Decatur County is a quiet, rural area in Tennessee with serene woods and friendly residents. Tragically, on April 13th, 2011, those same woods became the crime scene of a hideous, bone-chilling murder case. Holly Bobo, a 20-year-old nursing student, vanished into the dense entanglement and was never seen again.
The last person (aside from her murderer) who caught a glimpse of her was her brother, Clint, who, on that very morning, upon hearing their dogs bark like maniacs, woke up, rushed to the window, and saw her walking into the woods with a man wearing a camouflage suit.
This case took nearly seven years to solve. And even now, some people still believe that the police caught the wrong guy.
Holly Bobo was a showstopper. With vivid blue eyes that scrunched up whenever she would flash her infectious grin, she was hard to ignore. She had long blonde hair, an angelic voice (she sang in the local church choir), and a kind heart dedicated to serving others.
At 20 years old, Holly’s life was in a great place. She wanted to be a nurse and was studying hard to make that happen. She was in a loving relationship with her boyfriend, Drew, and her relationship with her family had never been better. Life was good for the Bobos.
One spring morning in 2011, Holly Bobo woke up, got dressed, and was about to make the six-mile ride from her home to school when a man barged in and took over. The Bobo’s neighbor, James Barner, reported he heard some arguing coming from next door at around 7:50 a.m.
The loud voices escalated to an eerie scream and then… silence. “My hair stood up everywhere,” James told reporters. Sadly, this would be the last time anyone would hear from Holly.
The weird part is that her brother, Clinton, peered out the window as the man in disguise guided his sister into the woods. “I thought it was Drew [her boyfriend],” he explained.
Holly’s mom, Karen, remembers how she felt when she was first informed that her daughter was missing. She was at work when she received a call from her neighbor, who told her that she heard some screaming coming from the house.
Karen immediately panicked and rang home. Her son, Clint, picked up and told her that he saw Holly walking off into the woods, “probably with Drew.” But Karen had a hunch. Her son’s response wasn’t satisfying, and she urged him to call all the neighbors to get as much help as he could.
Karen quickly dialed 911. “Somebody in full camouflage got Holly!” she yelled into the phone. “They grabbed her and took her to the woods! Please get everybody out there!” The second she hung up, she collapsed on the floor. A co-worker helped her up and rushed her home.
The next family member to hear what had happened was Karen’s dad, Dana. By the time he arrived at the scene, his family’s front yard was swarming with curious neighbors, officers, and reporters. The FBI was there. The TBI was there, U.S. Marshalls were there. Yet despite the impressive showup, Dana felt that “people were wandering, fiddling. It looked like no one knew what to do with themselves.”
The search for Holly was the single most expensive missing person’s investigation in the history of the state of Tennessee. Anyone who could search searched. Some people even came from across the country. Neighbors and strangers walked side by side in the woods, combing the grass for clues.
Most people felt like it was an amazing display of community determination. But others worried that the searchers were unknowingly trampling over potential evidence. It’s hard to say whether having so many people rise to the occasion was a good or bad thing. But the intentions were good.
Holly’s pictures were everywhere, on water bottles, trucks, shirts, ribbons. There were rides and races dedicated to her name. Rewards were offered to anyone who had even the tiniest clue of what might have happened. Still, despite the widespread search, they came out empty-handed.
But the hope that Holly might someday return home never faded. After all, her body hadn’t been found yet. People assumed she was kidnapped and being held hostage in some dark basement. And even though that scenario was horrible to think about, it was still better than thinking she was dead.
The search for Holly Bobo went on for what seemed like forever. Her family grew more depressed as time went by. There was no Christmas, no family dinners, no birthdays. No celebrations whatsoever. Without Holly, life was – and still is – incomplete.
Then, after three draining years, a ginseng hunter named Larry Stone stumbled on what turned out to be her remains. He found Holly’s skull. And a few months later, police officers arrived at the home of a man named Zachary Adams. They arrested him and went public with the charges. “Zack is charged with the first-degree murder of Holly Bobo,” authorities announced.
The public broke out in cries, gasps, and tears. “Murder” was a word no one dared to mutter in the same sentence with “Holly Bobo.” Up until that point, everyone still desperately hoped that somehow, someway, she was still alive.
“The biggest question we had was where was Holly?” one neighbor cried. “And now it’s been answered. We might not know her exact whereabouts. But I know she’s in heaven.”
In a matter of a few hours, the seemingly cold case was now flaming hot. The burning question was now – who was Zachary Adams?
At the time of his arrest, Zach Adams was no stranger to the court system. He had been in and out of prison multiple times, dealing with law enforcement for his entire adult life. He had been arrested mostly on drug charges and violence, especially against women.
Astonishingly, he even pulled a gun on his grandparents in 2005. His grandfather, Dick Adams, phoned 911 that day and said, “It’s Zachary. He’s wild again.” Zach can be heard in the background saying, “WILD, EH?” He then grabbed the phone and said, “He choked me! He choked me and put his hands on me. You better get an officer out here quick.”
Delusional? Dangerous? On drugs? Seems like it.
