little girl lost:
a true story of shattered innocence & murder
Little Girl Lost was the result of nothing less than a coincidental hiccup in the universe.
The year was 1983, and I was back in my home town of Auburn, California, at Sacramento’s KXTV Channel 10 as a part of my Master’s degree in Communication Studies.
That June, a murder occurred in Auburn.
But not just any murder: one that would shock the town to its core, become headline news throughout the state, and ultimately be featured in no less than People magazine.
Two teenage girls--Shirley Wolf, barely 14, and Cindy Collier, just a few weeks past 15--met for the first time that day, and less than 8 hours later, they repeatedly stabbed to death 85-year-old Anna Brackett.
The two girls were captured that night as they slept in Cindy's Auburn home, and ultimately convicted.
One of the most shocking aspects of the crime were the words that Wolf wrote in her diary after they’d committed the murder: “Today, Cindy and I ran away and killed an old lady. It was lots of fun.”
After the trial, I became convinced that there had to be something in this case that no one was seeing, something that might provide an answer for how society ends up creating kids who are capable of that kind of savagery.
During the course of my 8-year-long investigation, I found my answer, and the result was Little Girl Lost. Beneath this account of one terrible, senseless killing lies the heart of the book: a tragic study of how the oppressive forces of child abuse and family violence robbed two young girls of their childhoods, their innocence, and ultimately, their humanity.
Little Girl Lost was first published in April of 1992, nine years after Anna Brackett's murder. Six months later the book went into a second printing, and in December of 1997 it entered a third printing. More than 400,000 copies were sold worldwide.
You can read an excerpt from the book here.
where are they now?
Many have asked what's happened to the two young girls since Little Girl Lost was published.
Cindy 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 under the tutelage of attorneys from 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, Shirley Wolf was transferred to the Central California Women’s Facility near Chowchilla, in the heart of the spreading Central Valley. One of three thousand inmates at the mammoth prison, Shirley made sporadic attempts over the ensuing years to recreate herself, including finally 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. But in the summer of 1992, Shirley 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.
Less than two months after that first reunion call to her father, Louis Wolf inexplicably stopped accepting any further telephone calls from his daughter. Once again, Shirley found herself estranged and abandoned.
Finally, on June 30, 1995—12 years and 16 days after the slaying of Anna Brackett—Shirley Katherine Wolf was freed from prison. All in all, she spent nearly a third of her life locked behind prison walls.
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 says that while she wishes she could undo the damage she and Cindy perpetrated, she knows there is no going back. In looking forward, however, she says that she has chosen to live as a kind and caring person, noting that at last, "the little lost girl has found her way."
In a February, 2016 email which Shirley hoped I would post on this site, she wrote:
Once again, I must say thank you for writing that book. That day with Cindy, made me hate myself for years. I also punished myself by doing things that was destroying me. Because, I could never bring myself to forgive myself. I truly didn't believe that I deserved it. That made receiving God's love and forgiveness almost impossible.
Late last year I decided to go to counseling. I ordered a copy of your book to share with the counselor. I've always felt that if people knew the worst of me and could still like me, then maybe there's hope. I started reading the book. I also humbled myself to addressing the depression I had all these years ( and didn't know it ). I took medicine to get over that. But then, I got to the part in the book about Ms. Brackett not being dead and Cindy went to " finish her off ". Then I remembered that I used the paring knife that bent. Then I went to her purse and got the car keys. Then Cindy came out and handed me a butcher knife to put under the seat. What I didn't know was Anna was alive when I left.
Although I'm still wrong and guilty for being a part of this, thanks to your book, I was able to at least find comfort in the fact that my hands did not kill her. I still wish it never happened. But it did and I know I can't change it. Although I would die in her place if I could go back in time. I'm able to see the damage BOTH of my parents caused and I can understand why my part in the crime was possible. My commitment to myself and God has been to be the tender-hearted girl I remember. The one I thought my dad destroyed.
And finally there is peace and forgiveness. I now use my life's experience and the process of growth to help others. And I'm realistic with myself. I cannot rewrite history, but I can help others who have been through similar experiences. I'm considering going back to school to become a counselor in the specialty department of abused children and adults of abusive parents.
Thank you for the integrity you used to write with insight and sticking to the facts. It helped me very much. God Bless.
Shirley Wolf's father Louis died in 2002, and was buried with full military honors.
His obituary made no mention of having a daughter.