On Thursday, May 17, 1990, Rhonda Sue Coleman went out with some of her classmates. The senior at Jeff Davis High School in Hazlehurst, Georgia, at the age of 18, joined a group of friends who were making decorations for their upcoming graduation. Around 10 p.m., they were done, and Rhonda’s friend dropped her off at a nearby petrol station, where she had left her car. Rhonda had to drive six miles back to her family’s house. Her parents told her she would be home by her 10:30 pm bedtime, but she never got there.
After less than an hour, one of Rhonda’s friends was driving on Bell Telephone Road, which is the road she used to get home. She was shocked to find Rhonda’s Chevy Cavalier parked on a dirt road that crossed Bell Telephone Road. The headlights were on and the engine was running, but the driver’s door was open, making it look like Rhonda had left the car. The girl’s purse was on the passenger seat, but there was no sign of her. Rhonda’s friend got scared and drove to the closest petrol station to call the police.
Bradley and Gayle Coleman, Rhonda’s parents, fell asleep while they were waiting for their daughter to come home. When Milton woke up at 11:30 pm, he saw right away that Rhonda still wasn’t back. He drove around to look for her because he thought she might have had car trouble. A few minutes later, he saw Rhonda’s car being inspected by a group of sheriff’s deputies. They told the worried father that they didn’t know what happened to the teen.
There was only one child between Milton and Gayle. They usually wouldn’t let her stay out that late on a school night, but they agreed to let her stay out later that night so she could help decorate for the graduation. Rhonda was a good student who wanted to become a nurse. In the past, she had always been on time for her activities.
Rhonda was supposed to finish high school on June 2, 1990. She was excited for months to go on the senior class cruise the following week. The head of Jeff Davis High School, Richard Dixon, said that everyone was worried about the teen’s safety. “She’s just not the type to run away,” She does well in school and is very involved in Future Farmers of America. There is a lot of worry and fear among the students because most of them have known Rhonda since kindergarten.
The person who knows Rhonda best, Trice Thompson, said that she had driven a lot of times on Bell Telephone Road. “The road isn’t dangerous, but it’s dark.” She knew she shouldn’t stop. She wouldn’t have stopped for anyone on that road…I’m scared. I have no idea what happened to her.
Rhonda’s car and the area around it were searched by deputies for any sign of the missing teen. Officials thought that Rhonda had gotten into another car at this point because they found footprints going away from her driver’s door and towards a set of tyre tracks. Since there were no signs of a fight, they thought she probably knew the person in the second car.
As the police searched along the road, they saw a raccoon hunter come out of the woods about two miles from where Rhonda’s car was found. The hunter remembered seeing a dark-colored pickup truck with a short bed drive by around the time Rhonda went missing. He thought he heard a woman yelling, but it was just two teens joking around.
After Rhonda’s class on Friday, many of her friends skipped to help look for her. Over 300 volunteers looked for Rhonda for hours in the area where her car had been left, but they couldn’t find any clues about where she was.
Mark Hall, the sheriff of Jeff Davis County, said he thought Rhonda had been taken away. “It wasn’t hidden. It wasn’t taken off the paved road. Something or someone she thought was someone she knew told her to stop. After getting out of the car, I think she meant to get back in right away. Detectives talked to Rhonda’s parents and friends and found that she didn’t have any problems at home and didn’t seem like the typical runaway. “We think there was foul play.”
The police spent Friday and Saturday following up on tips, but none of them led them to Rhonda. The sheriff’s office said, “We’ve looked into a number of leads from Savannah to Montezuma, but we don’t have anything solid yet.” The sheriff’s office had help with the search from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Hazlehurst Police Department.
Around 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Rhonda’s body was found by a man who was looking at trees in a wooded area of Montgomery County. About three miles from the line with Jeff Davis County and fifteen miles from where Rhonda’s car had been found. Montgomery County Coroner Lewis Palmer confirmed that the body belonged to the missing teen. The case of the missing person was now being investigated as a mu*rder.
Rhonda had been k*illed very badly. The coroner found that the teen had been strangled and then her ki*ller had put petrol on her head and hands and set her on fire. When her body was found, it was badly burned but still fully dressed. It didn’t look like she had been sexually assaulted. The area where her body was found was pretty remote, which made police think that the person who k*illed her knew the area well.
The mur*der shocked the 13,000 people who live in Jeff Davis County. Sheriff Hall agreed that they had good reason to be afraid. “A pretty, sweet little girl like that who had never hurt anyone, and some crazed person—I don’t know what else you’d call him—can do that to her.” He said that even though they had questioned many people, no one had been arrested.
Detectives talked to all of Rhonda’s classmates who had been with her in the hours before she was ki*lled. They said Rhonda was in a good mood when they made a banner for the graduating class at the home of senior Mickey Beecher. Russ Creamer, a classmate, said that the graduation party wouldn’t be the same without Rhonda. “It’s been 12 years, and we still don’t want to graduate.” My diploma can be sent through the mail.”
On top of that, detectives talked to all of Rhonda’s coworkers at the Piggly Wiggly store in Hazlehurst, where she had worked as a cashier. The store manager, Ronnie Sill, said, “Everyone feels like their hearts have been ripped out.” It’s a loss for everyone here. In his words, Rhonda was a nice young woman who loved life and hoped to become a paediatric nurse. No one could think of anyone who would want to hurt her.
Milton said that his daughter was a kind and caring teenager. He, like everyone else, couldn’t figure out why someone would want to hurt her. Her family and friends were her favourite people to be with. “Rhonda liked being with us…I’ll always remember the time I spent with her.
