Rhonda Sue Coleman’s Small-Town Murder Is Still A Whodunit After 30 Years
Nobody was ever charged for the murder of a high school senior last seen leaving a house party just weeks before she was set to graduate.
It’s been more than three decades since Rhonda Sue Coleman was brutally murdered in rural Jeff Davis County, Georgia, and the case remains unsolved.
Rhonda, a senior at Jeff Davis High School, was just a few weeks from graduating on May 17, 1990, when she went to a banner-decorating party with her fellow seniors. Her parents, Gayle and Milton, didn’t typically allow her to be out late on school nights, but they made an exception for the special occasion and set the teen’s curfew for 10:30 p.m. so she wouldn’t miss out on the rite of passage.
At 10 p.m., Rhonda’s friends dropped her off at the gas station where she’d parked her white car so she’d be home on time.
About an hour later, another friend heading home from the party passed an abandoned car on the side of the road. She looked again — it was Rhonda’s vehicle, but Rhonda was nowhere to be seen. The friend drove back to a gas station to call police and report the abandoned vehicle.
Rhonda was a full hour late when her father woke up at 11:30 p.m. and realized his daughter wasn’t home. He immediately left and began driving around to see if she had broken down somewhere. Instead, he encountered officers at the scene with her vehicle. There were footprints leading away from her open driver’s side door and towards a second pair of tire tracks as if she got into somebody else’s vehicle. Her parents were adamant that the only reason she would have stopped would be if she knew the person she was stopping to see or if she was pulled over by police.
With no sign of Rhonda at the scene, a wide scale search was mounted with law enforcement and volunteers searching on foot and by air to no avail. Three days later, on May 20, emergency dispatchers received a call from a hunter in a neighboring county; he had found a badly-burned body abandoned in the woods. Investigators were able to confirm that it was, indeed, Rhonda.
She was still wearing the clothes she’d disappeared in, and she’d been strangled to death before someone doused her hands and head in gasoline and lit a fire.
The Usual Suspects
Family members were suspicious of Rhonda’s ex-boyfriend, Greg. They had recently broken up due to Greg’s controlling nature, and he hadn’t taken it well. Milton had to speak with him at least once to tell him to stay away from Rhonda in the days after the break up because he wouldn’t leave her alone. Greg was also known to carry a gas can in his truck. Greg, however, had an alibi provided by his mother.
Police also looked at a guy named John, who was dating Rhonda’s best friend. John was also controlling, and Rhonda was encouraging her best friend to defy John. Despite the fact that John had some borderline failures of a polygraph, that he also carried a gas can in his truck, and he’d recently been clearing timber where Rhonda’s body was found, police were unable to build a compelling case against John either.
Thirty Years Cold
Despite the hundreds of tips and extensive ground search, authorities never named a person of interest and never made an arrest in the case. By some accounts, the investigation was mishandled and the Jeff Davis County Sheriff’s Department failed to secure the crime scene and refused to give their files to the district attorney for potential prosecution. The case is still considered open, though it has long grown cold.
A recent bill named for Rhonda and another murder victim was signed into law by Georgia governor Brian Kemp in April 2023. The Coleman-Baker Act allows families to request that cold cases be reinvestigated to see if new technology can be used to analyze old evidence. The law also allows families to view the case file themselves if more than six years have passed since the incident, according to 11 Alive News in Atlanta.
Rhonda’s family is offering a $35,000 reward for anybody who has information that leads to an arrest of Rhonda’s killer. Tips can be reported to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation at (912) 389-4103.
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