Zach isn’t the kind of a guy who could kill someone and get away with it. At least that’s what his mom said when she was interviewed by the news. Zach was an addict and spent most of his time floating off in a haze. His mom believed there was no way he was focused or clever enough to plot a murder.
“He can’t even steal a deer stand without getting caught,” Cindy said, adding that he’s not secretive enough to get away with it. “When more than one person knows about something this horrific that happened, you know, and you’re talking about drug addicts, how do they keep that quiet?”
Zach isn’t Cindy’s only son who was found to be involved in the case. Zach’s younger brother Dylan is said to have plotted the whole thing with him. They interrogated him, but according to Cindy, her son was basically coerced into saying things that weren’t true.
“[Dylan’s] trying to tell his story, and the TBI agent keeps saying, ‘Didn’t you mean this? Didn’t you mean this?’ You can honestly tell that at one point, he gave up and just said whatever the agents wanted to hear,” she told reporters.
“Zachary was basically a straight-A student. He actually excelled in sports.” Cindy said. And Dylan? He was a people pleaser and a loyal friend. So, what happened to these two young boys? According to Cindy, her divorce from their father ruined it all.
Zach and Dylan got into drugs, mainly meth, and from then on, they spiraled into a life of crime. When asked if she blames herself, Cindy broke down in tears and said that in a sense, yes. “It’s a daily struggle. I beat myself daily over this,” she told reporters.
Cindy remembers hearing on the news back in 2011 about a man dressed in camouflage who walked Holly into the woods. Even though she and her sons weren’t close with the Bobos, they knew of Holly and felt concerned. Cindy turned and asked them:
“Do you guys know anything? Have you heard anything?”
“No mom, no mom,” they answered.
When Zach was charged with the crime nearly three years later, she was stunned. “There’s just no words,” she shook her head.
Holly Bobo’s case was a terribly difficult one. There was no DNA, no fingerprints. All they had was a body that had decomposed in the woods for years. The prosecutors were stumped. They knew it would be tough proving that the suspects in question were responsible.
Apart from the Adams brothers, police were told that two other guys were connected to the case: Justin Autry, who at the time of the arrest was already in prison for an unrelated assault, and Shane Austin, who, in February 2015, though he had never been arrested, committed suicide. Whatever information he may have had went straight to the grave with him.
It took two additional years after the boys’ arrest until the trial kicked off in 2017. The state’s prosecutor, Paul Hagerman, was the first one to talk during the opening statements. “He took her. He raped her. He killed her. He discarded her. He covered it up. He bragged about it. And he almost got away with it.”
As soon as he finished, Zach Adams’s attorney Jennifer Thompson took the stand and told the jury a very different story: “Members of the jury, Zachary Adams is innocent of the eight charges he is facing here today, and it’s worth saying it one more time – Zachary Adams is innocent.”
Attorney Jennifer Thompson had a terribly hard mission. She had to defend a man the community had grown to despise in the months leading up to the trial. Moreover, Thompson was part of that community.
“[Jennifer] was telling the story of a devil in the community. And this was a community she had to go back and live in. She had to buy her coffee there. She had to go out for breakfast there. She had to do her dry cleaning there. Her job was almost impossible. She had to tell the story of the devil,” Hansen explained.
“This happens to be one of those tragedies in which somebody who was a good person, something bad happened to that person,” attorney Jennifer Thompson said in court, “However, Zach Adams is not the person who’s guilty for the crime.”
Looking the jury in the eyes, Thompson talked extensively about the fact that the search was so thorough, long, and widespread, yet the police came out empty-handed. That’s because the killer had likely escaped out of state. Maybe even out of the country. And she insisted repeatedly – it WASN’T Zach Adams.
Making the showdown in court even more tense was the fact that there was major heat between the attorneys before the trial even began. The bad blood that flowed between them had also trickled down to the judge, who, many believed, was totally biased.
The judge, Charles Creed McKinley, reportedly joked with the jurors and bonded with them over football. And according to many eyewitnesses, he wasn’t being fair to the defendant. He clearly had his opinion set that Zach was the killer.
Apart from the judge’s reported partiality, there was one more thing that made the case difficult, and some would say, unfair – the emotions. It was nearly impossible for the jury to put aside their emotions in front of a case like Holly’s.
When Karen, Holly’s mom, was given Holly’s inhaler to inspect, she passed out. After one glance, she blurted, “I need a minute, I’m feeling sick.” That’s when the judge called to take a recess.
It’s hard to keep emotions out of the courtroom. Karen’s daughter was murdered. How else could she have responded?
The last family member the jury heard from was Holly’s older brother, Clint. Weirdly, his testimony did nothing but raise more answers. Clint testified that on the morning of Holly’s disappearance, he woke up to the family dog’s barking. He approached the window and heard voices that he recognized as Holly’s and what he thought to be Drew’s (her boyfriend).
He then saw Holly being led into the woods, and the description he gave for the man walking beside her confused everyone. “5’10, 5’11, and high and about 200 pounds in weight,” he stated. It didn’t fit Zach Adams’s profile at all.
To this day, many people aren’t so sure what to make of Holly’s brother. How did he stay put while his sister was being led into the woods? And if he was in the house when the kidnapper barged in, why didn’t he hear his sister scream?
