exposing the dark side of adoption
Register Log in

Chapter 9: Blood on a shirt


Chapter 9: Blood on a shirt


At 6:45 a.m. on Sept. 6, 2005 -- more than two months after Ricky Holland's disappearance -- task force detectives, including for the first time a State Police forensic unit, arrived at the Holland house with four search warrants: for the house, both cars, their home computer and hard drives, and DNA swabs from the whole family.

Lisa, up with the four kids, opened the door and Sheriff's Sgt. Roy Holliday explained what was about to happen.

At one point, as Lisa and Tim got the kids ready to leave, Lisa grabbed a backpack out of a closet and carried it into the kitchen, telling Holliday it was a diaper bag and she needed to add wipes for the kids. He said he'd have to take a look.

She resisted, but finally said, "Fine, go ahead then."

Inside, Holliday found diapers and fruit snack packs. Then, from a front pocket, he pulled out a plastic bag containing what looked like a small orange T-shirt, cut into pieces, some of which looked bloodstained. Forensic scientists later confirmed the blood was Ricky's, splattered as if it had dripped from his long hair.

Lisa said she'd never seen the plastic bag before and didn't know how it got there. Holliday walked into the living room to ask Tim, who also denied knowing about it.

Few of Ricky's things remain

Holliday was struck by how the house was so devoid of signs of Ricky -- as if Tim and Lisa weren't expecting him to return, as if he had never lived there.

There were only a handful of photos of Ricky, none recent. In a cardboard box, officers found three prescription bottles for Ricky with dates from 2004, the previous year. The bottles were mostly full, suggesting that Ricky hadn't been given the medicine for months. His psychiatrist later told investigators he hadn't seen Ricky since July 2004, though he had refilled two prescriptions after a phone call from Lisa in November when he'd asked her to bring in the boy. She never did.

The investigators collected fresh samples of small blood splatters from the baseboard in the hallway outside Ricky's bedroom and new samples of blood on a family room wall between the TV and a VHS tape cabinet. Tests would later show the family room blood could have been Ricky's but not the baseboard spots.

A move to remove other 4 kids

Two weeks earlier, on Aug. 22, Holliday had called Child Protective Services to seek more information about the Hollands' past contacts with the Department of Human Services and to try to launch an investigation to remove their four other children.

Stressing the need for secrecy, he asked CPS investigators to attend a task force meeting the next day. CPS supervisor Gail Cacciani assigned two of her best investigators, Kathleen Daugherty and Colin Parks, to the case.

The next day, they learned that detectives believed Ricky was dead and Tim and Lisa likely had killed him and hidden the body. Detectives wanted CPS to investigate possible maltreatment of the other children, but they wanted it done carefully.

They asked Daugherty and Parks to delay face-to-face contact with the Hollands until CPS got their records from the Jackson County DHS. Police and prosecutors could try to subpoena the records -- and likely face a strong legal challenge from the Hollands -- but CPS had the right to get them without a subpoena.

When she returned to her office, Daugherty met with supervisors. They agreed to hold off contacting the Hollands, a technical violation of routine procedure. During the next two weeks, Daugherty requested an array of records from the Jackson County DHS and interviewed Ricky's former foster care worker, Theresa Bronsberg, and Melissa Sewell, the children's adoption worker. They said they never suspected that any of the kids, including Ricky, were being abused.

Attorney calls it harassment ...

The Hollands' attorney had given Tim and Lisa strict instructions not to talk about Ricky or their other children. But, to complete her investigation, Daugherty had to interview them. So, on Sept. 9, with police nearby in case of trouble, she knocked on their door. Lisa was there. She wouldn't answer many questions, but Daugherty checked each of the children for signs of abuse and saw nothing. The kids appeared to be healthy, active and interacting appropriately with their mother.

At some point, attorney Neil Rockind called. He quizzed Daugherty about the source of the complaint, and when she insisted it was confidential, Rockind said he knew it came from police and called it harassment. Daugherty pressed him to let her interview the Hollands, and he told her to send him written questions and perhaps he could arrange a meeting in his office.

In the following days, Rockind didn't return several calls from CPS.

... but investigation goes on

Daugherty and Cacciani, her supervisor, went to a follow-up task force meeting Sept. 13. Holliday told them about finding blood in the hallway and family room and on the cut-up T-shirt. But the lab work hadn't come back yet, so it wasn't clear whose blood it was.

"We need to be very careful here," Holliday cautioned. Police didn't want information about the blood released. Holliday suggested that CPS canvass the Hollands' neighbors and others who knew the children for signs of abuse.

Daugherty contacted several of the family's former neighbors in Jackson, who mostly reported that the couple kept to themselves and didn't let their kids play outside. One reported seeing Lisa yelling at Ricky and yanking his arm to pull him into the car.

Daugherty also spoke with teachers and employees of the Jackson Public Schools, gathering comments similar to those made earlier to police about Lisa's and Ricky's odd behaviors -- Lisa's fights with the district over special education and restricting classroom treats and Ricky's thefts of food -- but they didn't suspect abuse. A school bus driver remembered Lisa's verbal negativity toward Ricky and his hunger and seeming reluctance to go home. From the Hollands' current neighbors outside Williamston, Daugherty learned about Ricky's strange forays into homes.

On Sept. 22, Daugherty went to Discovery Elementary School in Williamston to talk to Nancy Deal, who had Ricky's younger brother Trevor, a 3 1/2 -year-old with speech delays, in her special-education preschool class.

But Deal said she had no concerns about the boy regarding mistreatment. Trevor was always dressed cleanly, had good hygiene and attendance, and his parents were involved. Daugherty tried to speak with Trevor, with little success. Unable to even give his name, he was nearly impossible to understand.

End result: No petition filed

On Sept. 26, Daugherty and Cacciani met with law enforcement investigators again.

Daugherty pulled out a draft of a petition to ask a judge to remove the Holland children. It talked about how Ricky went to school hungry or with carrot sandwiches and wearing diapers; had rope burns or marks on his wrists, and how his mother walked him in a harness. It said Ricky was reported missing by his parents. It said nothing about forensic evidence or blood splatters.

"Give us the blood," Daugherty said. "Let us use the blood."

Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III stepped in for a moment and heard some of the discussion. He said the safety of the kids was most important but it would be up to Ingham County DHS Director Susan Hull to file a petition.

However, Mike Ferency, the assistant prosecutor on the case, insisted there could be no mention of the blood. Ricky's disappearance was gathering steam on a wider stage as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children got involved. But police had no body, no confession and no real motive for anyone wanting to harm the boy.

If a petition prompted a judge to order removal of the younger children, court documents would expose details investigators didn't want public. The criminal case could be compromised because the Hollands' attorney surely would subpoena detectives.

Prosecutors also worried what would happen if Tim and Lisa were about to lose custody of the kids. Would they flee? Harm themselves or the kids?

The petition could not be filed, prosecutors decided.

Hull later told DHS staff members investigating the case that she had been given off-the-record advice from a department official to let prosecutors make the call. She would not name the official.

TUESDAY: A surprise on the hard drive.

Contact JACK KRESNAK at 313-223-4544 or jkresnak@freepress.com.

2007 Dec 10