In February 2019, the Forsyth County Sheriff's office in Georgia announced they had decided to close their investigation into the death of 40-year-old Tamla Horsford, whose body was found after she attended a house party with friends in November 2018. In a press release published on 20 February, a spokesperson for the Sheriff's office wrote:
On February 6th, 2019, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office received the final Medical Examiner’s report regarding Mrs. Horsford. The State of Georgia Medical Examiner has ruled the death accidental and consistent with a fall. Detectives have spent the following weeks reviewing the medical findings with those found at the scene by the Major Crimes Unit and the Crime Scene Investigation Unit. No evidence or injury patterns indicative of an assault or foul play were noted by Forsyth County Sheriff’s Detectives or in the Forsyth County Coroner’s Office or GBI [Georgia Bureau of Investigation] Medical Examiner’s reports.
During the course of this investigation, Detectives have conducted approximately 30 interviews, and spent well over 300-man hours conducting this investigation. With a finding of an accidental death resulting from a fall as recorded by the GBI Medical Examiner’s Office, along with the extensive findings from the investigation of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s office has closed this death investigation.
That development did little to assuage the concerns and skepticism of some of Horsford's friends and family members, as well as some online observers, who saw a murder and cover-up at play rather than a tragic accident.
In an interview with WSB-TV, Horsford's friend Michelle Graves said she believed the 40-year-old mother of five children was the victim of a homicide and not an accident:
On 11 February, Facebook user Sheila Bray posted the following widely-shared account along with a photograph of Horsford:
Black woman murdered At football moms sleep over. This is 40 year old Tammy, mother of 5 boys and a daughter. She was murdered on November 4th 2018 , while attending a sleep over with 7 white woman. What was suppose [sic] to be an all woman’s slumber party, ended in a mysterious night of questions. Tammy was found brutally beaten facedown in the yard later that morning. Her body was discovered by the homeowner's aunt at 7:30 a.m.. 911 was called around 930 a.m..at the same house these women shared laughs and drinks earlier that evening.
Now here’s the strange part three men also attended this sleep over, so out of the 10 people present nobody knows what happened to Tammy??? So you mean to tell me Tammy was murdered at this sleep over, and nobody heard or seen anything. Yes correct nobody knows what happened. To top it off there was no thorough murder investigation, and procedure was not followed ie. THE NEWS WAS NEVER INVOLVED.
Tammy’s family hasn’t received autopsy reports stating the cause of death. So this black lady gets murdered, and everyone walks out that house FREE... back to their football Mom duties.These families involved have political ties and lots of money. They’re covering up her murder. In fact they believe noone cares enough about this BLACK LADY. Since they have already been successful in delaying documents on her case and keeping things under wraps.Sound like white privilege to me, what y’all think?? Please share this story Justice for Tam!!
On 20 February, Horsford's father Kurtland St Jour told Atlanta radio host Ryan Cameron that he rejected the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office decision to close their investigation, saying "her injuries are not consistent with what they are saying" and claiming that an independent pathologist hired by the family "suspects that some of her injuries were post-mortem." His own belief, St Jour told Cameron, was that his daughter was assaulted inside the house in question and was then moved outside to stage the aftermath of a fall.
We made repeated attempts to contact friends and members of Horsford's family who have spoken publicly about the case, as well as the family's attorney, with a particular view to seeing the results of any independent autopsy they may have commissioned. Unfortunately, we did not receive a response of any kind from any of them.
Snopes.com has obtained the entire case file relating to the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office investigation into Tamla Horsford's death, including the statements of all ten attendees at the party, transcripts of interviews with the attendees, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's autopsy report, police incident reports, cell phone video footage of the night in question, and photographs of the scene.
Taken as a whole, that evidence appears to add up to a desperate tragedy: A pajama party among "football moms" to mark a 45th birthday, characterized by laughter, drinking, games, old friendships and new acquaintanceships, all of which culminated in a horrifying morning-after discovery.
We obtained this evidence through the Georgia Open Records Act. The documents are public records, but we have decided to redact the last names of attendees at the party because attorneys for the woman who resides at the home where Horsford died have claimed that their client has received multiple death threats online.
3 November 2018
On the evening of 3 November 2018, a group of women gathered at the home of Jeanne in Cumming, Georgia, to celebrate her 45th birthday. The plan, Jeanne would later tell police, was to watch the LSU Tigers play the Alabama Crimson Tide and have a "pajama party/swimming party" with drinks and appetizers.
Jeanne's boyfriend Jose hung out in the basement watching the football game with Tom, the husband of Stacey, another partygoer. At half time, Jeanne said, the two men came upstairs and mingled.
