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Despite Convictions, Questions Remain in the Case of Holly Bobo's Murder

The case against the alleged killers of a young nursing student was as suspicious as the circumstances of her disappearance.

the murder of holly bobo
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  • Photo Credit: NBC

On April 13th, 2011, 20-year-old Holly Bobo disappeared from her family home in Darden, Tennessee. That morning, Holly—a nursing student—woke up early at 4:30 am to study for a test. Three hours later, she answered a call from her boyfriend, Drew Scott, who was close by on her grandmother's property hunting turkeys. Not long after her phone call, just before 8 o'clock, Holly's scream alerted her household and her neighbors.

Hearing Holly's scream, the neighbor called his mother, who then alerted Holly's mother, Karen, at work. During this time, Holly's brother, Clint, awoke to the sound of their dogs barking. Looking outside, he saw Holly with a man in camouflage, who he had believed to be Drew. He described the scene as the both of them kneeling in the garage. Facing each other, it seemed to be a heated conversation—as if it were a couple breaking up.

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Karen called her son at that point and discussed the situation. Sensing trouble, Karen told her son that the man with Holly wasn't Drew. She told him to grab his gun and shoot him. Clint hesitated, still under the belief that he was looking at his sister's boyfriend.

As Holly's mother called 9-1-1, she was put through to the dispatcher for the wrong county, as she was too far away at work. Meanwhile, Clint saw Holly and the man walking into the nearby woods. As he watched, Clint noticed that the man with his sister was too large to be Drew. This was the last glimpse anyone would have of the young woman while she was alive.

Clint placed a call to Holly's cell phone, but from this point, all calls and texts went unanswered. He called Drew, but there was no answer there, either. Karen called back her son, and upon hearing his story, she told him to call 9-1-1. Before placing the call, Clint loaded a pistol and went outside for a look. There were bloodstains in the garage. The police arrived at the home 10 minutes after Clint called.

Tracking the pings of her cell phone, it appeared Holly was traveling north. For around 30 minutes, the phone was stopped in a wooded area near Interstate 40. It was in this location that her remains would be found more than three years later. The phone and its SIM card would be discovered in an area south, along a route different than the one taken from Holly's house.

Her phone was the only thing found during the investigation. Several of her personal items were found scattered across town while authorities searched for her, including her lunchbox, a receipt with her name on it, and a school card.

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Clint described the man he saw with his sister as standing between 5'10" and 6' tall. His weight was projected to be between 180 and 200 pounds, and he had dark hair visible beneath his cap. The man's voice was characterized as being very deep and low.

Due to this description, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation focused on a man named Terry Britt, a registered sex offender. His house was wire-tapped and searched, but no charges were ever brought up.

In March of 2014, an intellectually disabled man, John Dylan Adams, was brought into the police station on unrelated weapons charges. While it's unclear what brought suspicion on Dylan in relation to the Holly Bobo case, the man confessed to the police that he saw his brother, Zach, and his brother's friend, Jason Autry, with Holly after her abduction. 

According to an affidavit for a search warrant, Dylan claimed to have spotted Holly alive on April 13th when he went to his brother's house to get his truck. His statement says that Holly was sitting in a green chair in the living room, clad in a pink t-shirt.

Dylan described to police what his brother Zach was wearing at the time—camouflage shorts, a black sleeveless t-shirt, and green Crocs. His report when on to say that Zach claimed to have a videotape of himself raping Holly. Though this tape was never found and Dylan's confession was later recanted under allegations it was coerced, his statements led to the arrests of Dylan, Zach, Jason, and another man, Shayne Austin.

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Six months later in September of 2014, Holly's remains were found in the woods north of Decatur County. The gruesome discovery was uncovered by ginseng hunters, one of whom claimed to have found a large bucket in the area which he upturned. The exact contents of the bucket remain unknown outside of law enforcement. 

Behind him were Holly's partial remains, including her skull, teeth, several ribs, and a single shoulder blade. Her skull was pierced with a bullet hole, the trajectory going from the back right through to her left cheek bone.

As the investigation would continue to unfold, Dylan's confession would be found to be inconsistent with the collected evidence. While six men were implicated with varying degrees of involvement in Holly's disappearance, only three were ever prosecuted. 

Zach, Dylan, and Jason were charged with especially aggravated kidnapping, first-degree murder, and rape. Shayne Austin committed suicide. Two other men, Jeffrey and Mark Pearcy, had been arrested for tampering with evidence and accessory after the fact. These charges were ultimately dropped.

District Attorney Matt Stowe said back in 2014 that he and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation were seeking criminal charges against additional individuals. However, no names of the alleged parties or their charges were ever released.

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The prosecution of the case saw many setbacks, including Austin's death, changes to the prosecutorial team, and disagreements with the TBI. They received heavy criticism for their refusal to produce evidence against the defendants, missing several discovery deadlines, and frequently changing the charges against the defendants. 

Defense attorneys claimed that a year after their clients' arrest, they hadn't yet received a bill of particulars of the results of the forensic testing done on the case evidence. Tensions were so high between the prosecution and the TBI, the agency withdrew their services from the entire district for a brief period.

In 2017, Jason Autry agreed to testify against Zach Adams in exchange for leniency. That September, Zach was sentenced to life in prison plus 50 years, though he maintains his innocence. In January of 2018, Dylan Adams accepted an Alford plea—maintaining his innocence but conceding there may be a strong enough case for a guilty verdict—and was sentenced to 35 years in prison. As Jason's testimony earned him a significantly reduced sentence, he was released in September of 2020.

Dylan, Zach, Jason, and the Pearcy brothers all claim that the allegations made against them are false, and all confessions were heavily coerced. During the investigation, the disabled Dylan was even sent to live with a retired police officer he didn't know, allegedly kept awake until his story fit the one he was being told. 

The allegations made against the Pearcys came from their roommate, Sandra King, who the brothers allege made these claims to help her son who is serving a long prison sentence for an unreated crime.

The defense pointed to several pieces of evidence that would conflict with the involvement of the accused. For one, the pings on Zach's cellphone didn't match the path that Holly's phone followed. None of the men matched Clint's description of the assailant. A palm print was found on Holly's car that also didn't match any of the men on trial.

On the other hand, Holly's receipt and other pieces of paper belonging to her were found close to Shayne Austin's home. Witnesses claimed to see a white truck rapidly leaving the Bobo home the morning of Holly's disappearance—a truck similar to Zach's. A number of witnesses claimed Zach made statements implicating himself, including one to his girlfriend Rebecca Earp, saying that he would tie her up like Holly and she would never be seen again.

Zach Adams' defense attorney believes that the initial suspect in the case, sex offender Terry Britt, is the real culprit. Convicted of multiple rapes, Britt has a history of targeting blonde women. His physical description matches the one provided by Clint, and Clint even went so far as to say Britt's voice sample was similar to the one he heard that fateful day. Britt's alibi for the day of the abduction was fabricated, and the palm print found at the scene does not exclude him. 

The testimony of a U.S. Marshals Service senior inspector alleges that Britt at one point said that he would plead to the crime, though the man didn't offer specifics on the charges in conversation.  Earlier this month, Zach Adams appealed for a new trial—a decision is expected later this year.

So have Holly's cruel killers been brought to justice, or are innocent men sitting behind bars as the brutal perpetrator roams free?