Saturday, July 13, 2024

Who killed Holly Palmer?

Justice-driven Granbury native seeks truth to 35-year-old cold case

Holly Palmer was only 23 years old when her body was found on Nov. 27, 1988, inside Granbury’s former Greyhound/Trailways bus station, located at 1512 W. Pearl St., that has since been torn down. After almost 35 years, Holly’s case has still not been solved.
Holly Palmer was only 23 years old when her body was found on Nov. 27, 1988, inside Granbury’s former Greyhound/Trailways bus station, located at 1512 W. Pearl St., that has since been torn down. After almost 35 years, Holly’s case has still not been solved.
HCN File Photo

Almost 35 years have passed since the tragic death of 23-year-old Granbury resident Holly Palmer.

But with the case remaining unsolved, family members and friends aren’t any closer to finding out the truth than they were back in 1988.

According to previous news articles published in the Hood County News, Palmer's body was found on Nov. 27, 1988, inside Granbury’s former Greyhound/Trailways bus station, located at 1512 W. Pearl St., that has since been torn down.

Granbury police officials had also previously confirmed that Palmer had died as a result of “blunt-force trauma to the head.”

In a Hood County News article published on Nov. 30, 2013, Granbury Police Chief Mitch Galvin declined to say what the specific motive had been in the killing; however, he did confirm that robbery was not a factor.

“The evidence gathered during the investigation is consistent with the strong possibility that the victim knew the suspect,” he had previously told the Hood County News.

But after 35 years of no arrests and no new leads, the question remains: Who killed Holly Palmer?

Kelli Martin, a Granbury native and career criminal justice researcher, is determined to find her own answers.

“I want everybody in this community to know about Holly Palmer's murder because there's a lot of new people here that do not know how this beautiful bright young lady's life was stolen so violently, so horrifically,” Martin said, in a recent interview with the HCN. “They need to know."

At the time of the murder, Martin was a senior at Granbury High School. She said she remembers that her grandmother’s house was two doors west of the bus station, where Palmer was murdered.

Martin, who was only 17 years old at the time, said that the news of Palmer’s murder “rocked little Granbury to its core.”

“It was all over school. Everybody knew about it,” she said. "It affected our town like nothing I'd ever seen. There were articles in the Hood County News weekly, sometimes twice a week, for months on end. Volunteers came out to hang and distribute Crimestoppers flyers all over the county. One business in town printed 3,000 flyers for free. Then the newspaper started running ads in Spanish, which was very uncharacteristic, to scrounge up leads on the case. We kept telling ourselves, ‘Things like that don't happen here,’ but honestly, it had.”

Although Martin wasn’t close with Palmer, she was familiar with her younger sisters: Dolly, Mary, and Honey.

"Granbury was a small town back then and everybody knew everybody, even if you didn't actually hang out together,” she said. “It was devastating. It was like ‘This is one part of our family,’ because Holly was a Granbury High School graduate as well.”

For months, the town of Granbury laid in wait to see if any news would surface on Palmer’s case — but none ever did.

“Hood County News reported it was one of the most horrific crime scenes our little police force, 13 officers at the time, had ever seen,” she described. “There was also no evidence of forced entry. There may have been a little money missing and a blanket, but this was personal.”

As November will mark the 35th anniversary of Palmer’s death, Martin decided to write a book about the murder, with a goal to hopefully spur the Granbury Police Department to potentially solve the cold case.

Over the past few months, Martin has conducted extensive research and met with dozens of eyewitnesses for her book, “Homicide in the Hood: Murders that Haunt a Small Town Girl.”

“I've published many scholarly articles in top-tier criminology and criminal justice journals during the course of my career,” she said. “I've also written a chapter in a two-volume series called ‘Icons of Crime Fighting’ about Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County, Arizona, whom I actually met and spent the day with to obtain the real story on him. I was even a field researcher on a project for the U.S. Department of Justice on domestic minor sex trafficking in Tarrant County.

“But this book I'm writing is the most meaningful writing I've ever done because it's about my community. It's about people devastated by violence.”

Martin’s book not only talks about Palmer’s murder, but also details five other homicide cases that took place in Hood County between 1980 and 1988 — Lillian Peart, Kathryn Stembridge, Sheila Vandygriff, Dorothy Sanders, and Bonnie Barber.

Out of those five, Barber’s case is the only one that has been solved.

