"I Would Have Painted the Walls With My Blood"

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The knock on the door came just before 6pm last Saturday. Tom and Jane Hollinghurst and their younger daughter Hannah, 11, were sitting beside the swimming pool behind their home.

It was the kind of balmy Florida evening that the British couple had grown used to in the six years since they emigrated from Derbyshire. The sprinkler system was spreading waves of mist over the lawn. Nothing could have prepared them for what they were about to learn.

Jane Hollinghurst answered the door. When the two uniformed officers asked her to confirm her name, she summoned her husband.

“I have to inform you of some terrible news,” said Deputy Jason Platt. “Your daughter Alexandria was involved in a shooting incident in the early hours of this morning. I’m sorry to tell you that she, Brandon Goode and a police officer were found deceased.”

Alex, as she was known, was 17 and had been counting the days to her 18th birthday and adulthood. A petite blonde with blue-green eyes and an academic record that guaranteed her a good university place, she was popular at the local high school in Davenport, near Disney World, where she had worked part-time.

The boys who tried to go out with her had soon realised that she was interested only in her boyfriend, Brandon, an intense youth with slicked-back hair who had just turned 18. To the dismay of Alex’s parents, the couple had become almost inseparable over the previous three years.

“He was a super smart kid,” said Dominic Russo, who had known Brandon since they were both 10. “He’d come in with a new dress shirt and tie on every day. I guess he wanted to be GQ. High-end clothes. Different.”

Last month, Brandon and Alex were stopped by police in his silver Isuzu Rodeo and arrested after glass pipes and cannabis were found. Brandon was held in jail overnight and Alex taken to a juvenile assessment centre. They were due to appear in court last week. After yet another ugly row with her mother — there had been so many about sex or alcohol or drugs — Alex was forced to hand her mobile phone to her parents.

Unbeknown to the Hollinghursts, it was not Brandon’s first arrest. Less than two years earlier, his mother Connie had walked into the living room to find Brandon, his head shaven, sitting on the couch. Blankets had been used to cover some of the windows.

As she approached him, Brandon turned around. His face was covered in black paint and he had an axe. Brandon jumped up and pinned her to the wall, demanding that she accept a divorce settlement from his father.

But Sheriff Grady Judd, trying to make sense of events last weekend declined to portray Brandon as anything like the character played by Woody Harrelson in the film Natural Born Killers, where a psychopathic couple embark on a spree of mayhem and murder.

“He wasn’t a thug,” the sheriff said. “I consider him a child in search of direction in life. The incident with the axe was a divorce thing. He violated the law by being in possession of marijuana but he was not, by any stretch of the imagination, the criminal type that we see so often. This just does not fit the mould.”

THE Hollinghurst family emigrated to the US when Alex was 11. Andrew Cartledge, her primary school headmaster in Hadfield, Derbyshire, remembered “a great child” with an infectious smile. 


 

THE Hollinghurst family emigrated to the US when Alex was 11. Andrew Cartledge, her primary school headmaster in Hadfield, Derbyshire, remembered “a great child” with an infectious smile.

The family lived initially in Tuscumbia, Alabama, where Tom Hollinghurst’s parents — David, a lorry driver, and Lynett — had settled in 1995. But they soon decided to move to Davenport, the scene of a “British invasion”, triggered by a strong pound and cheap housing.

A builder by trade, Tom, now 41, eight years younger than Jane, had lost his job and experienced financial difficulties in Britain. Two years ago, he was able to buy their current three-bedroom house and pool. It had sold for $260,000 at the height of the property boom in 2006 but he paid just $110,000 (£66,000).

Working as a cement lorry driver for Prestige AB Ready Mix, he lived comfortably with Jane. “It was close to perfect for them,” a workmate said. “Tom was earning enough so Jane could stay at home and look after the kids. Disney’s on the doorstep. It’s more laidback here, a way to escape the rat race. And did I mention the weather?”

Along Davenport's Highway 27, between housing developments with names such as Tuscan Ridge and Palm Key, are British pubs and shops selling delicacies from home such as piccalilli and Maltesers. “There are 64,000 Brits in central Florida and a fair few of them live around here,” said Derek Gibson, 54, originally from St Albans and proprietor of the Proper Pie Company, which specialises in British fare.

By the time Alex was 16, however, her parents feared things were taking a dark turn. Although her school work remained excellent, she lost a job in a shoe shop after being caught stealing. She ran away to be with Brandon, living at his home for periods, and was increasingly at odds with her parents.

“Her mom was kind of indifferent toward her,” said a close friend from school, recalling that her own mother would drive the two of them to after school activities because Alex's parents would not. “Her parents wanted her to work and it was hard to balance school and work.”

Tom Hollinghurst’s sister Georgia, 39, who lives in Alabama and is estranged from the family, said: “With Thomas, it’s either his way or no way. Jane’s self-consumed and always worrying about aging. It was dysfunctional. Something wasn’t right.”