The guests began to trickle in at 7 PM, and at around 8.30 PM, Tamla Horsford arrived. Interviews with police indicated that many of the party-goers had never met Tamla before, but Jeanne knew her because their sons played football together. Tamla brought a bottle of Corralejo tequila reposado as a present for Jeanne's birthday but ended up drinking from it herself because Jeanne told her she wasn't a tequila drinker.
According to interviews and statements given by the party-goers, the night seemed to have been a success. The women drank, ate a pot of gumbo and snacks, and had a good time overall. Cellphone videos included in the case file showed Tamla and the other guests sitting on couches playing "Cards Against Humanity" and laughing a lot. Photographs from the party captured Tamla, dressed in a white pajama "onesie" with grey paw prints, smiling heartily at the center of the group of women
Tamla was especially social, and several of the other partygoers noted how talkative and friendly she was. Paula, who arrived after everyone else, later told police that"Tam was in a great mood. She was dancing and she was talking to everybody, she engaged with everybody, she's got that personality." Tamla talked about her family often and with great pride. At one point in the night, she Facetimed her stepdaughter, who was expecting a child, and expressed considerable excitement about the arrival of the new baby.
Throughout the night, the partygoers told police, Tamla went out on to Jeanne's first-floor deck to smoke cigarettes and marijuana. Many of the women consumed quite a bit of alcohol that night, and Tamla was one of them.
As the evening wound down, some of the women headed home or were picked up by rides, while others went to bed in various rooms of Jeanne's house. Tamla had planned to stay overnight and sleep in Jeanne's son's room, but she was keen to hang out and socialize even more. Shortly before 2 AM, one of the party-goers, named Bridget, was picked up by her husband. Bridget told police that Tamla saw her off and was left eating a bowl of gumbo as the last one awake in the house.
Jeanne's home security system was hooked up to send notifications to her cellphone very time a door opened or closed in the house. The list of notifications, provided to police and included in the case file, tells its own tragic story:
4 November 2018
Jeanne's aunt Madeline lived at that house and attended Jeanne's birthday party, but she retired early. At around halftime in the LSU game, she went downstairs to her basement bedroom, took a bath, and went to bed. The next morning, she got up at around 8.45 AM and went to make coffee when she saw a disturbing sight from the basement window, as she told police: "I was just staring out the window and I saw those dalmatian pajamas ... So I didn't start the coffee. I got on my knees and said a prayer and then I ran upstairs."
Madeline woke up Jeanne and Jose, who came outside and found Tamla lying face down in the back yard. At 8:59 AM, Jeanne called 911 and asked for an ambulance. Here's an excerpt from a transcript of that call, which can be heard in full below:
Jeanne: We had people over last night, we were drinking, most of us went to bed, one of them stayed on the balcony. She was drinking. And we just went outside and she's laying face down in the back yard. It looks like maybe -- I'm guessing she fell off the balcony? But she's stiff.
Dispatcher: "OK, is she breathing?"
Jeanne: "I don't know but she's face down ..."
At this point, Jeanne became distressed and passed the phone to her boyfriend Jose.
Jose: "She is not moving one bit, she is not breathing ... She's completely face down in the yard. She is stiff."
The Forsyth County Sheriff's Office and Coroner's Office were dispatched to the scene, and Tamla was formally pronounced dead at 10:47 AM. In a supplemental incident report, the lead investigator on the case, Detective Michael Christian, described the scene as he discovered it:
Tamla was located in the back yard in a prone position. She was laying with her head away from the residence and her feet toward the residence. Her left arm was at an approximately 40 degree angle from her body and the forearm and hand were bent further toward her head in the approximately 10 o`clock position.
Her right arm was straight and by her side with the hand approximately six inches from the leg. Her legs were straight behind her with both feet pointing to the right. Tamla was clad in a one piece pajama outfit consisting of a white fleece hooded outfit with dog paw prints on it and a set of ears affixed to the hood ...
Tamla's body was sketched and measured. Additionally the height of the main level porch was noted as well as the height of the rail ... With the permission of Deputy Coroner Bowen, Tamla was turned over. 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 right wrist was fractured or dislocated. There was a large bump where her wrist met her hand as well as a cut over the bump as if the bone had cut the skin from the inside. There were matching defects on both of Tamla's shins. These corresponded with a piece of metal landscape edging which stood up approximately one inch from the surrounding ground. Other than the broken wrist and cuts on her shins, no obvious signs of injury presented themselves.
Two days later, on 6 November, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Associate Medical Examiner, Andrew Koopmeiners, performed an autopsy on Tamla Horsford. The autopsy report can be read in full here, although it contains details of fatal injuries that might be upsetting to some readers. Dr. Koopmeiners' summary was as follows:
The decedent is a 40 year old woman. Per report, she was last known to be alive shortly after midnight on November 4, 2018. At that time she was drinking heavily at a party in a residence. The next morning she was discovered unresponsive in the back yard under a deck that is approximately 10-15 feet from the ground. It appeared as though she may have fallen from the deck. She was pronounced dead without attempted resuscitation.
