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Georgia woman’s death that authorities said appeared ‘personal and targeted’ was a suicide, autopsy reveals

A Georgia woman whose mysterious death was initially described by authorities as a “personal and targeted” killing was found to have died by suicide, officials said Friday.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation attributed the death of Deborrah Collier, 59, to inhalation of “superheated gases,” thermal injuries and hydrocodone intoxication, according to a news release from the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office.

A spokeswoman for the state law enforcement agency said it provided the autopsy results to the sheriff’s office Thursday.

Collier was found partially burned and naked in the woods in north Georgia on Sept. 11. Authorities say they found her body after discovering her van, which was linked to a missing persons report, on the side of a state road in Clarkesville.

Deborrah Collier.Facebook

The van was empty and unlocked, according to an incident report. A K-9 search in nearby woods revealed what appeared to be the remains of a fire and a partly burned blue tarp, the report says.

Nearby, they found a naked woman on her back. Her abdomen was burned and she was grasping a small tree with her right hand, the report says.

Collier’s last known communication was a text message to her daughter saying: “They won’t let me go, there is a key to the house underneath a flower pot,” according to an incident report.

Authorities previously said there was no additional evidence to show that Collier had been kidnapped or slain by a serial killer. The sheriff’s office also said it found no evidence linking her death to suicide.

“At this time, the investigation is leading us to the proposition that Mrs. Collier’s death was personal and targeted,” the sheriff’s office said on Sept. 30.

In an email Friday, Habersham County Sheriff Chief Deputy Murray Kogod said law enforcement agencies typically treat unusual and complex crime scenes as homicides.

“This was the consensus of all of the agencies involved in the initial and ongoing investigation into Mrs. Collier’s death,” he said. “The ‘personal and targeted’ comment relates more to the rumors being spread that this was the work of a serial killer or a stranger.”

He added that he and the sheriff were proud of the “detailed and methodical” work done by investigators on the case. 

“It is our hope and prayer that this brings some closure to the family and allows them to begin the healing process,” he said.

Efforts to reach Collier’s daughter were unsuccessful.

In Friday’s news release, the sheriff’s office said it had remained “vigilant in seeking out and following up on every possible lead regarding Deborrah Collier’s actions on the weekend of her death.”

“A detailed examination of all gathered information has enabled investigators to determine, based on factual evidence and data, that Mrs. Collier’s death was self-inflicted,” the sheriff’s office said.

The sheriff’s office also noted the findings of the state medical examiner’s office. Investigators interviewed more than 20 family members and witnesses, and served 26 search warrants to obtain cell phone data, bank records and electronic communications, the sheriff’s office said.

Phil Helsel contributed.

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