,” she said. “He’s 16 now, and he’s doing great. He’s wonderful. He’s the apple of my eye.”

May has worked hard to keep her daughter’s case in the public spotlight, doing interviews whenever possible, including an upcoming appearance with John Walsh on the TV show, “America’s Most Wanted.” “I’ve met some nice, wonderful people who treated us really well,” she said. “One of my favorites was Anne Pressly.”

Pressly was the popular news anchorwoman for KATV in Little Rock who was slain in October 2008. She was not in broadcasting when Tracy Holloway was murdered, but later she told May, “I remember when Tracy was killed, and ever since then I’ve had her on my mind, and when I got into news, one of the first things I wanted to do was talk to you.”

Recalling Pressly, May said, “She was so compassionate and caring.” Pressly’s death was eerily similar to Tracy’s. Pressly, 26, was clinging to life faintly when her mother found her early one morning. She was lying in bed, beaten beyond recognition. She succumbed to her injuries a few days later.

“That brought it all back to me,” May said. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘Oh no, what a sweet girl she was!’”

Pressly’s killer, Curtis Lavelle Vance, was convicted of capital murder in 2009 and sentenced to life without parole. Though it has been nearly 14 years since Tracy’s murder, Lee said, “The case is reviewed often by our Criminal Investigation Division.”

Perhaps someday a fresh pair of eyes will look through the thick case file and see something that everybody else has missed.

Anyone with information about Tracy Altom Holloway’s murder should call the Searcy Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division at (501) 279-1038.

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