Mary Collins’ murder during the early days of COVID-19 lockdowns didn’t receive the attention it would have gotten in normal times. Collins’ case should have made national headlines given the savagery and brutality shown by her killers – they stabbed her 133 times – and the clinical manner they hid and disguised her body.

As more details of the killing emerge, it appears Mary underwent unimaginable torture before she passed. Collins’ grandmother, Mia Alderman, talked about a new revelation publicized during a trial for one of the suspects:

“They said Mary had a leash around her neck in the bathtub, bloodied, stabbed, dog leash around her neck. There was an audible gasp in the courtroom, and we started crying.”

Mary Collins left her grandmother’s home in late March 2020 to visit friends who bullied her

On 28th March 2020, Mary Collins took an Uber headed to the NoDa apartment complex to visit Kelly Lavery and Lavi Pham. Lavi and Collins were high school friends who’d dated briefly. Kelly was in a relationship with Pham and living with him at the Yards. 

Collins’ family said Kelly manipulated Collins and was cruel towards her. Kara Williams, Mary’s aunt, said Kelly bullied Mary for months on social media by posting mean comments. “Like, ‘Eww, nobody would want you,’ ‘If I were you, I would want to disappear as soon as possible,’” Williams said. 

Mary tolerated Kelly to avoid feeling lonely. Collins’ family disapproved of Mary’s friendship with Kelly, but they never thought the cruelty would lead to physical harm. Kelly sent the Uber that ferried Collins from her home to the apartment complex. 

Collins suffered from a disability – 22q11 Deletion Syndrome – that, among other things, hampered her ability to get around. “Mary could take care of herself to an extent but there was no way in hell she could navigate anything or go out into the world and know where she was going,” Collins’ aunt, Alex Gallo, told the Queen City Nerve

Alderman, Mary’s grandmother and guardian, tried to prevent the Uber from taking Mary, but the driver said that Mary was a grown woman capable of making independent decisions. However, according to Gallo, the 20-year-old Mary had the maturity of a teenager at best – Mary’ disability had slowed her development. 

“Mary would try to say things and get them backwards but we understood each other,” Alderman said. “It was like I always knew what she meant.”

Mary was sweet, kind, and lovable, which endeared her to everyone she met. On the flip side, she was naive, prompting her family to take steps to enhance her safety. For instance, the family shared a phone plan, allowing them to track Mary’s location. 

Mary Collins’ grandmother reported her missing after failing to hear from Mary for several days

Mia Alderman’s concern for Mary grew after she failed to respond to texts and calls. Alderman knew she’d arrived at Pham and Lavery’s apartment: Pham had posted a video of Collins happily walking down a hallway to pick up a sushi delivery. “They’d posted the video to make us think everything was fine with Mary. It worked,” Alderman said. 

Alderman knocked on Pham and Lavery’s apartment door, screaming Mary’s name. The couple answered, telling Alderman that Mary had left. Alderman knew that Collins couldn’t risk leaving the apartment without her phone. Therefore, Mia called the police, who told her to file a missing person report. 

“She wasn’t missing,” Mia said. “I knew where she was and who had her. The officer who responded to my call goes to the apartment and knocks on the door. There was no response and so she left.”

The inaction by the police prompted Alderman to monitor everything coming in and out of the Yards apartment. Pham and Lavery allowed Mia and Collins’ mother, Kasei Delpezzo, into the residence, but the couple prevented them from thoroughly searching the back bedroom. 

Despite a detective telling the family to stop harassing Pham and Lavery, Mary’s family didn’t let up. Less than 10% of missing person cases involve foul play, perhaps explaining why the overworked Missing Person Unit failed to prioritize Collins’ disappearance. The detectives of the Missing Person Unit have the discretion to determine the legitimacy of each case. 

Authorities found Mary’s body after searching the apartment a second time

WCNC reports that Pham, Lavery, and their friend Jimmy Salerno attacked Mary. Jimmy reportedly told a friend of the brutal attack, the body’s concealment in a mattress, and the plans to incinerate the mattress. That friend informed the police. 

