The horrible news of Holly Palmer’s death reached her sister Dolly in a pay phone conversation with their parents.
“They said Holly’s been killed. I fell on the ground, just screaming. I was in this crazy mode. The phone was dangling,” said Dolly, who had just moved to Waxahachie and didn’t have her home phone hooked up.
When she arrived at her parents’ home in Granbury, Dolly said, “Dad was sitting at the table wringing his hands. Mom just fell apart. A detective was posted in front of the house because it was a murder.”
Wednesday marked the 25th anniversary of when Holly’s body was found – Sunday, Nov. 27, 1988, at 1:43 a.m., inside Granbury’s bus station where she worked. That station, a former residence that stood at 1512 W. Pearl St., eventually was torn down.
Holly was 23 years old. No charges were ever filed.
Officials with the Granbury police said recently they still can’t reveal details about the murder, but confirmed previous reports that Holly died as a result of blunt-force trauma to the head.
Granbury Police Chief Mitch Galvan declined to say specifically what may have been the motive in the killing.
“Nobody was ever able to confirm if money was taken,” Galvan said, adding, “but it was determined rather quickly robbery was not a factor. The evidence gathered during the investigation is consistent with the strong possibility that the victim knew the suspect.”
Holly’s mother, Mary Hunter of Granbury, and sisters Dolly Spinner of Bastrop, Mary Ellis of Euless, Mollie Fitts of Hood County and the youngest, Wynn (Honey) Steiner of McKinney, have endured those painful memories each holiday season since the murder. Through the years, the season has gradually shifted back to a more normal feel for the family, according to Dolly. There are also two step-brothers, both living in Granbury, and one half brother, of Houston.
Many local residents remember the story that shook the community – that the life of the likeable, warm, free-spirited former waitress was snuffed out at such a young age.
Initial reports in the Hood County News indicated Granbury police said Holly’s boyfriend reported finding her body. Galvan confirmed that.
Holly was planning on moving out of the Bromley Apartments – where she once had lived with Wynn – and into the bus station, which she managed. She spent some of her off-duty hours at the station, and was preparing to start her own T-shirt business in the building.
In a Dec. 7, 1988 article, the newspaper reported that then-police chief Randy Jaquess stated, “An arrest is not (imminent), but we have a name that keeps cropping up in the investigation. We keep trying to eliminate that person, but the name crops up every time we turn around.”
Jaquess would not reveal the name of that person, the story indicated.
An HCN story published about three weeks after the murder stated that “the investigation has eliminated three potential suspects in Palmer’s murder,” and added that “three more still remain to be eliminated,” attributing that information to Jaquess.
Holly’s mother Mary Hunter had already experienced the loss of more loved ones than most nightmares could ever conjure. In an email, she said her father was murdered in his car and burned when she was only 7. Incredibly, she later also had to endure the heartache of both her grandfather and grandmother being struck and killed by vehicles while walking. Those incidents were 16 years apart.
The grandmother told the driver of the vehicle that struck Mary’s grandfather that she realized it was an accident, and forgave him.
She told him “not to let this stop him from having a life,” Mary said. “It was a beautiful thing to see.”
Later, after her grandmother’s death, Mary wrote a letter to that driver and forgave him. She said she encouraged him to “move on with his life and to not let it hold him back.”
Although Holly’s murder wasn’t an accident, her mother made a similar faith-based decision to forgive whoever was involved.
“I choose to forgive her murderer,” Mary Hunter wrote. “I will not allow this evil to come between me and my God. I choose to forgive him or her … and let God almighty the judge of all creation to handle Holly’s murderer. And may the law of the land prevail.
“If Holly was here right now she would have done that – forgive. God is the judge in all this in the end. I hate what was done to my child, but I refuse to allow this evil to destroy my relationship with my Lord and savior Jesus Christ.”
Dolly recalled an incident at school in P.E. class when a girl slapped Holly in the face. Dolly said she was about to offer a matching response when Holly stopped her.
“I was so mad and wanted to defend Holly,” Dolly said. “I was going to slap that girl back and Holly grabbed my hand and looked me in the eye and said, ‘What would Jesus do?’ She said he would turn the other cheek. That’s what kind of person she was.”
‘STILL SEE HER FACE’
Dolly, the next-oldest sister after Holly, could have decided to drop the issue of her sister’s death. Instead, she has refused to let it go. Her intensity is fueled by hope that the killer will be brought to justice.
“I never wanted to give up on my sister,” Dolly explained. “If it would have been me, Holly would have gone to great lengths to find out what happened to me. Right now, I have struggled with this because I’m serious and angry that Holly’s case really hasn’t been reviewed. I know everybody’s moved on. It’s been 25 years. But I’m the one that has to carry this in my heart. I want some closure for Momma.”
Dolly said she wonders what terror her sister experienced as she realized the murderer was about to end her life.
“I cannot fathom in my mind what thoughts were going through her head when she was being brutally beaten in the head … to think of somebody actually attacking you and having that feeling,” Dolly said.
Dolly said they found blood under Holly’s fingernails after her body had been placed in the casket, prompting her comment, “She fought for her life.”
Not all of the family members got a full description of how grisly the murder was, and it was an open-casket funeral. Dolly indicated that the major wounds on the back of Holly’s head were concealed, but her facial expression reflected the horror she must have felt.
“Holly always had a smile on her face. In her casket, she had a terrified fear look on her face,” Dolly said. “I still close my eyes, and I can still see her face.”
Dolly’s frustration is evident, even in dealing with current members of the Granbury Police Department – although they weren’t with the police force at the time of the murder.
“I would go to the detectives and call them and they just had no information,” Dolly said. “Now it’s unbelievable that it’s dragged on this many years. I’m outraged over it. After 25 years, I can’t get a detective to email me or call me back.”
Chief Galvan said he has told the family that if there is a new development in the case he will contact them.
FULL OF LIFE
Dolly and her mother were the only two family members who offered quotes for this story. All the sisters did, however, agree to pose for an accompanying photo with their mother, at the former site of the bus station.
“I think everybody has their individual way of dealing with Holly’s murder,” Dolly said. “My sisters and I don’t talk about it. Mom and I talk about it a lot.”
Dolly said she and Holly, the two oldest, were “extremely close.”
She said she was the last family member to speak to Holly, during a Thanksgiving phone call after Dolly had arrived at their parents’ home the night before. Dolly said they talked about playing Monopoly, but Holly didn’t come by the house after all.
“We shared a bed and we talked about a whole lot of different things,” Dolly said. “She wrote me letters and called me. Holly was so full of life and loved the Lord and would tell everybody about Him even though she was going through a lot of issues.” Dolly said she would often go to the bus station to talk to Holly and they would have a Coke and Snickers during their discussions.
“We just had a bond,” Dolly said. “I had that bond with all my sisters.”
As teenagers, they even had a double wedding. Dolly was 17 and Holly was 19.
“Momma was trying to save money,” Dolly recalled.
Dolly admits still carrying anger.
“I’ve been mad the whole time,” she said. “I went to the cemetery many times and cried and wished she was still here. I’ve carried this because Holly and I were close.”
She said it’s not about revenge.
“Whoever did this to her, they need to face this trial,” Dolly said. “Her life has been gone for 25 years, and (the murderer) has been walking around. What kind of fairness is that?
“I’m not stopping until I know somebody is going to come to justice. I will not stop. I’ll go to the ends of the Earth to find out what happened.
“The witnesses that saw anything are older, and they’re not going to be around much longer. If this ever goes to trial, we’re going to need them. So it’s crucial something happens soon.”
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