Rhonda Sue Coleman Murder: How Did She Die? Who Killed Her? – Rhonda, an 18-year-old senior graduating that week, had gone to a gathering at a classmate’s house. That evening, a friend discovered her 1989 Chevy Cavalier car parked by the side of the road, still running with her handbag inside and tracks leading from the car to an unidentified vehicle. Police in the next county over discovered her partially burned remains three days later in a wooded location. Rhonda vanished, and the subsequent inquiry that sought to find out what happened is covered in Investigation Discovery’s episode “Still a Mystery: Taken before Graduation.” If you want to learn more about Rhonda Sue Coleman murder and her killer, keep reading below.
How Did Rhonda Sue Coleman Die?
On May 17, 1990, Rhonda Sue Coleman was two weeks away from completing her senior year of high school in Hazlehurst, Georgia. She and the other seniors at Jeff Davis High School met that evening at a student’s home to decorate a graduation banner that would be displayed at the school, according to her cousin Natasha Bennett, who spoke to Dateline.
Rhonda, 18, and a few other students walked to a local convenience store after the banner-decorating celebration. Later, Rhonda’s pals would tell authorities that she had told them she had to leave just after 10:00 p.m. to make it home by her 10:30 p.m. curfew and that she intended to stop at a Hardee’s drive-through on the way home. Natasha reported leaving her friends to drive the three miles to her residence.
Rhonda’s classmate, Layla Miller Marshall, could not attend the banner-decorating activities the same evening due to her work commitments. Before heading home, she made a pit stop at her boyfriend’s house after work.
According to Layla, Rhonda only resided two kilometres away from her home. On her way from her boyfriend’s place to her own at around 10:30 p.m., she passed a car that was stopped on a gravel road with its lights on.
Layla remarked, “As I passed it, I saw that it was Rhonda’s car. So I turned around and went back.”
Layla noticed Rhonda’s car was running, the lights were on, and the driver’s door was open when she exited her own vehicle. There was no sign of Rhonda.
Since most people didn’t have cell phones at the time, Layla decided to switch off the motor and return to her boyfriend’s house to call the police. She and her partner went back to the car to wait for the cops, she claimed to Dateline.
Rhonda’s parents, Milton and Gayle Coleman, were concerned because their daughter was now overdue for her school-night curfew. Rhonda’s father, Milton, told Dateline that his daughter was virtually never late returning home and that she would always phone in advance. Milton decided to drive about at around 11:00 p.m. to see if he could locate Rhonda.
Layla and her boyfriend went back to their house to make another call after waiting in Rhonda’s car for almost 30 minutes with no sign of the police. They then came back to Rhonda’s car. Around 11:40 p.m., police arrived at Rhonda’s vehicle.
The retiring chief of police for Hazlehurst, Georgia, Steve Land, told Dateline, “I received the call from the 911 center about an hour and a half after they found [the car].” The Georgia Bureau of Investigations, the Jeff Davis County Sheriff’s Office, and the Hazlehurst Police Department officers were present when he responded to the call that evening.
Her father, Milton was searching for Rhonda when he came into the police disturbance.
Milton told Dateline, “I saw the blue lights, and I believed she had fallen off the road or was in a crash. When I arrived, I discovered she was missing.”
Even while Layla admits she can’t recall many details from that evening over 28 years ago, she vows never to forget the moment Rhonda’s father arrived on the scene.
“When her dad drove up was one of my most vivid memories. He was asking ‘Layla, where’s Rhonda?’ I said ‘Mr. Coleman, I don’t know.’ And his eyes immediately filled up with water. I could tell he knew something was very wrong right then,” Layla recounted to Dateline.
The police discovered her purse inside Rhonda’s car. Additionally, they discovered footprints pointing from her automobile to another vehicle’s tyre marks. According to GBI Region 4 Special Agent in Charge Mark Pro, these tyre marks suggested that a car other than Layla’s had stopped on the side of the road that evening.
After three days of flyer distribution, ground searches, and helicopter searches, Rhonda’s body was discovered by a hunter on May 20, 1990, about 15 miles from where her car had been discovered. It was in a rural, forested area in Montgomery County, Georgia. Dateline was informed by Special Agent Pro that Rhonda was completely dressed and that her body had been incinerated.
Who Killed Rhonda Sue Coleman?
The police considered the initial investigation into Rhonda’s murder difficult, with almost no clues or witnesses. The only evidence the cops had were the footprints and the distinct tyre tracks.
Due to the charred state of Rhonda’s body, which made it difficult to pinpoint her precise cause of death, Special Agent Pro stated that Rhonda’s cause of death is “undetermined.” To preserve the integrity of the investigation, he indicated that everyone who saw Rhonda on her last night was a person of interest. In Rhonda’s case, no one has been taken into custody.
In August 2017, Rhonda’s parents, Milton and Gayle, recruited retired GBI officer Jody Ponsell as a private investigator to help them uncover the circumstances behind Rhonda’s passing. Retired Officer Ponsell has collaborated with the Colemans’ attorney and conducted independent interviews. When Rhonda was killed, Ret. Officer Ponsell was employed by the GBI, but he wasn’t given the case right away. He calls the handling of Rhonda’s case “disappointing.”
Over the years, “there have been many mistakes made in [the handling of] this case,” Ret. Officer Ponsell told Dateline.
Even though it has been 28 years, Rhonda’s mother claims that she constantly feels empty within. According to her parents, who also noted how well-knit their family was, Rhonda was a “great daughter.”
Rhonda’s family is offering a $35,000 reward in exchange for information that results in the capture and conviction of her killer. Please contact the Georgia Bureau of Investigations at (912) 389-4103 if you know anything about her case.