Most of the research I’ve done about this devious duo describes Cindy Lee Collier 15, and Shirley Katherine Wolf 14, as “baby-faced killers,” due in part to their physical appearance and their ages. Personally I see a gloomy pall in some of their humorless picture, and these were taken before the murders. What also makes this story remarkable is that the two girls would eventually be released after they brutally murdered Anna Brackett, an 85-year-old grandmother in her home in Auburn, California. Sometimes there is no justice.
June 14 1983 – Auburn – California. Collier wasn’t a nice kid. Total strangers feared her and tried to avoid her. Collier’s fierce brown eyes radiate hostility and a barely suppressed rage that exploded often enough to have earned her a reputation as “assaultive” among wary Juvenile Hall staffers who have known her since she was 12. Her arrest history included charges of burglary, theft, assault and drug use. Collier’s past had been frightful. Collier had been abused and raped before she was 10 years old. She hated people and she wanted to take her suffering out on others. As a student in Auburn’s Chana High, Collier was given a wide berth. “Cindy was one of those girls that nobody would mess with,” stated classmate David Silva, 17, who shared two classes with her. “If she didn’t like somebody, she’d yell at them and push them around.” At 5’9″ and nearing 140 pounds, Collier backed up her verbal threats with a menacing physical presence. “I remember a fight down my street last year when she ripped this girl’s blouse off,” stated Terri, 16, a former neighbor. Well known to police she committed petty crimes and finally automobile theft. Her crimes got worse and worse.
While spending time in juvenile detention Collier met Wolf. Wolf was also scarred from physical and sexual abuse. While still a little girl, her father was the nightmare of Shirley Wolf’s life. Sexually abused from infancy by her father, Louis Wolf, and occasionally by her paternal grandfather and uncle as well, Wolf’s disruptive behavior drew the attention of an alert teacher as early as kindergarten. But the teacher’s recommendation of psychiatric help was ignored and Wolf ran away for the first time when she was 6. The mean streets of Brooklyn, where she was born, seemed even more terrifying than staying at home, and she returned within the day. “It was really rough in Brooklyn,” Wolf stated. “A lot of people, even kindergartners, carry knives.”
According to court records, when Wolf was 9, her father sent her mother, Katherine, 33, on an errand one morning and locked her three younger brothers out of the house. Then he raped Wolf in the bathroom. “I was really scared,” Wolf recalled. “I was really frightened to lose my virginity, plus my honor and my pride. That’s something I don’t forgive my dad for.” The abuse continued, sometimes as often as three times a day and Wolf”s father obtained birth control pills for her when she reached puberty. Finally Wolf told her mother who admitted she’d suspected it ever since she found her husband abusing Wolf when the child was only 3.
After her father’s conviction for sexual molestation Wolf lived in a series of foster homes. She repeatedly ran away, begged to go home and began fighting in school. “You get to the point where you’re pushed in a corner and I just came back fighting,” she explains. “I want to go home. I forgive my father and I try to forget it. He’s apologized to me, my family and to God.”
Within hours of meeting Wolf and Collier planned a life together. Both girls were filled with rage. Each girl saw herself in the other. Collier told Wolf they needed to escape juvie and that they needed a car. She also told Wolf they needed someone old and infirm, who was unable to fight. Collier explained they would have to kill their victim so she or he wouldn’t report them to the police. Wolf simply agreed and followed along. Already they had decided to kill a stranger.
In a childish attempt to disguise themselves the girls dyed their hair. They were gleeful as they went on the hunt for a perfect victim. They went to Auburn Greens, Collier’s old place of residence. No one allowed the girls into their homes. After several failed attempts they found their victim in Anna Brackett. The girls asked to use the phone and Brackett agreed. The girls sat and chatted with Brackett for an hour working up the courage to murder the old woman. Brackett went to answer the phone and Collier grabbed a knife, tossing it to Wolf who stabbed Brackett several times. The knife could have hit bone. The experience would have been agonizing.
