An essential part of growing up is gaining more independence. But a parent's worst nightmare is when that exploration of independence ends in tragedy. Such was the case in 1996 for six-year-old Katherine Korzilius, a kind little girl in Austin, Texas who lost her life all too soon. The circumstances of her death still perplex investigators to this day—the mystery has not yet been solved.
Katherine lived in a nice neighborhood with her parents, Nancy and Paul, and her 9-year-old brother, Chris. Considering Paul was the manager for rock legend Jon Bon Jovi, the Korzilius family was well off. They never expected their lives would come crashing down around them one summer afternoon.
On August 7th, on Paul's birthday, Nancy and the kids were out shopping for gifts. When they returned home, they stopped to collect their mail. From the communal mailboxes, Katherine asked if she could walk the rest of the way home. It was an especially quiet day, even for their calm neighborhood, and Katherine had made the short journey on her own before. Katherine wanted to prove she was growing up, and Nancy saw no reason to say no.
In their car, Nancy and her son headed off in one direction. Katherine set off to walk home a shorter way in the opposite direction. The distance between the mailbox and their home was less than a quarter-mile.
When Nancy and Chris arrived home, they set about putting their things away. But Chris soon realized he couldn't find Katherine. Nancy sent him out to retrieve her from her walk, but he came back in tears, swearing he couldn't find her out there, either.
The two of them checked in with their neighbor, who hadn't seen Katherine either. With a bad feeling in her gut, Nancy continued her search and found Katherine just a few minutes later, six houses away. She was lying on the street, and though she was unconscious, she was still breathing.
Nancy was torn on what to do. She knew you were never supposed to move an injured person, especially if you were unsure of what injuries they might have sustained. But it was hot—too hot to leave a child on the pavement. She made the risky choice to get Katherine in the car and rush her to the emergency room herself.
At the hospital, Katherine was found to have a severe skull fracture and was put on a ventilator to keep her breathing. Unfortunately, she was already brain-dead. Her father, Paul, was in New York City at the time and rushed home to see his daughter. He was an hour late, as Katherine was pronounced dead at 11:30 that night.
The immediate assumption was that Katherine died as a result of a hit-and-run. But odd circumstances surrounding her death caused alternative theories to quickly materialize.
When Katherine's body was found less than ten minutes after she and her family parted, she was discovered half a mile away, on the side opposite the route she was taking around the circular road. There were no skid marks in the area, and none of the neighbors heard any commotion. With the angle of impact, it would be very easy to see a child and slow down in plenty of time—at least in an accidental collision. Furthermore, the medical examiner ruled that her injuries were not consistent with being struck by a vehicle. She died as a result of either jumping from a moving vehicle, being thrown from a moving vehicle, or falling from a moving vehicle.
But whose vehicle was Katherine taking a fall from? And why was she in it?
The first theory was, unbeknownst to Nancy, Katherine had hopped onto the back of the family car to car surf. Under this theory, Katherine would have fallen off on her own as the car rounded the street. This would explain why she was found on that side of the circle, rather than her usual path. For Nancy, it also meant the horrifying possibility that she was responsible for her daughter's death.
Private investigator Barbara O'Brian has some evidence to debunk this theory. For one thing, if the pavement was too hot to leave a child on, the car would have been too hot for anyone to want to grab onto. Katherine also had a splint on a broken thumb at the time of her death, which would have made gripping anything nearly impossible.
Soon a second more sinister theory emerged from the minds of the Korzilius family: Katherine was abducted and murdered. When a K-9 unit searched a vacant lot 30 yards away from the mailboxes, they may have found a vital clue to corroborate this theory. The dogs picked up her scent, which indicates that she started off down her typical route. The scent was lost, however, and may indicate where she was taken.
Nancy believes her daughter was deliberately staged on the street. She claims that Katherine's hair was neatly smoothed down, as were her shirt and shorts. Her sandals were still in place, and even her toes were pointed straight. It's as if someone left her there to be found.
After her death, Katherine helped save lives through the donation of her organs. To honor her memory, a mural was painted in her elementary school cafeteria, and her neighbors planted a tree with a plaque in her name. Jon Bon Jovi wrote the song "August 7, 4:15" to pay tribute to Katherine.
Today, signs line Katherine's neighborhood declaring a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit.