Nearly two years ago, Holly Moore was found dead, hanging by her neck from an electrical cord in a closet at her Castle Rock apartment. The Douglas County Coroner’s Office ruled her death a suicide.
But Moore’s family has always maintained she was murdered, saying that police botched the scene, failed to collect evidence and rushed to the judgment that she had killed herself.
But after Denver7 spent months working with Moore’s family and a world-renown team of forensic scientists that was hired to collect more evidence in the case to tell their story, recent developments in the past day might mean all the new evidence may never see the light of day.
Castle Rock police called in the Colorado Bureau of Investigations to review the case in December 2015.
The town of Castle Rock told Denver7 Wednesday that CBI had finished its peer review and was handling the case back to Castle Rock with the same finding – Moore committed suicide.
But the Moore family and the team of scientists that have spent the last two years analyzing what they say are portions of the case Castle Rock never looked into continue to push for answers – did Holly commit suicide after all, or was she murdered, as they believe?
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Suicide or something more sinister?
Moore, 19, by all accounts seems to have led a happy life. She saw her parents, Ray and Shelly, and sister, April, regularly, and had a dog she took with her everywhere.
She took care of her quadriplegic and MS-stricken mother, Shelly Moore, full-time. Holly also went to college in pursuit of an engineering degree.
She had taken anti-depressants, but had recently gotten off them.
Moore was looking forward to plans she had to go snowboarding with her friends – another hobby of hers – on March 7, 2015, but she never made the trip.
Moore had been seeing a man up until Jan. 31 of that year. He was enlisted in the Army and based at nearby Fort Carson. But Moore broke up with him that day amid rumors of alleged abuse that were never substantiated.
Still, the two saw each other in the month before her death, according to text messages discovered after Moore’s death. The ex-boyfriend would come up to visit from the base on weekends. But according to Moore’s sister, the meetings were less than amicable.
April Moore said Holly’s ex had threatened to kill her, as well as Holly’s friends, in voicemails, and witnesses to the relationship between Holly Moore and the ex said it was at times violent.
Friends had said they had seen the ex choke Moore at one point, causing her to nearly pass out, and April Moore says she witnessed the ex again choke her sister just a week before her death.
On March 5, 2015, Holly Moore and her sister spent most of the day together. She got ice cream with her father that evening.
“She was happy that night when I left her,” Ray Moore says.
But exactly what happened after her father left remains a mystery.
Ray and his daughter had been texting one another after he left her around 8 p.m. that evening. Her father says the text messages from Holly stopped 20 minutes later, but that forensic analysis showed someone continued to text from her phone for more than an hour afterward.
“Then there’s a few messages that get sent out that are bad grammar and bad spelling – unlike Holly,” Ray said. “Then there’s another 15-minute break, a couple of more messages, a 20-minute break, and then the last one that shows a picture of her leg with the handwriting on it.”
“We believe someone else texted from her phone,” Ray said.
Moore’s roommate at the time was a 20-year-old man named Zach. He told police in interviews after Moore’s death that she and her ex had gotten into a fight the night Moore died, though it’s unclear exactly how he knew that since police reports note he had last seen her at 11 a.m. that day.
Zach also said he saw her enter a bathroom at the apartment that night and never come out, and the person who broke into the bathroom the next morning and found her hanging in the closet. He cut the cord with a knife and called 911.
The scene of Holly's death and autopsy
Zach found Holly dead just before 9 a.m. March 6. By the time police arrived, Ray and others were at the scene as well, according to Moore’s autopsy.
She had a 3/8” electrical cord wrapped three times around her neck, and the fingers of her left hand were caught inside.
But Moore’s family maintains that police investigators botched the investigation from the beginning.
“The first 911 call by the roommate set things in motion for suicide, and no one questioned it,” Ray says.
The Castle Rock Police Department, which handled the case from the start, does not have a homicide department. But it processed the scene and took Moore’s body to the Douglas County Coroner’s Office for an autopsy to determine her cause of death.
Both agencies declined comment for this story.
But the coroner’s office released Moore’s autopsy report to Denver7 in response to a public records request. The report shows the differences in what the coroner found and what the scientists hired by Moore’s family discovered.
Jill Romann, who is not a medical doctor or pathologist, but has worked for more than 24 years as a board-certified Medicolegal Death Investigator at various agencies, drew the ire of the Moore family over her office’s handling of the case. James Wilkerson, M.D., P.C., performed Moore’s autopsy.
Wilkerson found trace amounts of antidepressant metabolites in Moore’s system, but no other drugs or alcohol.
He also noted no abnormalities on or inside her body, except for a groove around her neck caused by the electrical cord.
The autopsy noted that the cord’s imprint was mostly horizontal around her neck. The imprint ranged from 6 inches from the top of her head to 7 ½ inches from the top of her head – the highest point being near her right ear, where the cord led up to the hanging point.
It also noted the writing on her leg: “There are multiple names written in red ink on the right thigh.”
The names written included Holly’s ex-boyfriend’s and April’s, though nothing else in the autopsy elaborated on the writing.
“Based upon the history and autopsy findings, it is my opinion that Holly Moore, a 19-year-old White female, died of asphyxia by hanging. The manner of death is suicide,” Wilkerson wrote.
But Moore’s family refused to believe she killed herself, and took issue with some of the further handling of Moore’s case by the coroner’s office and Castle Rock police.
“I think we all agree that we believe the coroner and the police rushed to a verdict of suicide without collecting and reviewing all the facts,” Ray says.
Family brings in outside investigators to gather more evidence
The Moore family requested that x-rays be done on Holly’s body, but they say Romann denied their requests.
“We couldn’t figure out why. This was crazy – why would [Romann] care if we did an x-ray of [Holly’s] body?” Ray says. “I had to stop what I was doing to do the coroner and police job.”
They paid to bring in a private medical company to perform the x-rays instead, and brought in renowned Holland- and Conifer-based forensic scientists Dr. Richard Eikelenboom and Dr. Selma Eikelenboom-Schieveld to analyze the x-rays and Moore’s apartment.
Both have done extensive work with DNA in murder cases, including those of Jon Benet-Ramsey and Peggy Hettrick. In Hettrick’s 1987 case, a judge eventually vacated the conviction of a man based on DNA evidence.
(Editor’s note: Denver prosecutors last year claimed Dr. Richard Eikelenboom did not follow proper DNA analysis procedures in a 2013 case.)
“We told the family explicitly: If we think it’s a suicide, we will tell you. It was during the investigation that we found all these indications that it might very well be not a suicide,” Dr. Eikelenboom-Schieveld says.
Immediately, they found that Moore’s collarbone was broken, which they said caused even further suspicion that Moore hadn’t killed herself after all. They say it would be difficult for Moore to have hanged herself with a broken collarbone.
“I cannot imagine that somebody could do that with a broken collarbone. It’s extremely painful,” Dr. Eikelenboom-Schieveld told Denver7.
They asked the coroner’s office why the broken bone wasn’t included in the autopsy, to which the coroner’s office provided what the Eikelenbooms say was an interesting response.
“The coroner said that the collarbone was broken because they broke it, and I think that’s a statement that I cannot understand,” Dr. Eikelenboom-Schieveld says. “Their explanation…doesn’t make any sense in my opinion. In a normal autopsy, you wouldn’t break the collarbone. There’s no reason to do that.”
They also went to the apartment where Moore died and used a fluorescent light to scour the scene.
“We found all kinds of stains in the bedroom – on the bed, in the bathroom, on the door,” Dr. Eikelenboom-Schieveld says. “It could be just normal spillage, but it could very well be that the room had been cleaned up. But you don’t know that until you test it.”
Castle Rock police never tested any of the stains, and Dr. Eikelenboom-Schieveld says there were other facets of the investigation that didn’t go right either.
“It was definitely a suspicious crime scene. So from that moment on, you should regard it as a crime scene,” Dr. Eikelenboom-Schieveld says. “And not until you’ve thoroughly investigated it can you draw the conclusion that it was a suicide or a homicide.”
She believes, after her analysis, that Moore was likely killed somewhere other than the closet and that her body was staged there to appear as though she hanged herself.
“If you have the strangulation cord wrapped around her neck in a horizontal way and it was pulled really tight -- I mean with one hand under the strangulation cord, you can’t do that yourself,” Dr. Eikelenboom-Schieveld says. “So that means that somebody else applied the force.”