Judd rejected this, saying the Hollinghursts were “really, really good parents”. But two days before Alex died, matters came to a head when her mother, searching her daughter’s room after she had run away again, discovered some alarming handwritten notes.

In one, to Brandon, Alex said she needed “a break from the bitch”, a reference to her mother. Another, addressed to “Mum”, stated: “Please understand that when people compare us, I vomit on the inside. And thank you for accusing me of being annerexic [sic] FOR YEARS. I’m so f***ing sorry for being skinny.” After describing her mother as “a waste of space, ignorant”, she concluded: “If I had stayed another minute I would have painted the walls and stained the carpets with my blood, so you could clean it up . . . I wish I were never born.”

Panicking, Jane Hollinghurst called the sheriff’s office. But while an officer was taking a statement from her, Alex returned, saying she had been sleeping in the park.

She apologised to her mother and, according to the sheriff, explained that “I was just mad, I was angry, I was lashing out” and she had not meant any of it.

The next day, Brandon’s mother called the sheriff. She had discovered notes that were even more alarming. One made clear that he intended to commit suicide and “die peacefully with the woman I love, the woman of my dreams, my fiancée (yes, we’re engaged!)”. Another, however, outlined a plan to steal a boat and live in Panama.

A third note from Brandon rejected his father’s advice that he might think he had found “the one” but there would be other women in his life: “Alex is all I think about, all I see, all I want . . . I have a ring picked out for her and nothing is going to change my mind, especially not someone who is on their 3rd wife.”

Checking on Alex, her mother discovered she had climbed out of her sister’s bedroom window and left. The sheriff put out an alert and by tracking Brandon’s phone found him outside a chemist’s shop in nearby Kissimmee. It was 10.15am on Friday.

OFFICERS found Brandon sitting in his Isuzu with Alex, who was wearing a blue scarf around her head. But he put his foot on the accelerator, nearly hitting a couple with a small child in a pushchair and driving across three lanes of traffic before speeding off. 


 

OFFICERS found Brandon sitting in his Isuzu with Alex, who was wearing a blue scarf around her head. But he put his foot on the accelerator, nearly hitting a couple with a small child in a pushchair and driving across three lanes of traffic before speeding off.

Brandon took the Sim card out of his phone so he could not be tracked and the couple abandoned the Isuzu in Kissimmee.

Twenty miles away, at 4am on Saturday, officer Robbie German, 31, spotted the pair walking along a main road in the affluent suburb of Windermere, near the homes of Tiger Woods and other sports stars. Brandon’s father, a hotel executive, also lived in the area, but was in Mexico on business.

Piecing together ballistic and fingerprint evidence, detectives believe that Brandon, armed with a vintage revolver of his grandfather’s that he had taken from his mother’s house, shot German moments after he radioed for backup.

Arriving on the scene within three minutes, officers found their colleague mortally wounded and heard two shots fired about 100 yards away. They discovered the bodies of Alex and Brandon in undergrowth. Both were dead from gunshot wounds to the head.

Hundreds attended the funeral of German, who was born in Canada. Mourners heard how he had previously been shot in the line of duty while tackling an autistic youth. Afterwards his only concern had been for the youth. “I know he didn’t mean it,” German said.

Judd, the American flag outside his window at half-mast in memory of German, said: “Alex was a beautiful and brilliant child. Her parents were doing their best, trying to control a restless teenager who wanted to be an adult. During those formative years when they’re getting this new set of hormones, it’s a wrestling match to raise kids.”

He is adamant that, unlike Brandon, Alex “didn’t leave a suicide note” and there was no indication that she intended to end her life. In a letter to Brandon, Alex outlined her plans for their life together once she was 18. “Kiss a lot,” she had written. “Cuddle . . . have a lot of woohoo . . . be good people, have morals . . . live in Europe . . . bake special foods together.” She signed another note “Mrs Goode” in large, bold letters surrounded by six hearts.

Whether there was a hastily concocted suicide pact or Brandon decided that he wanted to die and take his lover with him may never be known. The Hollinghursts, frozen by grief, have not spoken about how Alex’s life spiralled out of control.

“Three families have been left devastated by this tragedy,” they said in a statement handed to The Sunday Times by Jane Hollinghurst. “Alex’s death has caused a void in our lives that will never be filled . . . our thoughts are our own and will remain that way.” Other members of the family have lashed out at Alex. David Hollinghurst described his dead granddaughter as a "spoilt brat".

Judd shook his head as he tried to fathom what had happened. Detectives have reached the provisional conclusion that it was Brandon who killed German, then Alex and then himself, but deeper questions remained.

“We thought we were dealing with angry teen runaways,” he said. “Everyone wants answers. Unfortunately, we may never receive satisfactory ones.”

Additional reporting: Barbara Liston in Windermere 

Toby Harnden is the Washington bureau chief of The Sunday Times. You can follow him on Twitter here.

This article originally appeared in The Sunday Times. It is reprinted here with permission.

In conclusion...

This article originally appeared in The Sunday Times

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