I stabbed and stabbed,” recalls Wolf. “I stabbed her in the neck because if she lived, she would know who we are and report us. The lady was freaking me out, telling me to stop, that she was dying, I said: ‘Good.’ All of a sudden, blood came out of her mouth so I knew she was dead.” All of the girls’ anger at their abusive childhoods was directed against Anna Brackett. Before leaving, Collier ransacked the condo for money and keys to the 1970 Dodge parked in the garage and then ripped the two telephones from the wall. The keys they had taken wouldn’t start the car. So they fled on foot to nearby Highway 49. In a strange twist of fate, Carl Brackett, 52, passed them en route to his mother’s home, and said to his wife: “They’re stupid. Two young girls like that hitchhiking. Or else they’re tough.” The photograph above is of two actresses portraying Collier and Wolf in a drama-documentary.
Brackett’s son found his dead mother. When he discovered his mother’s body with 28 stab wounds only minutes later, he suspected that a deranged patient from a nearby mental hospital might have done it. “There’s a scene in the movie Psycho equivalent to what happened to my mother,” he explained. “I never could have imagined that two teenage girls could have done it.” Soon police arrived on the scene and after questioning neighbours found eye and ear witnesses wet to Collier’s home. Meanwhile Collier wrote in her journal that “we killed an old lady today and it was fun.” The police separated the two girls to question them. Wolf immediately admitted to the murder.
After tape-recording Wolf’s confession, deputies confronted Collier. “She started to laugh,” said Coelho. Then she recorded her own confession. “To honestly tell you the truth, we didn’t feel any badness,” said Collier. “Then after we did it, we wanted to do another one. We just wanted to kill someone. Just for fun.” In her own confession, Wolf admitted elation: “We both felt excited. I had done something I had never done before.” She was so familiar with the arrest process that when she was charged with murder she recited the Miranda warning before the deputy could read it.
“I have tried to kill myself before and all it did was bring frustrations. So I take it out on others. I don’t like them because they probably think they’re better than I am. I don’t want them around. I want them to pay.” Collier told authorities that she so deeply resented anyone who appeared to have a normal, decent life that she would attack them. “I’ve hurt people, I’ve stabbed people, I’ve shot people,” bragged Collier, though police doubt that the latter is true. “I’ve thrown people off the Auburn Dam.”
July 1983 – a juvenile court found the two girls guilty of murder. For their part, the girls were proud of their actions. They wanted credit for it in the news and they got it – even People Magazine published an article about the gruesome murder. Under California state law, the teens received the maximum imprisonment for underage girls: incarceration until the age of 25.
Collier spent a total of nine years at the California Youth Authority facility in Ventura. After obtaining her junior college degree, she went on to study law at the institution at Pepperdine University School of Law. She was paroled on August 20, 1992. Since then, she has had no further encounters with the law. She has four children and lives in northern California.
On June 1, 1991, Wolf was transferred to the Central California Women’s Facility near Chowchilla, in the heart of the spreading Central Valley. Wolf made sporadic attempts to recreate herself, including completing her high school education and turning to God. Yet her life remained fraught with the kind of chaos, bitterness, and anger that typified her history.Through it all, she remained profoundly alone. Since 1988, despite repeated attempts to contact her family by mail, she received nothing but silence. In the summer of 1992, Wolf tracked down her parents’ last known telephone number in the Pacific Northwest town to which Louis Wolf had fled with his family seven years earlier and for the first time in four years she spoke with her father.
From their conversations over the next few weeks, she learned that her mother walked out some months before, leaving her three sons behind with Lou. When every question about her favorite brother L.J. was met with either evasiveness or silence from her father and the other two boys, Wolf suspected the worst. Subsequent research, however, turned up no record of his death, disappearance, or imprisonment. Less than two months after that first reunion call to her father, Wolf’s father inexplicably stopped accepting telephone calls from his daughter. Once again, Wolf found herself estranged and abandoned. Finally, on June 30, 1995, 12 years and 16 days after the slaying of Anna Brackett, Wolf was freed from prison.
While she was arrested several times for miscellaneous crimes since her release, for the past few years she has been making every attempt to turn her life around. She said that while she wishes she could undo the damage she and Collier perpetrated, she knows there is no going back. In looking forward, however, she stated that she has chosen to live as a kind and caring person, noting that “the little lost girl has found her way“. Now in her mid-forties, Wolf spent nearly a third of her life locked behind prison walls.
Collier and Wolf are both free to live their lives. Anna Brackett is not.