In 2016 the National Crime Information Center reported that 5,712 American and Alaskan Native women were reported missing in that year alone. Only 116 of them were logged in the US Department of Justice's federal missing person database, NamUs. First nation communities are forced to mourn without answers while little to nothing is done about their missing or murdered loved ones. The median age of missing and murdered indigenous women is 29, 98 cases hold an unknown status, 280 were murdered women, 128 missing, 506 cases were identified in 71 selected urban cities. The third leading cause of death for Native Americans is murder and the murder rate for Native women living on reservation land is 10 times higher than the national average. As Native Americans only make up 2% of the country's population, these are distressing statistics.
One leading cause of the inaction taken on these cases is the lack of funding to tribal law enforcement, as they are federally funded. Another appalling cause is the stereotype that has been associated with Native Americans since pre-colonization. The very same men that decided to claim land that wasn't their's to claim, enslaved and raped the indigenous women, and then forced whole communities away from their homes had the audacity to call the Native people savages. Their reasoning? They thought that Natives were "dirty" for their lack of clothing, making them "polluted with sexual sin." Now I ask you, who were the real savages here? While European men weren't even allowing women to have opinions of their own, Natives honored and respected the sacredness of women. Women held positions of authority and performed large amounts of labor within their tribes.
The negative stereotype has only evolved over the centuries. Today Native Americans are seen lazy drug addicts with an affinity for alcohol. You know, because addiction totally can't effect just anyone. Thanks to these terrible stereotypes, Native women's disappearances aren't taken nearly as seriously. When their stories are reported in the media many times they're spun in such a way that makes the victim seem at fault.
Native and non-Native men and women are tirelessly working to bring awareness to the crisis of missing and murdered Native American women through the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women's Movement (MMIW). Dozens of organizations work through this movement in hopes that their hard work will enact change. The movement found its roots in Canada and started gaining traction in 2015. It's grown exponentially and is gaining momentum. To learn more about what the movement is doing and how you can help visit mmiwusa.org, nativewomenswilderness.org, or nativehope.org. You can also check out a short film made by Native Hope called Voices Unheard. It's a compelling film that gives the viewer a hard look at the realities Native families face when a loved one goes missing.
With all that said, I'd like to get into the first case I've chosen for the Stories of the MMIW series, Courtney Corrinna Holden. Nothing is known about Courtney's young life or her birth parents. She was born on February 28, 1992, and ended up in the foster care system at a young age. It wasn't long after entering the system that she landed in the care of a woman named Judy Holden. It's not known if Judy had any ties to any Native tribes. The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978, is a federal law that governs the removal and out-of-home placement of Native children and ensures that they are placed with Native families. Courtney wasn't in the home very long before Judy decided to adopt her. This should have been a fairy tale ending with a sweet, motherless child finding a home to call her own forever.
Unfortunately it ended up being a nightmare that Courtney couldn't escape from. Judy and her husband had been known for taking in foster children specifically for the checks they would receive for each child. It's thought that Judy began abusing these children once they were in her care. In 2014, she divorced her husband and then her son, Joshua Holden, moved back in. It's not known if Joshua was her biological son or if he was adopted.
While it's also unknown how toxic the home was before Joshua moved back in, it definitely became quite toxic once he arrived. He was known for being violent, controlling, explosive, and unpredictable. Joshua had a criminal record for domestic abuse, burglary, and unlawful imprisonment. You might not want to forget about that unlawful imprisonment conviction. That comes back later. He was accused of rape twice as well. Once in 2003, and again in 2005, but he was never convicted. As if his criminal record wasn't unsettling on its own, he was also diagnosed with schizophrenia. Not a bad thing at all, but considering his arrest record it's highly possible that he didn't take his medication like he should have.
Courtney's life inside of this house was heavily restricted. I know Judy would've been required to send her to school until she either graduated or reached the age to drop out with consent. After she left school though, somehow Judy and Joshua managed to hold her hostage in this house for years. Courtney did manage to have some kind of relationship with a guy that she had a baby with. After her son was born he lived in the Holden house with her and she had full custody of him.
While Courtney lived in the house the rules placed upon her made the Nazi regime seem softer than the Holdens. She wasn't allowed to have a cell phone, a car, or any social media accounts. With her not having any real ties to the outside world as far as biological family or close friends, it wasn't hard to isolate her completely without anyone asking questions. She may have had some contact with a biological brother at one point, but this really isn't clear. Aside from all the things she wasn't allowed, Courtney was also restricted from going outside during the day. When she was allowed out, she wasn't allowed to leave the yard. Neighbors reported that the only times they ever noticed her outside she was doing yard work.
It didn't stop there. After moving back in, Joshua had the outside of the house outfitted in security cameras. This wasn't exactly necessary, as the Holdens didn't live in the nicest house in town. The small white house is rather shabby, with its cluttered front porch and small front yard. This gives you an idea of how much Courtney was allowed to move about when she was outside. There wasn't much room at all. There was nothing of value in the yard or the driveway, so there was really no reason for the cameras. As you will find later, if the house held anything of value inside, no one would've wanted to sift through the junk to find it.
As if her living situation wasn't bazaar enough, her own son wasn't even allowed to call her mom. He called Courtney by her name and referred to Judy as mommy and Joshua as daddy. This is even reported by neighbors later. It's not known if this poor child even realized that Courtney was his mother. He may have been brainwashed into thinking that Judy was his mother. As strange as that sounds, Judy also renamed the boy Forrest, even though that was not his legal name.
Courtney also had a nickname that really should've raised more eyebrows with the neighbors that heard it. The Holdens were known to refer to her as Cindy, short for Cinderella. This was because Courtney was forced to do all of the household chores on top of all of the yard work as well. She was made to wait on her adoptive family like she was their servant. If these people were holding her here well into her twenties treating her like a slave, you know this kind of abuse had to have started many years before in her childhood.
Though Courtney was cut off from the outside world, we know she had some contact here and there, but very sparsely. She had, after all, had a child with a man she'd met outside of the home. There was also a few friends, if that's how you want to term them. Courtney had very little contact with these friends, with no word from her for months not raising any questions at all. One young woman, named Courtney Clay, is known to have gone to the Holden house to check in on her from time to time. She apparently never noticed too much out of the ordinary until later, when she vanished. Courtney Clay would come forward and do an interview with KXLY Spokane News Station after her disappearance. She told of how she used to visit Courtney Holden, and continued to try after she vanished.
The last time that Courtney Holden was seen she was storming out of the house on east Heroy Avenue sometime in July 2018. She was 26-years-old at the time. The street is located in northeast Spokane, near Rodgers High School. She was clearly angry and upset as she strode away with a packed black duffel bag in her hand. She exclaimed as she walked away from Judy, who was chasing her down, screaming, "I'm not staying here anymore." The entire incident was ended by Joshua exiting the house, grabbing Courtney up, and forcibly carrying her back into the house. Neighbors witnessed this happening and no one called the police. Thanks to their inaction, Courtney hasn't been seen since and no one knows what happened to her to that day.
Courtney's situation was sadly the perfect storm for a disappearance. She didn't have any solid ties to the outside world or a cell phone or a social media account to be reached on. When she wasn't seen after this fateful day outside the Holden home there was no one to ask questions for a while. In the days following the incident neighbors noticed Joshua setting up spotlights in the backyard. Over the next two nights following Courtney's disappearance he set up a swing set in the backyard by the light of the spotlights he'd put up.
It took a year and a half for Courtney to finally be reported missing. The father of her son had been struggling through some substance abuse issues and an emergency with another of his children. He had finally gotten to a point in his life where he could have some supervised contact with his child before Courtney had vanished. He would come to visit the boy with his girlfriend, Autumn Schatz. For a year and a half, Autumn had been going with her boyfriend to visit this child and began to notice something wasn't right. They hadn't seen Courtney in a really long time. It was Autumn that finally raised the alarm bells and called police to request a welfare check for Courtney on October 8, 2019. She just knew that something was off about these people.
Police arrived at the house on east Heroy Avenue that same day. They did not find Judy or Joshua to be very cooperative at all. They refused to allow the officers into the house to look around. When asked about their adoptive family member they simply said that she took off on foot a few days before and had taken her son with her. With that, they retreated back into the house, leaving the officers feeling more than just a little suspicious. They filed a missing persons report for her that very same day.
As the missing persons report was being handed off to the department's Major Crimes Unit, Judy and Joshua were also busy. They went to the bank and withdrew $600 from Courtney's checking account. Later on that day, the department's Crime Line received a strange phone call. It was a woman claiming to be Courtney to say that she was alive and well. This woman turned out to be one of Courtney's adoptive sisters. It's not known why she made this call. I'm willing to bet someone urged her to.
On October 10, 2019, police came back to the Holden house to check again. This time Judy let them inside, but very reluctantly. The officers entered into a house filled to bursting with clutter. Every surface was covered with clutter in every room and on every table or counter. I imagine that the officers felt as though they had walked into the middle of a taping of Hoarders. As they moved through the house, trying to find something significant in the immense mess that lay ahead, Judy was noticeably nervous. She even began to panic once when she lost sight of an officer for a second.
When they walked into Courtney's bedroom they witnessed the eeriest scene of all. Her room was just as cluttered and piled up as the rest of the house, but there was something else. Her bed had been stripped of its sheets and blankets and just a bare mattress lay on the bed frame. As though this wasn't strange and creepy enough on its own, the police were forbidden from looking inside of Courtney's son's bedroom altogether. The officers were quickly asked to leave after entering, but they'd seen enough. They returned again to speak with Joshua, but he claimed to be unable to speak with them because he was tending to a sick cat. Those present that day said it seemed as though he didn't want them entering the house.