Authorities responded by searching the apartment. They reportedly lifted the mattress but didn’t find Mary’ concealed body. Two days later, a second witness emerged, claiming Mary’s body was still in the apartment. The police returned to the residence armed with a search warrant; this time, they found Mary’s body. Detective Bryan Crum of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said:

“The way everything played out, it wasn’t obvious. Even my folks, when they went back with the search warrant, they were shocked at how well she was concealed. We, ultimately, had to open up the mattress in order to find her. She was fully concealed inside the mattress.”

WCNC reports that the killers used dish detergent and shower gel to mask the smell of Mary’ body. They wrapped her body in Saran Wrap and duct tape before hiding her in the mattress. After the discovery of Mary’s body, her sister, Rylee Bardon, said:

“Mary didn’t get cut any deals yet somehow she maintained this light that was untouchable. She was goofy. She was sweet. She was giving. She was elegant. Graceful in everything she did and you couldn’t help but notice. The world doesn’t have enough women like her in it.”

“The world didn’t deserve to lose her before she had the chance to explore it. We have lost one of our best angels. She deserved better because she was better. I love you forever baby sister. I will never stop sending you love.”

Kelly Lavery will spend at least 25 years in prison after signing a plea agreement

Authorities arrested Pham, Salerno, and Kelly on charges of murder, kidnapping, and failing to report a death. America Diehl, an 18-year-old girl who helped clean up after Mary’s murder, was charged with concealing a death and felony accessory after the fact. 

Kelly Lavery, James Salerno and Lavi Pham

Diehl, Pham, and Salerno pleaded not guilty, and their cases are ongoing. Lavery pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 to 32 years in prison. 

Kasei Delpezzo, Mary’s mom, said she met with prosecutors a day before the deal was made. “At first, we as a family were totally against it,” Kasei told WCNC. “We wanted and still want life in prison is what we would have wanted.”

Delpezzo agreed to the deal after the DA explained that if the case went to trial, Kelly might get less time or avoid conviction. Kasei said:

“It’s really hard to know that I didn’t have a say in getting justice for my own child who was brutally tortured and murdered, and she was the sweetest person. It’s just so vicious to me, and I don’t even get a say. It’s a very powerless feeling.”

“She deserves to be in prison for life,” Alderman said. Mia said the family was shocked to learn that prosecutors wouldn’t push for the death penalty. The family considered life imprisonment the most appropriate punishment in lieu of execution. 

Alderman said listening to the plea deal being made was painful. She added: “I’m destroyed. There’s no language for how I’m doing. What they did to Mary, what she went through … the depravity, just the heinous horrible things they did to her, and I wasn’t there, and I couldn’t stop it.”

Delpezzo told WSOC-TV after Kelly’s sentencing that she couldn’t understand the actions of Mary’s killers: “It adds to the pain to think that somebody would be so brutal and torturous to someone who had a disability and was so sweet and loving. There’s no way to wrap my mind around it.”

Unless Pham, Salerno, and Diehl accept plea deals or the prosecutors drop the charges, their cases will go to trial. Rylee Bardon, Collins’ sister, said she will attend every court session:

“I will look them in their eyes every single time that I have to, to make sure that no one forgets what they did. I don’t care how many times I have to show up.”

Collins’ family is pushing for reforms in the justice system

Mary’s family runs Mary’s Voice, an organization petitioning for changes in missing person investigations that involve disabled individuals. The family wants a potential victim’s family to have a stronger say on whether a missing person is deemed to be in danger. Mia Alderman said:

“We are new to this and never wanted to be here, but we were given no choice. So, in Mary’s name, we will bring light to the darkness, sharing our experiences with the hope of making things better. We will push for and expect change.”

Kasei Delpezzo told WBTV that her religious faith keeps her going. “My faith in God gets me through,” Delpezzo said. Delpezzo hopes that the tragedy can spark positive change in Charlotte. She opines that change will only happen if people elect the right leaders. She explained:

“I want to see some people in office who have some experience with some real struggles because you can’t sit in office and come up with solutions to problems you’ve never experienced.”

Delpezzo hopes people understand that crime has no benefits: “I don’t get my daughter back. And then there’s another set of parents over there who are waiting to find out you know, their child is going away for whatever amount of time. Nobody wins with murder. You know, it’s just senseless.”