Autopsy revealed severe injuries of the head, neck and torso, including subarachnoid hemorrhage [bleeding in the space between the brain and skull], subdural hemorrhage [bleeding between the brain and the membrane that surrounds the brain], fracture of the 2nd cervical vertebra [a broken neck vertebra], and a laceration of the heart.
Other injuries included abrasions of the face, left arm, left hand and left leg, lacerations of the right wrist and right leg, and a dislocation of the right wrist ... The observed injuries are consistent with those received in a fall. In light of the autopsy findings and investigative information, the cause of death is Multiple Blunt Force Injuries and the manner of death is Accident.
Forensic toxicologists from the Bureau of Investigation also tested samples of Horsford's blood, urine and eye fluid for various drugs and alcohol. She tested positive for THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component in cannabis), alprazolam (Xanax) and alcohol, at a concentration of 0.238 grams per 100 ml -- almost three times the state of Georgia's drink-driving limit of 0.08 grams per 100 ml.
That autopsy report was finalized on 5 February 2019, and two weeks later Forsyth County Sheriff's Office officially closed their investigation into Tamla Horsford's death. Writing in a memo, the supervising investigator Cpl. Tyler Sexton outlined the status of the investigation:
"The injuries sustained to Mrs. Horsford were deemed to be consistent with those received in a fall. No evidence or injury patterns indicative of any assault or foul play were noted by Sheriff's Detectives or in the Coroner's or State of Georgia Medical Examiner's reports ... Exhaustive interviews with multiple witnesses, family and neighborhood canvasses were conducted by Sheriff's Detectives throughout this investigation ... At conclusion, no evidence of criminal activity has been discovered in this investigation."
Nothing in the hundreds of pages of interview transcripts we reviewed suggests anyone at the house that night had any grievance with Horsford, nor did any discernible disagreements or disputes take place at the party. On the contrary, many of the partygoers were struck with her personality, which appeared to have been extraordinary, describing her as "sweet and fun," "super friendly," "warm" and so on. Speaking to police later, Horsford's husband gave this poignant description of her: "She had the biggest heart on this planet ... There's people all over the world right now that are mourning for this young lady."
However, the internet has been rife with alternative theories and allegations since November 2018. Despite the lack of any evidence or even a coherent motive for such, Tamla Horsford's death has been described as a "murder" by social media influencers and in viral posts like the ones we highlighted above.
The Forsyth County Sheriff's Office has been accused of coordinating a cover-up, and the simple fact that Horsford was the only African American woman at the party has been used by some to claim a racially-motivated attack on her took place, although any actual evidence of either an attack or racial animosity is lacking.
Some observers have said it is suspicious that Horsford's body was discovered at 7:30 AM, but police were not called until 9 AM. However, that premise is incorrect, and Cpl. Sexton even made a point of emphasizing that in a 19 February memo, writing that "Detectives have confirmed that the initial 911 call for assistance [at 8:59 AM] was made within minutes of the initial discovery of the deceased."
The role of Jeanne's boyfriend Jose has also come under scrutiny. Until December 2018, he was a probation officer for Forsyth County, and he used his position to access confidential files relating to the investigation into Horsford's death. This fact was cited by some of Horsford's friends and family as suspicious or suggestive of a cover-up.
Jose's actions may have been distasteful or inappropriate (and he lost his job over them), but they could easily be attributable to no more than morbid curiosity about an investigation into the death of a woman who died in his girlfriend's backyard rather than an elaborate criminal conspiracy to cover up a murder.
Some of Horsford's friends and family have claimed that the injuries she suffered were not consistent with a fall. This claim is directly and comprehensively contradicted by the results of the state of Georgia Medical Examiner's autopsy. Horsford's father Kurtland St Jour, and her friend Michelle Graves, have both alluded to an independent autopsy commissioned by the family, but no report of that autopsy been published as of 27 February 2019.
We contacted an attorney for Tamla Horsford's family, as well as friends and family members who have previously spoken publicly about the case, requesting a copy of any independent autopsy report or evidence that might substantively contradict the findings of the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office, but we did not receive any response.
The totality of the available evidence points to a scenario in which Tamla Horsford stepped out on to the back deck at 1:57 AM on 4 November 2018 to smoke a cigarette or get some fresh air, tripped and fell 10 to 15 feet from the deck to the ground, and suffered what proved to be fatal injuries to her head and neck. A cruel, senseless, and tragic accident.
In a letter dated June 12, 2020, acknowledging public requests to reexamine the case in the light of any new evidence that may be available, Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation "assume and open an investigation into the tragic death of Tamla Horsford":