Tracy Raquel Burns is a woman who is sharing her incredible life story for the first time. When she was just two, her four month old brother Matthew died. The authorities were told she had killed him. She has spent decades trying to get justice for her brother and safety for her family. In the last episode, we told you about her baby brother's death and how she says she suffered abuse at the hands of her father, Jan Barry Sandland, and her mother, Kathy Almond. I'm Nancy Glass. This is burden of guilt. Episode two, physics. At the end of episode one, I told you about Tracy Raquel's suicide attempt. At the age of 14, she had saved up a month's worth of prescription antiseizure medication and swallowed it all at once. She wanted out of her home, out of her life, a life of abuse and instability. But it didn't work. She woke up with her mother, Kathy Almond, shaking her and asking her, what have you done now? As a mother, I can't even imagine having a reaction like that. When Tracy Raquel woke up, she thought, I can't believe I'm still here. Surviving the overdose offered Tracy Raquel a renewed sense of purpose.
She thought she had to have survived for a reason, and that was to find out what really happened to her baby brother, Matthew. But the reality was, despite everything, she was still just a teenager trying to have an ordinary high school life. Tell me about these pictures in front of us.
This is the picture of me being a cheerleader. It's the 80s, so blue eyeliner, but yeah, I guess it's cute. And by the way, let me just say, I know cheerleaders today do not understand. Those pompoms weighed, like, ten pounds each, and if they got wet, it was 15, so it was work. They were huge.
There's a lovely photo of her in a blue cheerleading uniform. A muscular young man is holding her in the air as she balances on 1ft. Her arms are outstretched and veed for victory. She's smiling, beautiful and proud. This is where she shined in school and sports. It was her salvation. Despite her successes outside of the house, her mother Kathy, saw her failed suicide attempt as an opportunity. She used it to identify her daughter as a danger to herself or someone else. Then she leveraged it to commit her.
She woke me in the middle of the night and took me to a state hospital. You know, I have to wonder, did she tell him I was homicidal? That I was a threat?
Look, it might seem reasonable to take a troubled child who has made a suicide attempt to a psychiatric hospital, but it's what Kathy told the staff that is so outrageous. Did you ever find out how she was able to commit you at the facility?
What I learned later in life was that Kathy had told psychiatric professionals that I had been suicidal and homicidal because I had killed my baby brother and that I had never been right since. I don't understand.
The hospital was not a safe place for healing. It was scary as hell.
They weren't sick kids. They were violent criminals. It was a very violent, scary, terrified place.
Were you able to grasp the situation you were in?
I had no clue, and I didn't understand what was happening.
How were you able to get out?
It was my Aunt June who came and said, this is not going to work and this is wrong, and took care of me.
Tracy Raquel says she felt like she couldn't depend on Kathy for even the most basic parenting.
When I was eleven, someone gave me a Polaroid camera for Christmas, and this little girl and I were friends. We were talking about getting all dressed up and doing hair and whatever little girls do. Oh, we can take pictures because I've got this Polaroid camera. I looked everywhere, couldn't find it, wasn't where it normally was. And then I did find it in her bedroom closet, opened it up, and inside were just horrible sexual pictures of your mother that you shouldn't see, especially not with the little girl from down the street.
Kathy wasn't contrite or embarrassed by it. She was annoyed with Tracy Raquel. There were many dark moments with Kathy. Tracy Raquel's only respite was Aunt June. Kathy'sister June had a knack for showing up at the right time and showing Tracy Raquel she could experience joy. Tell me about your Aunt June.
We were always together when I was a child. She was a little bit of reprieve. She would come and get me and we'd go on trips together and she would take me places. So she was this little bit of inspiration that there was something else out there.
It was Aunt June who gave Tracy Raquel her first job.
She owned a hair salon in Atlanta. I started working at this hair salon on Fridays and Saturdays in the summer when I was like, nine years old, sweeping floors for five or $10 a day.