Black bows were on the doors of almost every business in Hazlehurst by Tuesday. The courthouse was one of them. They stood in silent honour of a lively teen whose life had been cut short far too soon. Detectives kept looking for the k*iller, but they did say that the man they thought was the most likely suspect had been cleared after passing a polygraph test.
Officials said there was a $9,500 reward for information that would help them find Rhonda’s k*iller. They hoped this would lead to new information that would help them find the ki*ller. They were still sure that Rhonda knew the person she got into a car with, but they hadn’t been able to find any solid leads.
The funeral for Rhonda took place on May 23, 1990. In Hazlehurst, many businesses closed for the day so their workers could go to the service. The Piggly Wiggly, where she used to work, was one of them. More than 1,000 people crowded into Southside Baptist Church to honour the teenager who had died.
While people were in the church going to mass, police searched the parking lot for any sign of the dark-colored pickup truck with the short bed that the raccoon hunter had described. They thought that the person who k*illed Rhonda had driven one of these trucks and that he might go to her funeral.
A man who didn’t want to be named called police and said he thought he saw the k*iller’s truck the night Rhonda went missing. He gave them a partial number plate number. His words were that the truck was dark blue and white, and the licence plate read “8374.” It looked like the driver was a man in a striped shirt. Sheriff Hall told the witness that licence plates with the numbers she gave him were issued by 84 counties in Georgia. “We’ll check them all, starting with the nearby counties.”
If you could help solve Rhonda’s case by June 1, 1990, you could win $15,000. Agent Martin Moses of the GBI said that they were still looking through DMV records to try to find the owner of the truck that was seen near Rhonda’s car, but they didn’t have any new information to share. “We’re still going very fast. We’ll keep going until it’s over “
Investigators looked through records of licence plates for two weeks to find the plate that the anonymous tipper had mentioned. Police told the person to call them back with more information and told him he could stay anonymous if he did. The man never called back, and detectives later found out his tip was scam.
After a few months, the case began to slow down. Even though detectives really wanted to find the person who ki*lled Rhonda, they stopped getting tips and had used up all of their options. Sheriff Hall was hopeful that the case would be solved in the end, but he also said that the public needed to help. Anyone who knew anything, even if they thought it was small, was asked to call the police.
When Rhonda’s family and friends asked for a year after her de*ath, the k*iller had not yet been caught. He said, “Maybe we could start putting more of it behind us if we could ever get answers.” I am angry, but who wouldn’t be? “Your life will never be the same again.” He said that he and Gayle had not changed anything in Rhonda’s room; it looked the same as it did when she left the first time a year ago.
Every wall in Sheriff Hall’s office had a picture of Rhonda on it. With 23 years on the job, this was the first violent cri*me in the county that he couldn’t solve. “For every other case I’ve had, I could quickly think of a reason and a suitable suspect. I haven’t thought of either one yet, but I will.
Sheriff Hall never found the person who ki*lled Rhonda, which was sad. The 61-year-old man was k*illed in a shootout on June 21, 1992, with a suspect he thought of as a friend. Another person was k*illed in the fight. It was another terrible blow to the community, which had been so safe that many police officers, including Sheriff Hall, didn’t even bring guns with them when they went on calls.
Jim Boatwright was made sheriff of Jeff Davis County in January 1993. He told the press that solving Rhonda’s mur*der was his most important job. He said that police had a suspect in mind but didn’t have enough proof to connect him to the cr*ime. There was still hope that someone would come forward with the important information they needed to arrest the person, but no one did.
Rhonda had been de*ad for eight years by 1998, and the case had not changed much in that time, even though it was still being looked into. Up to $35,000 was offered as a reward for information that was not claimed. “This case is like a complicated jigsaw puzzle with a couple of important pieces missing,” said GBI Agent Pamela Rushton. We hope that the person or people who did it have told someone about it, and that guilt or greed will help those who know help them get past their loyalty to the k*iller.
Many years passed, and the person who k*illed Rhonda was still a mystery. There were almost 30 years between the mur*der and when her parents hired a private investigator to help them find out what happened. An ex-GBI agent named Jody Ponsell wouldn’t say what he learned, but he did say he was hopeful that the case would finally be solved. “I’m the same as all the other police officers who worked on the case.” We all care a lot about it.
There have been a lot of rumours about the case over the years, but not many facts have come out. At first, Rhonda’s family didn’t trust her ex-boyfriend because they broke up because he was too controlling. He did have an alibi for the time of the cr*ime, though, so he was never named as a suspect in public.
There have been rumours that the case hasn’t been solved yet because police were trying to hide something for one of their own. Some people even think that the son of former Sheriff Hall is involved. Many people think that Rhonda’s family will never get justice because there isn’t much solid evidence.
Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia signed the Coleman-Baker Act into law in April 2023. This law, which was named after Rhonda and another mu*rder victim, lets families ask that cold cases be looked into again using new technology. If it has been six years or more since the c*rime, the families can also see the case file.
In May 1990, Rhonda Sue Coleman was brutally k*illed in Hazlehurst, Georgia. She was only 18 years old. It would be a few weeks before Rhonda graduated from high school. She planned to go to nursing school afterward. As an only child, she was very close to her parents and had no known enemies at school. The case has been open for decades and no one has been publicly named as a suspect in her de*ath. However, her parents still hope that they will one day find out who ki*lled their daughter. Please call the Georgia Bureau of Investigation at 912-389-4103 if you know anything about Rhonda’s de*ath. There is a $35,000 reward for information that helps catch and convict Rhonda’s k*iller.