Nearly seven years have passed since 73-year-old widow Patricia Collins was found brutally murdered in her Coffee County home.
Her nephew, Ken Bellis, has fond memories of his aunt.
“We were very close,” Bellis said. “My Aunt Pat had no children of her own so her nieces and nephews were very much her kids. She was a loving person, she was a lot of fun.”
Collins and her husband, Ralph, moved to Manchester, Tennessee when they retired.
“It was a small town where Ralph thought that Pat would be safe, if something should happen to him,” Bellis said. “Which sadly, it did. He passed away from cancer and unfortunately that didn’t end up being the case at all. It ended up not being a safe place for them.”
With the love of her life gone, Collins put their house on the market. She planned to return home to Florida to be near her two brothers and her sister, Joyce Groneck, Bellis’ mother. But that never happened.
On October 17, 2013 Collins’ body was discovered in her rural Coffee County home.
“Due to the state of the home and the way her body was discovered, it was quickly determined she was a victim of homicide,” said Elizabeth Williams, Criminal Investigator with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations Criminal Investigations Division.
An autopsy revealed her death was caused by blunt force trauma and strangulation. Her family was distraught and her sister determined to find answers.
“My mom dealt with her grief by trying to make sure that my aunt’s murder was solved,” Bellis said. “She worked really hard to make sure that this case didn’t go cold and that efforts were always on underway to try and solve this murder.”
After several years passed, Gronek called for a fresh set of eyes on the case. She personally contacted the TBI. That’s when Williams was assigned to the case, three and a half years ago.
But who would kill a woman best known for her kindness?
“We have yet to find a single neighbor, witness, or person who knew her who didn’t talk about how wonderful she was and how bright her smile was,” Williams said. “And she would go out of her way to help anyone and everyone.”
Investigators believe Collins’ killer is someone she knew personally. They think her kindness may have played a role in the murder.
“It is definitely not a flaw, but it could play into how she met her killer,” Williams said.
Unfortunately, Bellis’ mother will never see justice for her sister. She passed away shortly after the Christmas holiday.
“My mom said about a month before she died, not knowing she was going to die, we were just talking one day and she said you know, I just have a bad feeling I’m never going to find out what happened to Pat,” Bellis said. “And of course, that ended up happening.”
Now, the TBI continues to work on finding a crack in the case. They say no detail is too small, and they are in the business of keeping witnesses whom might fear retaliation safe.
“We know the person responsible for this crime is out there,” Williams said. “We are not going to stop. We don’t know why this person did what he or she may have done.”
It may be too late for Gronek to fulfill her life mission of knowing what happened to her sister. The rest of the family still lives in fear, knowing Collin’s killer is still out there.
“My prayer is that I get to find out what happened, the rest of our family gets to find out what happened. Because it’s hard, it’s very hard to live with. It’s like a wound that doesn’t heal. That’s the best way I can describe it,” Bellis said.
Any information about what happened would bring them one step closer to peace. In particular, the Coffee County Sheriff’s Office asks witnesses to report anyone who may have been acting strangely during that time. Tips can be submitted anonymously by calling 1-800-TBI-FIND or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
News 2 is digging deeper into Tennessee’s most notorious unsolved cases.