Debbie Collier was last seen on Sept. 10 — and found dead the next afternoon 60 miles away after sending money and a cryptic note to her daughter.
The Habersham County (Georgia) Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday revealed that investigators have found no evidence of either a suicide or a kidnapping. Detectives have served "several" search warrants and were looking to identify persons of interest.
Her murder, according to a criminal profiler and psychotherapist with experience interviewing serial killers, shows signs of a possible repeat sex offender but could also be the work of "a budding serial killer."
"This has all the signs of a sexual attack with volcanic rage," John Kelly told Fox News Digital. "I have to think he was trying to cover his DNA."
Nothing is for certain yet, he noted. But additional information could give more clues — such as a cause and manner of her death, which authorities have not yet made public.
Collier went missing on Sept. 10 after sending her daughter $2,385 over the Venmo app and a cryptic message reading, "They are not going to let me go love you there is a key to the house in the blue flowerpot by the door." Her daughter and husband reported her missing that afternoon.
Police used the SiriusXM radio in her rented Chrysler Pacifica to track its whereabouts to Georgia Route 15 in Clarkesville, an hour’s drive away from where Collier, a real estate office manager, lived in Athens.
A K-9 unit found her remains under grisly circumstances down an embankment in the woods a quarter-mile from the vehicle — nude and partially burned, with "charring" on her abdomen and her right hand clutching a tree. Those signs also indicate the attacker may be familiar with the area and attempted to dump and hide the body, Kelly said.
"I think she still had life in her, if she tried to reach out and pull herself up by a branch," Kelly said. "Even if it’s her last ounce of strength."
Nearby, police found a red tote bag, a partially burned blue tarp and the remains of a fire.
Because Collier’s vehicle was abandoned near the scene, Kelly said he believes her killer may have left on foot or had an accomplice waiting in another vehicle.
"This type of work is usually not done by a woman — I’m not saying this couldn’t be done by a man and a woman, a team, but unless there was a hefty insurance policy or something, why not just kill her?" Kelly said. "Why you gotta burn her? The burning is important to us. Is it a signature? Are we gonna see more of that?"
If so, that could be an alarming sign, he said.
"Do we have a budding serial killer on our hands?" he continued. "I have to believe this is somebody who has prior sexual offenses, because I believe they’re trying to cover up their DNA."
If they were just after her money, "why does she have to be naked?" he asked.
"This is cruel and unusual, but I’ve seen it before — in the case of Vanessa Marcotte, killed in Princeton, Massachusetts in 2016."
In that case, the victim was also discovered in the woods, with signs of sexual assault and burns on her body.
The suspect, Angelo Colon-Ortiz, had attempted to destroy evidence of his own DNA on Marcotte’s body with flames, Kelly said.
Colon-Ortiz is currently jailed in Massachusetts awaiting a Dec. 8 trial.
It’s unclear where the attack on Collier took place. If it began at her home, there could have been a grudge or a financial motive, Kelly said. But it could have happened while she was out, in a possible carjacking or some other random attack.
Habersham authorities did not respond to requests for comment beyond an evening news statement.
Anyone with information on Collier’s case is asked to contact Habersham Sheriff’s Investigators Cale Garrison or George Cason at 706-839-0559 or 706-839-0560, respectively.