She and her husband collected samples of the carpet and fluid remnants for possible DNA testing. They also took swabs from her body, the electrical cord, parts of the bathroom and from clothes at the scene – something they and the Moore family say should have been done by police in the first place.
“Normally this is something the police would do,” Dr. Eikelenboom-Schieveld says.
“You should make certain what happened by doing the DNA investigation. So we go by the facts in the beginning. We see that the strangulation mark doesn’t fit. We see that the hand is there. We see that she has a broken collar bone,” Dr. Eikelenboom-Schieveld says. “That’s enough reason to say, ‘OK, let’s proceed with the investigation and do a DNA examination to find out what happened there,’ and those are facts that nobody can alter.”
After analyzing the evidence, they wrote to the Moore family.
“Although ruled a suicide, we have strong indications that her death was actually a homicide,” the letter reads.
“There is enough evidence for the police and the coroner to rethink their original opinion and do a proper investigation,” Dr. Eikelenboom-Schieveld says.
“All these things are just too overwhelming,” Ray says. “It’s not just circumstantial. This is physical evidence and DNA that they can do the testing on.”
But the DNA swabs still sit in their lab in Conifer awaiting testing. The Moores have tried to come up with the vast sums of money to test the swabs by selling their house, and have continually waited for CBI to request the evidence or come pick it up.
“We will bring it to them if they want to,” Dr. Eikelenboom-Schieveld says.
Hope from family, but investigators don’t budge on cause of death
The Moores believe the forensic evidence would prove Holly was murdered, but continue to wait on investigators for further movement in the case.
“We think as soon as they see the information we provided that they will see they need to do some forensic testing. As soon as they do that, it will prove Holly died in another location and was moved,” Ray says. “We believe we know the location and she was moved afterwards to make it what they call a staged homicide.”
It’s a sentiment shared by April, Holly’s sister, who filed for a restraining order against Holly’s ex after Holly’s death after she felt threatened by him and received questionable phone calls from people that seemed to know explicit details of the scene.
“My sister wouldn’t leave the world without saying goodbye to me and my dad,” April says. “Even if she was having a rough time, she always called her friends or me.”
Holly’s ex-boyfriend and Zach were both considered persons of interest in the case after text messages and voicemails, some of which had been deleted, were uncovered showing Holly’s ex-boyfriend had talked about killing and being a “killing machine” several times.
But both were never arrested or charged, and the official cause of death has remained a suicide.
“We think that once they do the DNA testing they promised to do, once they do that, it will prove that there was a struggle, let alone that she died in a different location and all these other facts that we have,” Ray says.
There also remain questions about the names written on Holly’s leg when she died. Handwriting experts brought in by the Moores determined that two different people had written the names. There was also an imprint of a shirt left on her body that appeared in police photographs, Ray says, but the shirt was found in a clothes hamper.
They believe someone may have come into the apartment after police had been there and changed the scene, noting a shower curtain that was draped over Moore’s bed and a tidy closet that her family said was unlike Moore to have.
Though Shelly has since succumbed to complications from MS, the Moore family continues to return to her apartment complex on the fifth day of each month to remember Holly and continue their hope that DNA evidence may get tested and provide them a different outcome for Holly’s death.
But that seems even less likely now, since the town of Castle Rock told Denver7 Wednesday that CBI had finished its peer review of the case, which Castle Rock says included the private investigation, and handed it back to the Castle Rock Police Department without obtaining the DNA swabs from Dr. Eikelenboom-Schieveld.
“Our hearts truly go out to the Moore family,” said Castle Rock Police Chief Jack Cauley in a statement. “As officers and first responders, we are always saddened when investigating cases of suicide. I am very confident in our investigators’ work and know that suicide touches a lot of families, friends and loved ones. This heart-breaking situation reminds us all to watch for the warning signs of suicide and encourage those in need to reach out for help.”
Should the department decide to close the case, the Moores will continue to be left wondering if their daughter ended her life, or if it was taken at the hands of a murderer still lurking in the shadows.
The Moore family is holding a “March for Justice” on March 5 — the second anniversary of Moore’s death. The details are still pending, but can be found at the Justice For Holly Moore Facebook page.