Sign up to our Evening Headlines email for your daily guide to the latest news
Sign up to our free US Evening Headlines email
The mysterious death of Georgia woman Debbie Collier has now been ruled a suicide – more than two months after police launched a homicide investigation when her partly-burned body was discovered at the bottom of a ravine and final messages suggested she had been taken against her will.
The State Medical Examiner’s Office determined the manner of death this week after an autopsy revealed the 59-year-old died from “inhalation of superheated gases, thermal injuries, and hydrocodone intoxication,” according to Habersham County Deputy Coroner Ken Franklin.
Mr Franklin told local news outlet Now Habersham that it had been “pretty evident” all along that Ms Collier started a small fire that charred her stomach and caused her to inhale smoke.
However, he said officials had been waiting for the final autopsy results to make a final determination. The autopsy findings now match up with what he saw at the scene, he said.
“It’s pretty evident that she started the fire,” he said.
“From what I saw and what I considered to be the case is that this was a self-inflicted death, but I was relying on the results of the autopsy and the doctor at the lab to make the final call.”
The coroner has informed Collier’s grieving family members about the ruling and said that he feels “sorry” for what they have gone through as they waited for answers about her death.
Habersham County Sheriff’s Office has not confirmed the latest development in the case and did not returnThe Independent‘s request for comment prior to publication.
The sheriff’s office told Now Habersham: “We do not have anything to release at this time.”
The bombshell twist in the case comes more than two months after Collier’s body was discovered at the bottom of a ravine on 11 September around 60 miles from her home in Athens, Georgia.
Debbie Collier’s death was initially thought to be a homicide
(Debbie Collier/Facebook )
The 59-year-old was naked, laying on her back and grasping a small tree with her right hand, according to an incident report.
Her stomach had been badly burned and she was lying just a few feet from the site of a small fire. An unfired bullet was also found at the scene.
Her family had reported her missing one day earlier after she sent a $2,385 Venmo payment to her daughter Amanda Bearden, along with the cryptic message: “They are not going to let me go love you there is a key to the house in the flue flower pot by the door.”
Surveillance footage captured the mother-of-two entering a Family Dollar store alone at 2.55pm on 10 September.
There, she bought a rain poncho, a two-roll pack of paper towels, a refillable torch lighter, an OBD Trap and a reusable tote bag — some of the same items later found next to her body.
Her daughter initially told investigators that her mother had left her purse and phone at home, according to an incident report. However, Collier was spotted carrying her purse in the footage from the discount store. Her purse and her phone were also found at the site where her body was found.
After exiting the store, Collier was captured on surveillance footage sitting inside her car in the parking lot from around 3.09pm to 3.19pm.
That was the last time she was seen alive.
Police previously said that Collier died sometime between 3.19pm on 10 September when she left the Dollar Store in her car and 12.44pm on 11 September when law enforcement found her body in the ravine, after spotting her vehicle closeby.
Her death was quickly ruled a homicide with police describing it as a “personal and targeted” murder and “’not a random act of violence”.
Yet, the investigation rumbled on, with no arrests have been made and no suspects named.
Debbie Collier seen in surveillance footage entering Family Dollar store
Several theories were raised about what had happened to her, with authorities suggesting the incident could have been drug-related.
Meanwhile, it emerged that the Venmo payment was close to the sum that Collier’s daughter’s boyfriend Andrew Giegerich owed in probation fines. The couple had moved back in with Collier just two days earlier after returning to Georgia from Maryland.
It also came to light that Collier had been involved in a car accident one month before her death with a man who was out on parole. The man had reportedly begged her not to call the police about the incident as driving was a violation of his parole.
However, in recent weeks, investigators and Collier’s own family members began to explore the possibility that the mysterious death was not a homicide.
Two law enforcement sources told FOX News Digital last month that evidence found at the scene indicated that it was either a suicide or accident.
Days later, Collier’s daughter appeared on a podcast where she said she believed her mother had killed herself.
She said her mother had shared some “key, intimate things” and was “giving away things” in the days before her death.
She added that the last time she saw her mother alive, she noticed “tears in her eyes”.
“I’d never seen her that sad,” she said.
If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email [email protected], or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Helpline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.