On The Case With Paula Zahn is investigating the kidnapping, rape, and murder of schoolgirl Christina Williams, who vanished in 1998 while walking her dog in Seaside, California.
Her killer, Charles Holifield, managed to escape justice for nearly two years until a squad of cold case detectives tracked him down using DNA evidence.
On June 12, 1998, 13-year-old Christina took her dog, Greg, for a walk in the isolated grounds of the old Fort Ord military base. About an hour later, the dog returned home trailing its leash but with no sign of Christina.
Christina’s parents immediately reported their daughter as missing, and the local authorities launched a massive search, which received a lot of national media attention. Unfortunately, the family and searchers were left devastated when Christina’s remains were located 7 months later.
The body was found under some branches by a surveyor from the University of California who happened to be working in the area. The location was a surprise as the area had previously been searched.
The police had a couple of sketches of possible suspects who had been seen in the area by eyewitnesses; however, they failed to get an id on anyone. They also struggled to come up with any tangible leads.
Several celebrities, including singer Mariah Carey and actor Clint Eastwood, made public appeals to try garner information from the public, but it was to no avail.
Charles Holifield was tracked down using DNA evidence
However, there was a breakthrough in 2016, when a group of cold case detectives decided to have a fresh look at the evidence and to run some of the items through the latest DNA testing.
The detectives were in luck; they came across Charles Holifield, a serial sex offender who was already serving a 25-year sentence for rape and attempted kidnapping. DNA found on Christina’s clothing was a match for Holifield.
The killer had been a suspect at the time of the initial investigation and had been interviewed multiple times, but the cops didn’t have enough evidence to hold him.
At the time, his girlfriend and her mother provided Holifield with an alibi; they said he had been with them watching television when Christina was murdered. The girlfriend later admitted that she had lied for Holifield, claiming that she had been afraid of him.
But in April 2017, armed with the knowledge of the DNA testing, officers arrested Holifield and charged him with murder.
The prosecution considered seeking the death penalty but chose to remove it as an option when Holifield agreed to waive his right to a trial by jury and his rights to writs and appeals. This meant that any decision by a judge would be final, thereby avoiding any painful appeals or retrials for Christina’s family.
In March 2020, Judge Pamela Butler found Charles Holifield guilty of kidnapping, raping, and murdering Christina Williams. He was sent to spend the rest of his life behind bars without the possibility of parole.
More from On The Case With Paula Zahn
Follow the links to read about more shocking murders investigated by Paula Zahn.
Minerva Cantu was a young mother of two from Lake Worth, Florida, in 1990, when Jefer Negron burst into her home and suffocated her to death before stealing her jewelry. It then took 26 years of hard work to finally bring him to justice.
Cathy Woods spent 35 years in prison for the 1976 murder of 19-year-old student Michelle Mitchell in Reno, Nevada. However, DNA evidence eventually proved that she was innocent all along. The police now suspect convicted murderer Rodney Halbower of being the true killer.
On The Case With Paula Zahn airs at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery.