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Lost Colony murder: Memorialize Brenda

Editor’s note: The State Bureau of Investigation assigned cold-case investigator Tony Cummings to the unsolved strangling death of Brenda Joyce Holland in response to our series of investigative columns that began on April 15. 

Nobody’s ever really gone as long as we keep telling their stories, to riff on ancient sayings to that effect. That can certainly be said of Brenda Joyce Holland. She’s always been so much more than the woman found dead in the Albemarle Sound near Manteo on July 5, 1967, almost 51 years ago.

She was a beloved member of that year’s cast of The Lost Colony outdoor drama on Roanoke Island. And she wasn’t just any member. As the 19-year-old makeup supervisor of the play, she was a staff leader. She came down from her native North Carolina mountains, by way of Campbell College, to pour her love and imagination into the fine play. She made friends in Manteo who remember her to this day.

As the first in her family to go college, she was an inspiration to many across the state. A black-and-white photo from The Lost Colony program of 1967 captures her big eyes and smile, a countenance that seems to say “Hey y’all” and “Hello World! Here I come.”

So it’s fitting that Lost Colony CEO Bill Coleman, in response to a letter from Brenda’s sister Kim Holland Thorn, will consider, with his board, ways that his organization might memorialize Brenda. Holland wrote: “Whether my sister’s case is solved or remains forever unsolved, we the family and friends of Brenda desire and request to have Brenda’s memory never forgotten. It is with that thought I wish to request the Lost Colony memorialize Brenda Joyce Holland with a plaque on the Lost Colony property.”

I talked with Coleman Tuesday. “At this juncture, I just received the letter yesterday [Monday] and I would have to take it in front of the board of directors,” he said. “At first blush, it is difficult to do something because we are part of the National Park Service. They have very specific rules and regulations about what goes in the park. This is not our property, bottom line. But is there something we could do? I would think so.”

He talked about the matter at his staff meeting Tuesday morning, he said. “It’s a tragedy. We all recognize that. And, honestly, it’s the reason Morrison Grove was built. It’s less than a mile from the facility and that was the deal, to provide housing that was close, that there could be a safe passage, if you will.”

Morrison Grove is named for Emma Neal Morrison, who donated the land, Coleman said. She was the chairwoman at the time of the Roanoke Island Historical Association, which puts on The Lost Colony. She was an important figure in the production indeed.

And so was Brenda.

“Her disappearance and death affected many across the state, especially the employees of the Lost Colony that summer,” Thorn wrote in her letter to Coleman. “… Even though almost 51 years have passed since her untimely departure, her story remains a part of the Lost Colony and Manteo community. I am aware that there would be some expense incurred and would gladly share in a reasonable amount to obtain and mount a suitable memorial.”

This is a worthy request. I hope that Bill Coleman and his board can find a way to honor it.

Coming next Sunday: The probe into Brenda’s homicide hits roadblocks.

 Previous columns:

The case against Dr. Edwards

Danny Barber’s ordeal

Here comes the break
In the dentist’s shadow
SBI reopens investigation
The Holland mystery unfolds
Help resolve the Brenda Holland murder

John Railey, a freelance journalist and author who has lived and worked on the Outer Banks, is writing the first nonfiction book about the slaying of Brenda Joyce Holland. He is also working to solve the case with Brenda’s sister Kim Holland Thorn. Please relay any tips to Railey at raileyjb@gmail.com. He will share all information with Thorn and report on credible tips here.

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