Houston's Darkest Hours

The Mom Who'd Stop at Nothing to Get Her Daughter on the Cheerleading Team

When your daughter doesn't have a chance of making the squad, what do you do? Solicit murder, of course.

By Gwendolyn Knapp November 26, 2018 Published in the December 2018 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Verna Heath leaving the courtroom with her husband, Jack Heath, in Houston in September 1991, after jurors found Holloway guilty of solicitation of murder. Growing up in Channelview, Holloway had longed to be a cheerleader herself, and she was willing to have Heath killed to give Holloway's own daughter the chance to make the squad.

Wanda Webb Holloway had a lot in common with Verna Heath, the woman she arranged to have murdered in January 1991.

Both were middle-class Channelview housewives with big shoulder pads, bigger permed hair, and nice homes that even had the same floor plan. Holloway was 37. Heath, 38. Their 13-year-old daughters both attended Alice Johnson Junior High, trained at Alpha Gymnastics, and hoped to land a spot on the Channelview High School cheerleading squad.

But therein lay Holloway’s problem: Amber Heath was bound to make the team over her own daughter, Shanna Harper. Her macabre solution? She’d simply have Verna Heath offed before the March tryouts, so Amber would be too distraught to compete.

“I just want her gone,” Holloway told her first husband’s brother, Terry Harper, from a Grandy’s restaurant pay phone. Harper, whom Holloway had tasked with finding a hit man, wasn’t the only one listening to that call: He’d already alerted the police to her plan.

Harper told Holloway it would cost $2,500 to kill Heath, or $7,500 to kill both mother and daughter. Holloway decided she could afford only one murder, the other cheerleader mom, who she believed was the reason Shanna hadn’t made the middle-school squad.

Holloway and daughter Shanna Harper on The Phil Donahue Show. Harper later said the family would spend years pretending none of this had ever happened.

After dropping Shanna off at church on January 28, Holloway met Harper at a Pasadena motel and was caught on tape making a down payment of two 1.5-carat diamond earrings—a.k.a., soliciting capital murder. What followed was a high-profile media circus led by the British tabloids, Geraldo, and A Current Affair.

Holloway, who pleaded not guilty, was convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Just weeks after her sentencing, she appeared on The Phil Donahue Show, seeming to revel in the attention as Shanna, looking shell-shocked, sat beside her. Made-for-TV films soon followed—Willing to Kill: The Texas Cheerleader Story in 1992, and The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom in 1993.

Holloway’s first sentence was overturned after a juror was revealed to have a previous felony drug arrest. In a subsequent trial in 1996, she pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. She served just six months.

In 2012 Shanna, who never made a single cheerleading squad, told ABC that she was in therapy but still has a relationship with Holloway. And she has kids herself now. “Obviously I veer away from being a stage mom,” she said. “I think I learned that lesson.” 

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