February 7, 2017

The Unsolved Murder of Kirsten Davis

Vidalia, Georgia is a stereotypical small southern town, situated between interstates 75 and 16, and halfway between Savannah and Macon.  At one time its fields harvested pecans and tobacco, the area became best known for its sweet onions, first produced in 1931 and by 1940, so popular that they became a tourist item. So proud of its onions is the area that each spring Vidalia hosts a five-day long Onion Festival, drawing in many tourists.

Vidalia was also the birthplace to notables such as NFL players Mel Blount, Carl Simpson and Fred Stokes; golfer Paul Claxton; baseball player Wallace Moses; oilman and benefactor Algur H. Meadows; and NBC News correspondent Don Harris.

Some five minutes away, the tiny hamlet of Santa Claus sits, home to fewer than 200 residents but a place that tourists and locals alike will travel to in December in order to mail their Christmas cards and letters.  In keeping with their seasonal name, Santa Claus boasts several themed street names, including Candy Cane Road, Rudolph Way, Dancer Street, Prancer Street and Sleigh Street.

By 1991 "The Sweet Onion City" of Vidalia hit its population peak at just over 11,000 residents.  With the increased population came increased crime but violent crime, like murder, was a rarity.

July 3, 1991 was a Wednesday. Kirsten Davis, 21 years old and a recent graduate of Berry College, was traveling from Rome, Georgia to Vidalia to visit a friend.  The drive would normally be about four hours, give or take, and Kirsten had exited Interstate 16 and was driving on Highway 297 around 1 a.m.  She was roughly five miles outside of Vidalia when the shooting happened.

About thirty minutes later, passing motorists spotted Kirsten's blue 1985 Subaru station wagon overturned in a ditch.  She was still inside, dead from a shotgun wound to her face and neck.

An investigation yielded little.  Kirsten, a friendly girl who planned to be a teacher, had no apparent enemies who would wish her harm.  She did not live a high risk lifestyle and was, in fact, a scholarship student from Boulder, Colorado.  As a child in her native Colorado, she had collected aluminum cans for recycling and gave the money to missionaries.   While at Berry College, she again begun collecting aluminum cans as a way to raise money to install a flagpole on campus, by the Dining Hall, so that students could pledge to the flag and pray.  She planned on staying in Georgia to pursue a teaching career and in her spare time, Kirsten mentored foster children through the Big Sister program and worked as an aide at a Christian summer camp.  Even if she were to have incited someone to kill her, it's unlikely they would have followed Kirsten from Rome to Vidalia.

Kirsten was buried on a hillside in Rome, a spot where four months earlier, after her graduation, she had pointed out to her mother Barbara as a place she would sit to watch the sunset.

Executive from Chick-Fil-A, who had sponsored Kirsten's scholarship, contacted Berry College to ask what they could do in the wake of Kirsten's death.  That led to the installation of the flagpole, just as she had hoped, with a granite marker at its base, memorializing Kirsten.

The case, however, quickly went cold.

I have an opinion (of course.)  I don't believe, based on what is known about Kirsten, that she was a target.  Why wait until she's four hours away from her home base of Rome before taking action?  Choosing to follow her and then shoot her with a shotgun would require a ruse of some sort to get her to stop, or to be ahead of her, which seems unlikely.  The fact that her car was found overturned indicates to me that she was driving along normally when she was shot.  There were no skid marks reported at the scene, so I don't believe she was fleeing an attacker.

Given the time the shooting happened, I think it's possible that someone was drunk and/or playing around with a gun.  I think it's possible that Kirsten was shot accidentally and whoever shot her did not intend to shoot another person, much less Kirsten.  I think that person either fled when they realized they shot her, or they never realized they shot a person until perhaps they saw it on the news and out of fear, have not come forward.

Last July, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his sister's death, Kirsten's twin brother Tim recalled her as a straight A student, someone who was involved in every club.  He wonders what she would be like today.

The homicide of Kirsten Davis is still an active case but seems to be at an impasse.

If you have any information, please contact the Toombs County Sheriff's Office at 912-526-6778 or the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Eastman Office at 478-374-6988.

Kirsten and her brother Tim

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