The murder of a friend in 1990 was also a motivating factor for Martin to publish a novel, but the family asked for that person not to be included in the book, so she is respecting their wishes.

“I've been wanting to write a book for a long time, so it seemed only natural to write about these homicides in Hood County that affected me as a child and teenager,” she said. “I am thoroughly convinced that these murders, coupled with the fact that many of my relatives were, or still are, law enforcement officers, had a significant impact on me choosing a career in the criminal justice field.”

Martin’s father, Larry Tomlinson, was a cop in his 20s, and her cousin, Edwin Tomlinson, served as a sheriff in Hood County from 1980 to 1992. Seeing two of her family members in such respectful roles was also part of the driving force behind her desire to pursue a similar career.

"I even tried out to be a police officer with the Fort Worth Police Department in 1998 at age 27,” she explained. “I was only one of two females that passed the physical agility testing and made it through all of the other testing. I allowed someone to talk me out of going forward, but I digress. Instead, I chose to become an adult probation officer.”

Martin later obtained both her master’s degree and her Ph.D. in criminology and criminal justice.

Now, Martin has worked in the criminal justice system for 28 years, with roles ranging from a court officer to a supervisor of a sex crimes unit.

"I still work in adult probation, but as a research and policy planner due to my advanced education,” she said. “I've done everything that you could do in probation, every position, except for maybe being a gang officer.”

Because of her extensive background in criminal justice, Martin has now taken it upon herself to personally advocate for Palmer’s case and seek much-needed justice for her family — especially upon meeting Dolly in 2019.

“A girl that I grew up with who's a law enforcement officer, we were talking one day, and she said, ‘You know, I need to get you and Dolly connected. You need to write a book.’” Martin said. “You've heard that saying, ‘The eyes are the window into a person's soul.’ I always thought of it as just a cliche phrase until I met and became friends with Dolly Palmer. I could see the pain inside her broken soul, yet she was somehow still strong, a warrior. It was a contradiction I personally understood. I was so inspired by her. She is my 'sister' now and I will do anything for her. I wanted to help her, and the only way I knew how was to write this book.”

Martin first started writing "Homicide in the Hood: Murders that Haunt a Small-Town Girl” in April and is now in the process of working to get it published. Jana Reid, her Granbury High School English teacher, is also serving as editor for the book.

“I believe that Granbury PD can solve this case,” she said. “It's just kind of been on the back burner for a while, but this year is the 35th anniversary of Holly's murder, and I chose to start writing my book this year because I want to get it in print and out there, and I wanted to start bringing attention back to this murder.”

For 35 years, Palmer’s family has been waiting for a break — any break — in the case.

But now Palmer’s father and mother have both passed away, never knowing exactly what happened to their daughter.

According to a Hood County News article published in 2007, Palmer’s mother, Mary Hunter, wrote a letter stating that she forgave Palmer's killer.

"That pain and agony from Holly’s murder is right there in (her family’s) shadow following them everywhere they go,” Martin said. “That's why I wanted to work with Dolly, Holly’s sister, to help me try and put into words that type of pain that the family of a murder victim feels.”

Since Martin has now talked to Galvan and Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds about her book project, she said there is now “activity on several Hood County cold cases,” — not just Palmer’s.

“The current police officials were not around when Holly was murdered; they inherited the mistakes that were made by past officers,” Martin said. “I know they want to solve this case too. I understand they are working active cases, and that Granbury has grown exponentially since Holly's murder. However, Holly's case is only one of two cold cases under Granbury PD's jurisdiction. Holly and her sisters deserve justice.”

Additionally, since Martin has posted on social media explaining her book project, she has also been contacted by several witnesses to other Hood County murders.

“I would like people in the community to work with me on this,” Martin said. “Let's keep the motivation for getting (Holly’s) case solved.”

Martin is scheduled to host a public presentation on her book at 5:30 p.m. at the Hood County Library, 222 N. Travis St., on Monday, Oct. 30.

“Dolly has never given up hope that her sister's killer would be caught and punished,” Martin added. “She is on a mission. She will not stop fighting, either until her sister's killer is caught or she dies — whichever comes first.”

As for Martin, she feels it is her personal duty to Dolly — and the family — to do as much as she can to finally put the killer behind bars.

“I cannot sit by and do nothing,” she added. “It's not right. It's not right for people to forget about Holly Palmer.”

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