By Isaiah Jenkins
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class. The student credited above wrote this story as a class project.
Ask anyone that knew Ella Holland – she was the life of the party. She would often spend her days cooking and cleaning and her nights out with friends having fun.
Ella Holland was born on February 24, 1962. She was awfully close with her sister Carolyn. The two would go skating and would often ride their bikes around the neighborhood. When they got older, the sisters would go to clubs together.
“Ella was the big sister even though I was older,” Carolyn said. “All the kids loved her. She used to always have us rolling.”
The laughter stopped on July 7, 1998.
During morning patrol, a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office deputy discovered Holland’s partially nude body on Church Street in the downtown area. Holland was strangled and her body had been left in that spot for multiple hours.
Vantrica Holland was 15 years old when her mother was killed. A young woman was now left without her mother’s compassion, guidance, and protection.
“If she was here today, she’d be living with me,” Vantrica said, wishing she had a chance to repay her mother.
Vantrica loved being with her mother. She loved going to the local laundromat simply to wash clothes with her. Vantrica vividly recalls the days when Ella would dance around the house while singing Anita Baker songs, her favorite artist. The smell of ramen noodles and hamburger meat would fill the house. Ella would playfully chase Vantrica and her son Samuel around the house with a plastic bat when the sibling rivalry showed its face. The Holland family grew close and continuously showered each other with love and support.
The family took a devastating emotional hit after Ella’s death.
“All I did was play music and drink and cry,” Carolyn recalled.
“I felt alone,” Vantrica said, while looking at a picture of her mother.
Aside from the tragic impact of her mother’s murder, Vantrica would suffer in other aspects as well. She candidly shares her attempt to end her life as well as the erosion of familial relationships due to financial disputes. Vantrica recounts the memory where she was forced to confront and stand firm on her beliefs of appropriate care for herself and Samuel. The aftermath of which forced her to stop her schooling and move out with her brother. The young Holland kids were on their own, united in their shared grief.
In 2014, police connected Holland’s murder to a man that was serving time in prison. Phillip Bennett was serving 10 years for burglary charges in what was his sixth stint in prison. Police said that Holland and Bennett knew each other but didn’t get along. Holland was friends with Bennett’s girlfriend at the time. However, the charges related to Holland’s murder were later dropped.
Time hasn’t stopped, and life has continued for Holland’s children. “My momma has two grandkids that know nothing about her,” Vantrica said. Vantrica says her 13-year-old daughter, Kyari, resembles the grandmother she will never meet. Those grandchildren call Carolyn, Ella’s sister, their grandmother.
Family bonds are tough to break. That’s obvious to see in the Holland family.
“Stick together through thick and thin. We all we got,” said Vantrica.
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Ella Holland, please call the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office at (904) 630-0500. To remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for a $3,000 reward, call First Coast Crime Stoppers at (866) 845-TIPS.
Research and Impact
The impact of losing a loved one to homicide can strain and fracture once solid familial relations due to misdirection of emotions and grief. Fractured family ties are often caused by “Emotional Cutoff,” a theory introduced by American psychiatrist Murray Bowen. Bowen’s theory contends that anxiety, emotion, and management are a person’s way of coping with trauma by “reducing or totally cutting off emotional contact,” a mechanism which ultimately leads to familial estrangement.
Project: Cold Case often hears stories of fractured relationships when working with our families.
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