Clint was reportedly also involved in drugs. He might have known Zach Adams and maybe even met with him a few times. But throughout the whole trial, no one said a word about it. Probably, Holly’s parents were trying to protect their son.
Jason Autry, Zach’s partner in crime, became the prosecutor’s star witness. And what he said about Clint added to the suspicion. “[Zach] said the real reason we were there was to show Clint how to manufacture meth,” he explained.
So, how did they go from that to raping and murdering his sister in the woods? Some would say that Holly saw them doing illegal business. And when she freaked out, they decided to silence her. But the fact that Clint might have somehow been involved in it is a chilling thought.
The police receive the tip about Zach, Dylan, Austin, and Autry in 2013/2014 (I’m not sure exactly when). The question remains, why did it take the prosecutors around three years for indictment? Special agent Brent Booth later admitted that his agency was partly to blame for it: “The left hand didn’t know what he right hand was doing.”
As it turns out, when Holly Bobo first disappeared, they didn’t thoroughly investigate those four defendants. Zach Adams’s attorney Jennifer Thompson used that to her advantage and claimed that investigators pinned Holly’s brutal murder on her client simply because they were desperate to hold someone responsible.
Adams’s ex-girlfriend, Rebecca Earp, was called to the stand by the prosecutors. “Did Adam ever mentioned Holly Bobo?” they asked her. “Yes sir,” she answered, “he said would tie me up just like he did Holly Bobo, and no one would ever see me again.”
In response to her confession, Adams’s attorney tried to prove that Earp wasn’t really a credible source. She pinned it on drugs and said that Earp might have a foggy memory. “To be clear Rebecca, I mean just to be honest, back in the day, you were using meth weren’t you, and you were using a lot of Zanax, right?” Thompson asked in front of the jurors. Earp nodded her head.
Apart from Adams’s ex-girlfriend, the prosecutors called another witness to the stand who recalled hearing Adams bragging about killing Holly. Cory Rivers, a man who hung out with Adams sometimes said Adams told him: “I was there [in jail] for the worst stuff.”
And when Rivers asked him, “what did you do?” He repeated, “I was there for the worst stuff.” After which, he proceeded to tell Rivers what he had done to Holly’s body. “[Zach] told me that the bottom side was found in one part of Tennessee, and some other pieces were found otherwhere. He chopped her up.”
Jason Autry told the courtroom he was there with Zach in the woods when the murder happened. “The gun fired boom boom boom! Underneath that bridge. But it echoed all the way down that damn river bottom,” he recalled.
But the defense claimed that Jason Autry had good reason to lie about the case. He had cut a deal with the prosecutors. According to Thompson, they convinced him into naming Zach Adams as the trigger man by promising to help him and release him from all charges.
Mid-trial, another potential suspect popped up. A man named Terry Britt who was known in the community as Chester the Molester. He was a convicted sex offender with a great affinity towards young, blonde women. Women just like Holly Bobo.
Terry’s alibi was shaky, and his looks fit Clint’s description of the man he saw walking Holly to the woods. For a while there, it looked like he might replace Zach in the running for who pulled the trigger. When called to the stand, Britt denied ever knowing her.
Charges against him were eventually dropped after police wiretapped his phone, searched his house, and put surveillance around his property… but they came out empty-handed. With no physical evidence relating him to the murder, they dropped him as a suspect.
Cellphone experts tracked down cellphone pings that linked Zach Adams to Holly Bobo’s location on the day of her abduction. They located Holly and Zach Adams’s cellphone pings at the same time in the same location, utilizing the same tower.
Experts also found out that those same pings also supported Jason Autry’s testimony. As it turns out, Zach and Jason were communicating through the phone the morning Holly disappeared, and then Holly and Zach’s phones were found in the same area on the morning she disappeared. And then, Jason and Zach’s phones were in the same area. In other words, it was very likely that the three of them had met that morning.
Not everyone believed Zach Adams was the killer. Interestingly the case’s former lead investigator, Terry Dicus, thought Chester the Molester was the one to blame. “I spoke to Zach, Jason, and Zach’s brother Dylan. I then spoke to Rebecca. I realized after a while that I was wasting my time speaking to these idiots,” Dicus reported.
He went on to say that Terry is a much more reasonable suspect because he’s exactly the size and stature that Clint Bobo described. Dicus was convinced that the police not only botched the investigation but arrested the wrong man.
After 11 hours, the jurors finally reached a decision: Zachary Adams was found guilty of First-Degree Felony Murder of Holly Lynn Bobo. He was now at risk of getting the death penalty. With that in mind, Zach Adams did what he swore never to do – he admitted that he killed her.
He came clean in exchange for a sentence of 50 years with no parole.
Right before the trial came to a close, Holly’s mom, Karen, ordered Zach to look her in the eyes. She said:
“I know that my daughter fought and fought hard for her life. And I know that she begged for her life. Because my daughter loved and enjoyed life. But you chose to take that from her. And you have shown absolutely no remorse for anything that you have done.”
Zach looked right at her when she spoke.