A State Bureau of Investigation cold-case detective will revisit the 1967 “Lost Colony Murder” involving a young woman who was killed while spending the summer working at the famed waterfront theater.
Brenda Joyce Holland, 19, of Canton was a student at what was then Campbell College in Buies Creek when she went to Manteo to be a makeup artist for the outdoor drama’s 1967 season. She went missing on the first day of July, and searchers found her body five days later floating in the Albemarle Sound. She had been strangled.
Recently, journalist John Railey has been urging the state to take another look at the case, though the main suspect committed suicide years ago. Railey has said that having investigators identify the killer and close the case would help surviving family members.
Tony Cummings, a retired SBI homicide detective who has been working cold cases for the agency using a grant from the Governor’s Crime Commission, said he will work with the agencies involved in the initial investigation to see whether any physical evidence remains. If it does, he said, the next step would be to determine whether the evidence is suitable for DNA testing.
“It’s a lengthy process,” said Cummings, who is working five unsolved cases in Eastern North Carolina at the moment.
Other detectives and some law school students are doing similar work across the state under the same grant, Cummings said. The investigations have led to at least one conviction, when Roger Pollard pleaded guilty to second-degree murder last August for beating and strangling Karen Johnson in April 1979.
Holland’s would be the oldest unsolved case in Cummings’ file, if there is evidence to pursue it, he said.
According to a 1997 story in the News & Observer, records indicate that police suspected Holland’s murder was a case of mistaken identity. Speculation was that a local dentist, Dr. Linus Edwards, had killed Holland in a drunken rage after having a late-night fight with his then-wife.
The wife had left the house, and investigators speculated that Edwards went out looking for her, spotted Holland walking home from a date and attacked her, thinking she was his spouse.
Edwards’ former wife said later that he told her several times after the murder that he had killed the young woman. In 1971, Edwards killed himself, leaving no explanation.