Too Close To Home: Mary Ann Holder – Pleasant Garden



Clockwise from top right: a makeshift memorial in front of 923 Cocoa Drive, Mary Ann Holder, the victims’ funeral procession, and a collage of the victims.

Ella-Brooke Morgan, Co-Editor-In-Chief

(West Forsyth High School to Pleasant Garden, Guilford County – 40 minutes)

Profiling the most twisted criminal cases in North Carolina.

Trigger warning: Gun violence, domestic mass murder, suicide

“Love, prayers and answers” were among the requests from the shattered citizens of Pleasant Garden after a suburban mom, Mary Ann Holder, went on a killing spree that would end in carnage and devastate the community.

Holder had never known a life without hardship. Her mother–having been abused by a host of unfaithful men–hauled her children from place to place; the family was always on the road. Holder landed at McLeansville Middle School in Guilford County, where she quickly bonded with Carrie “Beth” Hunt, who was dying from an intractable lung infection. She would live for 25 more years, but persistent respiratory issues and the stress of the premature birth of her daughter, Shianne, would eventually be fatal.

The two girls grew closer, and it only felt natural that Beth’s older brother, Robert “Rocky” Smith Jr., caught Holder’s attention. A whirlwind relationship escalated into a pregnancy, leading the teens to wed at ages 15 and 17. Their first son Robert “Dylan” was born in 1994, with Zachary Lee following in 1996, the same year Smith and Holder would divorce. It was civil–”I can’t say anything bad about Mary Ann. I don’t know anyone who could,” said Smith.

Adversity came to visit Holder again after Beth’s death, and she opened up her home to her best friend’s kids–Shianne, Hannaleigh and the oldest, Ricky. Makayla Woods, Holder’s distant niece, also moved in with Holder to seek a “safe haven” from “marital issues” in her parents’ home.

Beneath Mary Ann Holder’s facade of normalcy rested a mass of bubbling tension, imminently threatening to spill over like a geyser. Before Holder’s divorce from “Rocky” Smith, Holder had indulged in an affair with Randal “Randy” Lamb while the two served together on the Pleasant Garden Community Center Board of Directors. Their relationship lasted nearly three years and eventually became public knowledge, but according to Holder’s mother, the two cleanly split. Holder began seeing David Stokes for most of 2011, the year of the crimes. Meanwhile, Dylan, Holder’s son, and Makayla (“Kayla”), Holder’s niece, 17 and 15, started “dating” under Holder’s roof.

Soon, the effects of the turmoil began to rear their ugly head. On Nov. 20, 2011–the day of the slaughter–Holder prepared for what was ahead, readying a Smith & Wesson .32-caliber handgun. It was a Sunday morning–the night before, she had attended a swim meet and spent $200 on groceries. Holder had even written a $10,000 check to Lamb’s wife, the reason for which would remain a mystery.

That morning, at her residence at 923 Cocoa Drive, she would shoot Dylan, Kayla, Hannaleigh and Ricky, one after another. Her next destination was the Guilford Technical Community College Aviation Center, where Lamb worked. Strategically, she planned her next moves; it was of the utmost importance for her to be there before he arrived to clock in. Lamb had not exited his car when Holder appeared. Taken by surprise, Lamb was defenseless as Holder shot at him multiple times, finally landing a bullet in his arm. She fled the scene, and Lamb called his wife, who sent an ambulance his way. Jennifer Lamb took precautions to tell the operators about Lamb’s affair with Holder.
Even with this, her mission was incomplete. Under the guise of picking up her 14-year-old son Zach from a friend’s house, she led him into her car and shot him. Her work was done, and Holder proceeded to take her own life immediately afterward. Neighbors said they saw only a “puff of smoke.” The only solid remnants of the shooting, aside from the gory sight of the victims, were two notes left by Holder taking responsibility for the crimes. In the same note, she expressed that she felt “wronged”–by the world, perhaps.

The impact of the tragedy was felt immediately throughout Pleasant Garden, and, of course, the disturbing question of “Why?” was posed–but the challenging element was that nobody seemed to have a clear answer. Investigators would work backward and untangle a web of adultery and pain.

The media revealed that Jennifer had filed an “alienation of affection” lawsuit against Holder in the months preceding the murder-suicide, one stipulation ordering Holder to pay $250,000. Jennifer also initiated a restraining order against Holder the preceding February, alleging that Holder would “call, text, and send nude photos of herself to Mr. Lamb.” Holder’s conversations with David Stokes–her boyfriend at the time–painted a portrait of a distressed woman angry at the circumstances she was facing. In another alarming twist, officers found a bag of cocaine and a substance used to dilute the drug in Holder’s car. However, they detected no intoxicants in Holder’s or any of the children’s autopsies.

Years later, the motive behind the killings is still muddled. Most in Pleasant Garden remember Holder as a “devoted mother” who would “do anything” for her kids. Regardless, there is still a lingering sense of fear around being deceived by appearances felt by many in the community.

Holder’s mother Frances vehemently defends her daughter, stating, “I don’t know what happened. I don’t have answers. I’m waiting for answers just like everyone else.”