By Emily Duren
Stephanie Collins died from blunt force trauma to the head. Teri Lynn Matthews was raped, beaten and stabbed. Natalie Blanche Holley was stabbed. Those are the three women that Oscar Ray Bolin brutally murdered in 1986 in our own Tampa.
Very seldom does the mere sight of someone send shivers down my spine, make me feel like vomiting, cause my blood to boil. Oscar Ray Bolin is one of those people. Knowing that he was once part of our society, drove down the same roads we do, and frequented the same places as us, makes me physically ill.
There is an unassuming shopping center in Carrollwood, and in 1986 it held an Eckerd Drug, where 17-year-old Stephanie Collins, a senior at Chamberlain high school, worked. On Nov. 5, 1986, she had gone into the store, not to work, but to see if she could get more hours. She was abducted in the parking lot, on her way to choir practice, and would never be seen or heard from again. The next day, a young man identifying himself as Collins’ brother walked into Bay Area Cleaners clutching a photograph of Stephanie, saying that she was missing, asking if anyone had seen her. Her body was found on a rural road a month later. The same day as Terri Lynn Matthews.
Natalie Holley was the night manager of a Church’s Chicken; she was abducted while leaving after her shift. Her body was found the very next day in an orange grove in Lutz.
Terri Lynn Matthews was taken from a post office in Pasco County. Her car was found in the middle of the night by her boyfriend, Gary McClelland, who had gone looking for her after not receiving a call that she’d returned home safely after leaving his house. When he found the red Honda with its lights still on, mail strewn about, he immediately knew something terrible had happened. Her murder went unsolved until 1990, but then there was a break.
Bolin’s undoing would be by a man whom he’d never even met. Bolin’s ex-wife, Cheryl Coby, had confided in her new husband, Danny Coby, that Bolin told her he’d killed Terri Lynn Matthews. Danny Coby called the police. Police were able to corroborate this when they interviewed Phillip Bolin, Bolin’s half-brother who, at the time of the murder, was 13, and claimed he’d helped dispose of Matthews’ body. Bolin had awoken his younger brother in the middle of the night, telling him he needed his help outside, where Matthews was laying in a sheet, moaning and making gurgling noises.
Phillip says he watched as his brother repeatedly beat Matthews over the head with a tire buddy— a wooden stick with a piece of metal on the end, a tool used to check tire pressure— until she stopped making noise. He then shoved a garden hose into her mouth and tried to drown her.
It seems really unnecessary to bring Matthews to a second location, and bring a second person into the situation, especially if you’re trying not to get caught. However, the prosecution has a pretty good theory about this. They think that he took her to his home, raped her, allowed her to put her clothes back on as a possible trick to make her think he may release her, and then proceeded to stab her in both the neck and throat. Bolin thought the stab wounds had killed her and went to get Phillip to help him get rid of Matthews, only to find out she was still clinging to life. This is where the bludgeoning and drowning came into play. His brother helped him load the body onto the back of Bolin’s wreck (he was a tow truck driver at the time), he drove to the site where he dumped her body, dropped her there, and left. But, there was one tiny problem. When they finally got this information, Bolin was serving 25-to-75 years in prison in Ohio for raping another woman. He wasn’t going anywhere, but it certainly wasn’t justice for the three girls from Tampa, or their mothers, who were forever connected.
In his pre-execution interview at Raiford prison, Bolin talks about how he’s innocent, how physical evidence, like his hair, was planted, and how Florida is putting an ‘innocent man’ to death. My first thought was Cry me a river, Oscar Ray. But as I heard him talk, I thought, maybe he truly is innocent, maybe he didn’t kill these women. He was just so convincing. Then I thought, WOAH! Reign it in, homegirl. You know he’s guilty.
As I watched the video of the man in the orange, prison-issued shirt, with his hands cuffed in front of him, with the cold, blue eyes and the white hair, I realized that he’s got the two earmarks of a good killer: lack of remorse and the ability to manipulate. Those are two things that I don’t have, luckily, which is probably why I’m fascinated by serial killers.
