"The fact that she was a Black woman, sadly, in a sea of people that weren't, might have something to do with why it wasn't more investigated."
-Teri Blanco, Tamla's sister in law
It was the 3rd of November 2018. A Saturday. Forty year old Tamla Horsford had plans that night. She was invited to a friend's house for an adult slumber party. Her friend, Jeanne Meyer, wanted to celebrate her 45th Birthday party with some friends and instead of arranging a night out, she thought it would be fun to have some friends stay over at her house in Cumming, Georgia, Atlanta, United States. That way, they could have food and drink and not have to worry about driving home.
Tamla arrived at the party later than the others. It was around 8.30pm when she got there. She was late as she wanted to make sure the casserole she was preparing for her husband Leander and their five sons was ready before she left.
Jeanne had invited a group of mothers around for her Birthday, most of the women there that night knew each other through the local youth football league. The party was supposed to be a group of nine women only, but there were a total of twelve people there that night. Three of them were men but one of the men was there just briefly to drop off his wife. The other men who were there for the entire night were Jose Barrerra, Jeanne's boyfriend and Tom Smith, the husband of a woman at the party.
The women drank, ate, sang and watched the LSU-Alabama game. The two men, Jose and Tom, watched football in the basement. Video footage and photographs from the night appeared to show that Tamla was having a great time. She was dressed in a white onesie with paw prints on it.
The next morning, the 4th of November, Jeanne's aunt, Madeline Lombardi, saw something in the back yard. Madeline was at the party but just stayed briefly before going to bed. She lived in the house and got up early the next morning. She saw something from the kitchen window. It was Tamla. She was lying face down in the backyard and she wasn't moving.
Madeline told Jeanne and Jeanne called 911. Jeanne's boyfriend Jose also spoke to the dispatcher:
“She’s lying in the yard, basically on the patio downstairs. She’s not moving one bit. She’s not breathing. I’m noticing a small cut on her right wrist. She’s not breathing whatsoever. I don’t know if this cut was self-inflicted.”
Police arrived at Jeanne's house a few minutes after the 911 call was made.
The 911 Call
When police arrived, Tamla was pronounced dead at the scene. Police believed that her death was accidental and they initially told her husband that it appeared she fell over some garden hedging and that the edging matched the marks on Tamla's shins. Madeline had fallen over it herself in the past. An Autopsy was carried out and then a second one was conducted on behalf of the Georgia Bureau of Investigations.
When the extent of Tamla's injuries became apparent, police believed that it was more likely she fell from the second floor deck as the injuries could not have come from a ground level fall. At various points throughout the night of the 3rd of November, Tamla went out on to the deck to have a cigarette.
The Autopsy revealed that Tamla had blunt force trauma to her head, neck, torso and extremities, including a broken neck and dislocated wrist, that were inconsistent with a slight fall, such as a fall over garden edging. There were abrasions on Tamla's face and four types of hemorrhages in the skull and brain, dislocation of the right wrist, and cuts on her arms and legs. Tamla suffered a laceration of the right ventricle of the heart.
Tamla Horsford with her husband Leander
The lead investigator, Mike Christian, examined the position that Tamla's body was found in in the back yard and noted:
“Most notable, when Tamla was turned over was the fact she had come to rest face down. Her head had not been canted to one side or the other.”
Tamla's legs were extended behind her with both feet pointing to the right and her right arm close to her body. Her left arm was found extended and bent at the elbow.
Neither a sexual assault kit nor fingernail clippings were collected during the Autopsy.
The Toxicology report revealed that Tamla's Blood Alcohol Content was at .238, nearly three times the legal driving limit and Xanax was found in her system. Police closed the case on the 20th of February 2019 on the basis that they believed Tamla's death was the result of an accidental death. They based that on the Blood Alcohol Content and Tamla's use of marijuana, the door alarm log and an unlit cigarette and lighter found on the upper deck. Blood Alcohol Content at that level could lead to loss of coordination and they determined that the evidence indicated that Tamla went out on to the deck for a cigarette just before 2am and fell to her death accidentally.
Tamla's family and friends were not satisfied and they did not believe that the investigation was carried out thoroughly enough to be in a position to say with certainty that Tamla's death was accidental. There were unanswered questions. It emerged that Jose, who was a pretrial services officer, had used his role to access records in relation to Tamla's case. He was placed on administrative leave in December 2018 due to his conduct and on that basis that he had:
“accessed confidential files on a current investigation surrounding a death in which you were a witness.”
He was later fired.
There were a number of troubling aspects that went unanswered when the case was closed. How did Tamla could get so disorientated that she fell off the deck if she was fine just before that? Were the marks on her arms defensive wounds?
Those close to Tamla questioned how her Blood Alcohol Content was so high. She was drinking Tequila that night but photos and videos taken throughout the night showed a happy and smiling Tamla, one who didn't appear to be drunk. That was corroborated by some of the guests at the party who didn't notice that Tamla was particularly drunk. She appeared to be very much in control of her own facilities. In fact, one woman at the party, Stacy Smith, told police that she didn't get it at all and didn't understand when police said that Tamla fell from the deck. It didn't make sense to her how it could have happened as she had been on the deck a million times.
It emerged that the women who spent the night at Jeanne's house went to bed at different times that night. Jeanne and Jose said that they went to bed at 1.30am. One woman at the party, Bridget Fuller, saw Tamla at 1.47am. Bridget didn't stay over that night. She was collected by her husband at 1.47am. Bridget told police that when she left, Tamla was eating some gumbo and told her she would have a cigarette and then go to bed.
A few minutes later, the door alarm system registered that the back door was opened. It was closed again and then opened once more at 1.57am. Jose told the dispatcher on the 911 call that security cameras were installed and pointed at the backyard but police discovered that the cameras were not recording and the batteries were dead.
As the case was seen as an accidental death from the beginning, the scene was not preserved correctly. Evidence that may have been at the scene was not tested or fingerprinted. Jose told police that he found and moved the unlit cigarette and lighter from the deck before he saw Tamla's body but they were not tested.
No explanation was provided as to why the door opened again at 1.57am and remained open for the rest of the night if Tamla fell from the deck. The position of her body was unusual, did somebody pose her body that way to make it appear that she fell?
Due to the public demand for the investigation to be reopened and the many questions that remain unanswered, an independent investigation has now been ordered to take place.
Anyone with tips should call the Georgia Bureau of Investigation at 1-800-597-TIPS (8477).
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