On October 24, police finally got a warrant to search the Holden residence. When they arrived that day to execute the warrant, they found that Judy and Joshua had moved away. The two made sure to take their six pets and the DVR from their surveillance cameras with them. What they left behind was 82 pieces of evidence. These items included: Courtney's ID cards, numerous computers, 18 cellphones, handwritten blackmail notes, and Courtney's journal. While it's unknown what information her journal contains, it's very likely that she documented her abuse in it. Cadaver dogs were later brought to the house, but turned up nothing.
Judy and Joshua Holden had vanished as quickly and mysteriously as Courtney had. High suspicions rose even higher after investigators began speaking with neighbors. They made mentions of Joshua's flaring temper and need for control over Courtney. As it turns out, Courtney had more contact with the outside world than her captors may have realized. She was speaking with neighbors about Joshua's imposing rules, and how she was fearful of him and his explosive temper. They had also seen her with bruises on numerous occasions. There were some neighbors that visited the family over the years that were able to confirm things like Courtney's sick nickname and the renaming of her son.
Courtney had disclosed to neighbors numerous times that she felt unsafe in her home, and yet nothing was done. This could easily be blamed on the bystanders effect, or people just not wanting to pry in the business of others. Whatever it is, we can all agree that someone should've said something long before. Investigators had a grim picture painted for them very quickly depicting Courtney's life in the Holden house. A life of abuse, fear, and despair.
Security footage would be recovered from a grocery store, but it's not clear when or where. The footage clearly pictures Judy, Joshua, and a small child buying groceries together. They used Courtney's EBT card to make the transaction. An EBT card, kind of like a debit card, contains a recipient's food stamps issued by the state's government every month. So, clearly after Courtney was no longer in school she was made to apply for benefits instead of being allowed to leave the house for work.
Cellphone numbers associated with Judy and Joshua were deactivated in mid-November, with two new numbers being activated with Texas area codes the same day. A month after the Holdens had split, a neighbor called police to report they'd seen activity around the house. Officers went to investigate and found Judy's husband and her daughter. The two had flown all the way out from Texas just to check up on the house for Judy. When they were asked about Courtney they both said that they hadn't seen her in two years. They also said that Judy was on a retirement road trip. The conflicting stories came in when the two were asked about Courtney's son. While Judy's daughter said that he was with Courtney, her husband said that he was with Judy and Joshua.
This lit a fire under investigators to find these people, and fast. On December 19, they were located in Plano, Texas, staying with a relative. Courtney's son was immediately taken from them before they were placed under arrest for identity theft and custodial interference. The child was placed into the care of Child Protective Services until he could be reunited with his father.
Judy and Joshua Holden were booked into Collins County Jail. Joshua would later be moved to Oklahoma, while his mother was transported to Nevada. Speaking on behalf of taxpayers all over America, we don't mind footing the bill to keep those two away from each other. The property they had stayed at in Plano was searched, but nothing regarding Courtney's whereabouts was found. Other properties associated with the Holdens were also tossed, but to no avail. A vehicle and travel trailer belonging to the pair was found in an Oklahoma RV park, where they checked in under false names. There is no mention of whether or not anything was found. Authorities did not press charges on family members found to be impersonating Courtney or speaking with Joshua from jail about hiding some of his personal belongings.
In March 2020, a Spokane defense attorney decided to take on the Holdens case. He requested that they be released to willingly make their way back to Washington in order to reveal what happened to Courtney. As the Holdens had both been fighting for their extradition, this guy was probably looking like a knight on a white horse to them. The lawyer wouldn't provide any information about Courtney, but said that he intended to find her as part of Judy and Joshua's defense. He argued that the judge release Judy in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and remove Joshua's felony warrant to ensure he wouldn't be re-arrested. The judge refused to drop Joshua's warrant, but agreed to release Judy if the Spokane Police could confirm that Courtney's son was safe. That same month, in March, Joshua was released from federal custody in Oklahoma due to concerns with his health. He was returned to jail in Texas.
For months, police searched for evidence and interviewed neighbors to find out what happened after that door closed on Courtney in July 2018. They have found no evidence strong enough to bring charges against the Holdens. Investigators on the case have publicly stated that they believe her to be deceased. Her friends also believe this to be true. Judy and Joshua Holden remain the top, and only suspects in this case.
There is only one theory as to what happened in this case. It's that Judy and Joshua are solely responsible for Courtney's disappearance, which was very likely the result of a homicide. Josh's abuse and controlling nature towards her suggest that he could very likely be capable of murder. What's more, he was once convicted of unlawful imprisonment, making him very capable of holding her prisoner in the home. He was also said to have stated that he could successfully kill a person and hide the body from police. The fact that he and his mother fled after police started poking around doesn't help their case any.
Courtney Corrinna Holden was last seen in Spokane Washington in July 2018. She was 26-years-old at the time of her disappearance and stood between 5'5" and 5'7" tall. She weighed approximately 150-170 pounds and was of Native American heritage, with black hair and brown eyes. She is currently classified as endangered missing. Those with information are urged to contact the Spokane Police Department at 509-755-2489 or Crime Check at 509-456-2233.