On June 12, it will be 22 years since Christina Williams put a leash on her dog, told her mother she was going to take her pet for a walk around the neighborhood and seemingly vanished off the face of the earth. Seven months later, a land surveyor working on a project deep in a wooded area on Fort Ord found the 13-year-old girl’s remains, partially hidden under branches placed to keep her body out of view.
Seven months of not knowing where your youngest child is, where your little sister is, an agonizing wait for her parents and older brother, and a time of fear for families in Marina. My co-worker Marielle Argueza grew up near where the Williams family lived and was only 6 when Christina disappeared, but she remembers it clearly as the end of childhood. Mothers no longer let their children run around outside and play.
And it’s been an almost 22-year wait for the man suspected of kidnapping, sexually assaulting her, killing her and dumping her body goes to trial.
That trial finally started March 2 in Monterey County Superior Court for Charles Holifield, a twice-convicted rapist who inexplicably was released from prison where he was serving a sentence for ambushing and raping a 14-year-old girl in Pacific Grove.
In court, Christina’s parents, Elice and Michael, testified about their daughter’s last day on earth and the fear and sorrow of not knowing what happened, and two previous victims testified about what they endured and how they survived their encounters with Holifield.
In 1979, a Seaside High School senior left her house in Marina to walk to Seaside. She walked down Reindollar, crossed Del Monte and headed to the Rec Trail. She hadn’t gone very far when Holifield grabbed her from behind, dragged her into the bushes, threw her on the ground and began strangling her.
She managed to tell him she couldn’t breath – she had a mouthful of dirt from having her head forced down – and he told her she had 60 seconds to spit it out before he continued strangling her.
She asked if he had a weapon, and when he said he had a knife, she asked him to throw it to the side. She wept as told her story – it was 40 years ago, but it may as well have been 40 minutes ago, so vivid were her memories.
“I was afraid he was going to kill me,” she said in court. After raping her, he told her to walk with him for a bit and engaged her in conversation – “He asked me if I liked the Beatles [and said] I should because they’re really good” – then told her to lie down and wait for him to yell out that she could get up and leave.
When he did, she fled and called the police.
In April 1983, a Monterey High freshman went for a walk to the Pacific Grove coast. As the sky darkened and she set out for home, she was jumped from behind and dragged from the road into a brushy area. There, Holifield raped her. After doing so, he used her shoelaces and tied her hands and neck, dragged her to his car and drove her to a remote area behind Seaside High, where he raped her again.
Her memories weren’t as vivid because “I was trying to think of other things to not be present,” but she remembers clearly asking Holifield to pray.
“I had been sharing about my faith in God and I had asked him if he would be willing to pray the sinner’s prayer and have Jesus in his heart,” she testified. “After he prayed the prayer he seemed happy and unsure what to do with himself.”
Those previous two convictions made Holifield a potential “Three Strikes” felon, meaning a third conviction would land him in prison for life. Holifield was identified as a suspect when a park ranger called a tip line and reported encountering him twice on Fort Ord, noting he was a twice-convicted sex offender.
But it wasn’t until 2016 that the FBI, the lead agency on the case, held a cold case meeting and decided to retest Williams’ clothing. A DNA sample on her underpants tested positive for sperm; a DNA profile was extracted from the sample, compared to a swab taken from Holifield and it matched.
If Holifield, 59, is convicted, he will spend the rest of his life in prison, too late for Christina Williams and the grieving family left behind.