Texas, 1991. Mum Wanda Holloway had become obsessed with her daughter making it onto her high-school cheerleading team. It was an obsession that was about to take a sinister turn…
If you made it to the team, you were somebody. And being somebody really meant a lot to Wanda Holloway.
She’d been born on the wrong side of the tracks, in the poorest neighbourhood of Channelview, Texas.
Her dad had been a tester at a local concrete plant, her mum a dinner lady at the high school.
Wanda Holloway wanted better than that. So she’d thrown herself into her business studies at college, learned to play the piano.
And she’d married well. Her first husband had given her children, her son, Shane, born in 1973, and her daughter, Shanna, who’d come along 4 years on in 1977.
Her second marriage was to a rich, older man who lived in the nice part of town.
And her third was to a man who owned a big oil-field company.
Wanda Holloway had made it. Lived in the luxury she’d always dreamed of. Jewellery, flashy clothes and an even flashier car.
But there was one dream Wanda Holloway hadn’t been able to make come true.
She’d never been a cheerleader.
When she was growing up, her parents hadn’t let her try out for the cheerleading team. They were conservative, religious, thought cheerleading would demean their daughter.
Now, though, Wanda had a daughter of her own, Shanna.
And Wanda would live her dreams through Shanna.
She couldn’t be a cheerleader. But she could be the next best thing – a cheerleader’s mum.
Wanda got Shanna started young. She bought her a cheerleading outfit when she was just 5, sent her to gymnastics and dance lessons, made her practice routines over and over, so when she was old enough, she’d be ready.
Now, that time had come. In 1989 Shanna was 11.
Two places had come up on her high-school’s seventh grade cheerleading team.
In some US schools, cheerleaders are selected by a voting system. Candidates perform a routine, their schoolmates vote for their favourites.
This was the moment Wanda had been waiting for.
So she was devastated when Shanna missed out on a place.
She hadn’t got enough votes. But one of the girls who had was Amber Heath.
Wanda felt Amber’s mum, Verna, hadn’t played fair.
Before the competition, Verna had handed out sweets to Amber’s classmates – to get more votes.
Wanda felt her daughter had been cheated.
The following year, auditions came round again. This time for the eighth-grade team.
By then, the rules had been changed. No gifts could be given out to the voters.
But that wasn’t going to stop Wanda.
She gave brightly-coloured pencils to the young voters.
When the high school found out, Shanna was disqualified from the competition.
For the second year in a row, Amber had made the team…and Shanna had not.
But come the next year’s auditions, Wanda would be ready. This time, Shanna would triumph.
Because Wanda Holloway would take out the competition. She’d have Amber and her mum Verna murdered.
But all the practicing, all the disappointment had turned Shanna against cheerleading. She even told her dad, Wanda’s divorced first husband, that she didn’t want to do it anymore.
None of that made a difference to Wanda.
She arranged a secret meeting with an old acquaintance, Terry Harper. He was her first husband’s brother.
And he had a criminal record for drink-driving a few years before.
Wanda knew he needed money. And that’s why she thought she could talk him into murder.
‘I want two people taken care of,’ Wanda told Terry during their secret meeting in a supermarket car park. Amber and Verna.
Only, Wanda had misjudged.
To her face, Terry told Wanda he’d think about it and get back to her.
But Wanda wasn’t about to give up. Soon, she called him. Said if he couldn’t do it, did he know someone who could?
Terry realized this was no joke, and he was horrified.
He went to the police.
At first, detectives could hardly believe what they were hearing – a mum wanted to murder her daughter’s way onto the cheerleading team.
The police hooked Terry up with a wire, encouraged him to chat with Wanda about her plans.
When Terry and Wanda next met, he brought up the subject of money.
It’d be $2, 500 to murder Verna. And another $5, 000 to murder Amber, because she was so young.
‘You want her dead?’ Terry asked.
‘I don’t care what you do with her,’ Wanda replied.
Trouble was, $7, 500 was too much. Wanda couldn’t afford it.
Instead, she settled on one murder. Verna. For $2, 500.
Wanda figured that with her mum dead, Amber would be too upset to compete.
As soon as she made a down-payment to Terry, the police had her.
She’d shown she was prepared to go through with murder. Just to get her daughter onto the cheerleading team.
The next day, she was arrested.
Over the next months, Wanda Holloway became a laughing stock. It was so hard to believe a mum was prepared to kill to get her daughter on the cheerleading team. To ‘do a Wanda’ – to have an over-the-top obsession with something – became a running joke at the high school, and through the whole of the US.
But this was no joke.
The judge at Wanda’s trial the following year knew that.
Wanda denied the charges, but was found guilty of solicitation to murder.
As it turned out, the judge ruled as mistrial because one of the jurors had been on probation at the time. But when the case was heard again Wanda pleaded guilty.
She was sentenced to ten years in prison.
Life in Channelview carried on much as before for most of its residents. Amber made the cheerleading team again, doing Verna proud.
But for Shanna, everything had changed. She had nothing to do with her mum’s crimes, but people looked at her differently. She stopped taking part in school activities. And she was plagued by anxiety attacks and depression. She didn’t want anything more to do with her mum.
Six months after starting her sentence, Wanda was released.
She was a changed woman, promised she’d never make the same mistake again.
Some dreams are worth fighting for. But no dream is worth fighting dirty.