Auburn’s ‘baby-faced killers’ featured on Investigation Discovery
“Today, Cindy and I ran away and killed an old lady. It was lots of fun.”
Those words shocked the Auburn community – and the rest of the nation – in 1983, when it was revealed that 14-year-old Shirley Wolf had written them in her diary after she and Cindy Collier, 15, had stabbed 86-year-old Auburn resident Anna Brackett 27 times.
The murder, and a book written about it by then-Auburn resident Joan Merriam, will be featured on the Investigation Discovery channel show “Deadly Women” on Sunday, Jan. 1.
Merriam, an intern at Sacramento’s KXTV Channel 10 at the time of the murder, covered the trial and conviction of the girls. The murder was so horrific and the girls response so blasé, she said, that she knew there was more to the story than met the eye.
“The very first day of the trial, there was this little voice that whispered to me, ‘Something’s wrong with the picture, you’re not seeing something,’” said Merriam, the author of “Little Girl Lost: A True Story of Shattered Innocence and Murder.”
Stabbing for keys
The girls, who had met for the first time only eight hours before the killing, were attempting to run away from the Auburn area, where Collier’s grandfather lived.
Both had been in trouble with the law – Collier was in group home in Auburn when she was introduced to Wolf, who had run away from a similar facility in Placerville. The girls spent a day as “normal” teenagers – hanging out by the pool in the Auburn Greens condominium complex.
Realizing that they would need a car to run away, the girls began checking out vehicles throughout the Greens, knocking on doors matching the space number of the ones they liked. After a few tries, they ended up at Brackett’s door. She let them in, they chatted for about an hour and then Collier grabbed a knife from the kitchen and gave it to Wolf, who began the stabbing.
After taking Brackett’s keys outside, they realized that not only did the car they were going to steal have a standard transmission, which neither girl could operate, but the keys were not even the right ones. So they thumbed a ride to Roseville, hung out for a little while and then made their way back to Auburn.
When they were woken up and arrested that night, Merriam said, Wolf’s response was, simply, ‘Yeah, we did it.’”
The trial lasted about a month, Merriam said, and resulted in convictions for both girls.
Interview takes author beyond comfort zone
Merriam’s research lasted eight years, during which she interviewed key players in the prosecution, their families and the girls themselves.
During that investigation, Merriam discovered that both girls had been victims of sexual and physical abuse for decades. Wolf’s father, Louis, began molesting her when she was 2 years old, and the incest continued until Wolf told her mother what had been going on, although she kept most of the details hidden. Louis Wolf served 100 days in 1982 on a misdemeanor child molestation plea.
When the Auburn Sheriff’s Office learned that Merriam was going to interview Louis Wolf on his property in the woods near Georgetown, she said, she was warned not to be alone with him, and if she was going to, she should carry a gun.
“There’s no doubt I was scared, but you do what you’ve got to do to get the story,” Merriam said. “Sometimes you take chances you probably shouldn’t.”
During her interviews, Merriam said, Louis Wolf admitted to the incest, although he maintained that, even from as young as 2 years old, his daughter had liked it.
“I don’t know how I kept a straight face – how I kept from throwing up,” Merriam said.
‘The book that wouldn’t die’
“Little Girl Lost” was published in 1992 by Kensington Publishing in New York City. Merriam laughingly calls it “the book that wouldn’t die,” because over the years she has been contacted numerous times to speak about it. This time around, the “Deadly Women” producers emailed her and then spent an afternoon with her for the show.
In her interview for the show, Merriam reflected on what drew her to write about the crime, and how she became involved with the killers. Both spent time at the California Youth Authority Facility in Ventura, where Collier earned her junior college degree and studied law. She was paroled in 1992 and has had no further encounters with the law. At one point Merriam had heard she returned to Auburn, but the two have not been in touch. Collier has four children.
Wolf spent time in the Central California Women’s Facility near Chowchilla and was paroled in 1995. She has been in and out of jail, Merriam said, on charges ranging from assault to prostitution. Merriam and Wolf have not spoken in several years.
On her website, www.joanmerriam.com, the author describes her book as a ‘tragic study of how the oppressive forces of child abuse and family violence robbed two young girls of their childhoods, their innocence and, ultimately, their humanity.”
“I simply knew,” she said, “that people don’t do things like this for no reason at all. There had to be something that we weren’t seeing, something that might provide an answer for how we end up creating kids who are capable of this kind of savagery.”
Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The episode featuring local author Joan Merriam’s book is titled “Baby-Faced Killers.” It will air on the Investigation Discovery Channel (Dish Network channel 192, Direct TV channel 285 and Comcast channel 271) at 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 1. Check your cable provider to verify broadcast times.