As the names slipped out of his mouth, I found myself clenching my fists. “I didn’t kill Stephanie Collins, Natalie Holley, Terri Lynn Matthews.” But the most interesting thing he said, by far was when Gloria Gomez, the interviewer, asked how he felt: “A little numb. I mean, I don’t know how you would expect someone to feel, I mean, if they told you tomorrow you was dyin’, how would you feel? It’s not somethin’, we all die, but it’s knowin’ your exact date and time. That’s… that’s hard to deal with. But I’m at peace with myself, I mean, as far as, it’s my release, my punishment’s over.” Does anyone else see the irony in that? I’m really sorry they inconvenienced you by not having a guard ambush you in your cell with a weapon like you did to those women, Oscar Ray.
I have always wondered why inmates, especially those on death row, can’t give the families of the victims, as well as the police departments, the satisfaction of closure by admitting their guilt, even if it’s on the day of their execution. You know you’re dying. You know you’re guilty, just do this one good thing with your life. For example, in the days before his execution, also at Raiford Prison, Ted Bundy, arguably one of the most infamous serial killers of all time— who called himself, “The most cold-hearted son of a bitch you’ll ever meet”— confessed to more than 30 murders, after vehemently denying his guilt for years. So, if even one of the least empathetic, most evil, emotionless, Dexter-come-to-life (if Dexter killed the good guys) men can do it, why couldn’t another?
Given, I’m sure that there have been some innocent men and women sent to the death chamber. Yes, that’s a travesty, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. I’m talking about your guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, DNA evidence, witness testimony, everything but the kitchen sink kind of guilty. Oscar Ray Bolin was found guilty by 10 different juries. 10. He became an anomaly after he was granted new trial after new trial due to errors his defense attorney, and wife, Rosalie Bolin (who left her cushy life with her husband and four daughters to marry Oscar, because she was so sure he was innocent), dug up. He’s guilty as all hell. I can’t be sympathetic here. I can be objective, and I always will be, but I can’t be sympathetic.
This is why I chose Bolin’s case to dissect, I don’t believe he was at peace. I believe he was like a scared child, and like a scared child, he grasped for any sense of control. He got that control by keeping those secrets to himself. If he couldn’t kill or rape anyone else, he wanted to inflict suffering in anyway he could, and knowing that he died denying his guilt would mean that the absolute truth, the only link to those nights, and the only person who knows what happened, would be gone. Because after all, a conviction, as we know, doesn’t necessarily make it true, and now we’ll never truly know (but I know in my heart that he’s guilty). I truly believe that he never even told his wife the truth of what happened on those dark nights. One could argue that he didn’t admit his guilt because he wanted to preserve his reputation or that of his wife, but I would firmly debate that claim. I don’t think he cared about that, and if he did, that was probably so far down on his list of concerns. He was, after all, a serial killer. If you watch the video, and I urge you to, it’s obvious that his tears are as fake as his remorse. But his fear is very, very real.
Bolin was convicted of all three murders, but after 10 trials, the Matthews murder is the one that got him a death warrant signed by Gov. Scott. In the end, he was still convicted of first-degree murder in the Collins case and second-degree murder in the Holley case, and that was all Holley’s mother, also named Natalie, needed.
It was his last appeal. He would be dying, there would be justice for her daughter, sitting through every trial— except the last, she had gotten too sick— wouldn’t have been in vain. Natalie Holley died in 2012, but two of her good friends, Kathleen Reeves and Donna Witmer, Matthews and Collins’ mothers, were there to make sure justice was served.
When it was announced that he would be executed on Jan. 8th, 2016, I didn’t feel bad, and I waited for something to pop up on my phone from CNN or the New York Times telling me that he was dead, but nothing did. Instead, I read that he was not taken to the death chamber at 6:00 p.m., but was sitting in a holding cell, while U.S. Supreme Court justices went over his final appeal. An hour went by, then two, three, four, and at 10:00 p.m., an announcement came through that it had been denied. He was pronounced dead at 10:16 p.m.
If this is your first time reading this column, I put a small, no holds barred paragraph at the end, telling how I really feel. I’m a very peaceful person, and I cry when I see those Sarah McLachlan commercials about the dogs, but I’ll just leave it at this: I don’t wish harm to come upon any person, but for what Bolin did to those women, he got exactly what he deserved.