At just 18 years old with a promising future ahead of her, a Georgia teen was gunned down inside a friend’s apartment for seemingly no apparent reason. Almost six years later, her family still doesn’t know who killed the beloved teen, but they vow to never stop looking until justice is served.
Vanessa “Honey” Malone, of Stone Mountain, was a high school senior who aspired to be an actress, a YouTube star, or a “makeup artist to the stars.” Outgoing, witty, and funny, she often made people laugh on a whim and encouraged her friends to fulfill their dreams. She was petite, standing 5-feet-4-inches tall and weighing around 100 pounds. She had green eyes that family and friends referred to as “beautiful” and “mesmerizing,” but it was her bubbly personality and sweet nature that instantly drew people to her.
“She always encouraged me to keep going with my music when I wanted to give up,” Honey’s good friend, Dontarius, told CrimeOnline. “She was funny and so outgoing. She would walk up to anyone and introduce herself.”
Flora Malone, Honey’s mother, said her daughter’s faith that people are essentially trustworthy led the teen to befriend people that would end up costing her her life.
On October 23, 2012, Honey said she was tired after walking home from a nearby clothing store where she worked. After she made her way home, Flora thought her daughter would stay in for the night, but the teen received a text and immediately decided to make a five-minute trek to the apartment complex next door, where she hung out every so often with new friends.
“Before she left, she said, ‘Mom, I really love you,” Flora recalled.
Within an hour, Honey was dead.
Flora said she heard nearby gunshots and as most mothers do, began to worry for her child’s safety. Yet, she reassured herself that Honey was safe, being so close to home. Still, she couldn’t shake the feeling, so she called her oldest daughter, Cassaundra Kennedy, and expressed her concerns. Cassaundra said that at that point, her mother’s demeanor was still calm, but within a few hours, Flora called back. This time she was screaming, in full panic mode.
Officers with the Stone Mountain Police Department knocked on Flora’s door at around 11 p.m. that night and told her Honey may have been shot while at an apartment complex formerly called Hampton Village Apartments, off of Tree Mountain Parkway.
Police closed off apartment 6902, where two people, a man and woman, were allegedly tied up during what seemed to be a robbery. Detectives concluded Honey walked in during the robbery and was likely shot down when she tried to flee.
The man and woman told police they were tied up with a shoelace and extension cord after “three to six” men busted into the apartment door. The suspects then reportedly forced the pair into the bathroom. A short time later, Honey apparently walked in the door. The suspects didn’t take anything from the apartment aside from Honey’s cellphone, which was found tossed away around half a mile from the crime scene.
After shooting the teen in the back, the suspects dragged Honey into a closet where they shot her again, this time in the chest. The other victims, still tied up in the bathroom, claimed they waited until they heard the suspects leave before untying themselves and calling the police.
“Why did they have to kill her? If she ran away they could have fled as well,” CSI and Director of Atlanta’s Cold Case Investigative Research Institute (CCRI), Sheryl McCollum, said. “If Honey recognized them and they felt the need to kill her, it’s hard to believe that the killer(s) did not know the other victims too. Why was Honey’s cell phone the only one taken? She was in no position to use it.”
Cassaundra told CrimeOnline that she didn’t think her little sister, who she referred to as her “baby before my own babies,” was shot at random. She thinks Honey may have been targeted, possibly for knowing something that someone feared she would leak. Flora agreed, stating that Honey would have never walked into an apartment complex with a kicked-in door voluntarily.
Further, if a robbery took place, why didn’t the suspects take anything from the apartment?
DeKalb County investigators think Honey was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that the robbery entailed stealing drugs, something the pair in the apartment would not report as “stolen.”
The pair left tied up in the apartment aren’t considered suspects. In fact, no suspects have been named at all as authorities remain stumped after years of exhaustive investigation. At one point, they thought they had a lead when they found a gun that could have possibly been linked to the crime, but it ultimately did not match the shell casings found at the crime scene.
McCollum stated there are still options available to help find Honey’s killer(s). DNA left at the crime scene hasn’t yet produced any matches, but phenotype testing would allow authorities to develop a physical description of the suspect. A person’s phenotype, according to Science Direct, shows “how the genes are expressed to produce physical traits, propensities toward diseases, etc.,” unlike standard DNA profiles, which are meant for identification only, not for determining a person’s genetic makeup.
“If there is useable DNA phenotyping, testing should be done immediately,” McCollum explained. “If this was a home invasion, the two other victims or someone in the community or Honey’s family might recognize the subject. There is no excuse in today’s technology climate that that these tools are not done automatically.”
Meanwhile, DeKalb County authorities told CrimeOnline that Honey’s case still active and open. The family said they haven’t heard from authorities in years, and have never gotten to review the crime files or hear the 911 call. McCollum questioned what an open case meant if investigators aren’t actively working the case.
One issue plaguing DeKalb County law enforcement is the lack of a cold case unit, which could perhaps open up new avenues to explore in the case, including outside assistance.
A new proposed act, entitled the Cold Case Act of 2020, would allow experts to step in and help with fiscal resources and provide other assistance to law enforcement, in an attempt to solve cold case crimes.
Learn More: The Cold Case Accountability Act of 2020
Along with McCollum, joining the search for answers are Southern California prosecutor Wendy Patrick, Los Angeles psychoanalyst Dr. Bethany Marshall, and CrimeOnline.com investigative journalist, Leigh Egan.
Honey’s family remains desperate for answers. Flora told CrimeOnline that a $50,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the suspect(s) still stands. Anyone with any information on the case should call Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404-577-8577. You can remain anonymous.
“Crime Stories with Nancy Grace” is also a national radio show heard on SiriusXM channel 111 airing for two hours daily starting at 12 p.m. ET and around the country on local radio stations. You can also subscribe and download the daily podcasts at iTunes and Google Play.
[Feature Photo: Honey Malone/Handout]