When Tracy Raquel started high school, the salon became a real job with more hours and responsibility. June wanted to put her on the payroll.
So I was 14 and needed a Social Security card. Growing up, my name had always been Tracy Sandlin, which is Jan's last name. That's when Kathy had to say, well, actually, your name isn't Tracy Sandlin, it's Golder and Jan isn't your father, but it's really not because it really is him. But that's what we had to I mean, all of this stuff just came spilling, like, wait, what?
Ted Golder was Kathy's first husband. Tracy Raquel was born while Kathy was still married to him, but Kathy had been having an affair with Jan during the entire marriage. So your legal name was Tracy Golder on your birth certificate, but your biological dad was actually Jan Sandlin, and you didn't find this out until you needed to have papers in order to work and make money? Yes. What did you decide to do about your last name?
I was 14 and sat in front of a judge, and he said, well, what name do you want? I'll take golder.
She did not want Jan's last name, and Tracy Rickel liked to be connected to Matthew in whatever way she could be. And her baby brother's last name was Golder.
I don't know who that is, but he's a Vietnam vet and it's Matthew's name, and I definitely don't want Jan's.
Eventually, Kathy Jason and Tracy Raquel settled into an apartment. It was the first consistent home she remembers.
I was a sophomore in high school, and the only reason that we were stable then was because we were in HUD Housing.
HUD Housing is Housing and Urban Development. It's low income public housing. What was it like?
This tiny little bitty apartment complex surrounded by trees so that nobody on the outside could actually see what was inside.
When Tracy Raquel was younger, she had been beaten for asking questions about Matthew's death. But as you heard in episode one, her father Jan, was incarcerated for armed robbery when she was ten. So now she felt safe asking more questions about the issue that haunted her. How did her baby brother die? What did you grow up thinking?
I didn't believe that it was an accident.
Tracy Raquel had her suspicions. After all, she grew up in a household where abuse was the norm. Even when she was a small child.
There was one specific time have to be under the age of four. He was in the shower, and he called me to come and get his cigarette, the Camel cigarette, and told me to take it to Kathy. I didn't know what to do with the cigarette.
So what did you do?
I just kind of stood there, and then he put that Camel cigarette off on me. That was the very first time that he punished me for not doing whatever he asked me to do.
That is a terrifying memory, and Tracy Raquel has a lot of those when it comes to her childhood.
I wanted to hear what Kathy Almond had to say about the situation, so I went to see her.
I really can't get drawn into Tracy's fantasies anymore. She has been lying and torturing me for 30 years. I can't take it anymore.
What do you mean, Kathy? What is she lying about?
Kathy wasn't interested in having a conversation, but she did send her sister Sheila, who lives with her, to come and talk to me.
Tracy was not abused.
She was spanked. One time in her life when she was in elementary school and Kathy caught.
Her smoking cigarettes in the bathroom and she spanked her.
She was not abused.
She was a very happy child.
Sheila might have strong opinions about Tracy Raquel's childhood, but she can't claim a lot of first hand knowledge. Sheila spent a lot of time incarcerated during Tracy Raquel's youth. Her crimes included fraud, robbery, driving under the influence, and narcotics charges. Tracy Raquel became a teenager with a mission. It was if her brother Matthew was with her, beside her, asking her to find out what happened the day he died.
There was a lot of pushback, so I would only do a little bit of research, and I would ask questions from everybody in my family until they would be like, okay, enough.
She would need access to investigators and files that would be difficult for a kid to get her hands on. But having a stable household for the first time had allowed Tracy Raquel to stay at one school and even make friends.
We were all athletes, and I had a really great friend who was my neighbor. Everybody in and around Atlanta knew Ryan Fleming, and he was just a great guy. We were buddies. He played football for the high school. He was all star. And he just kind of my support system.
But he offered more than just moral support. Ryan's family had connections in the police department. Tell me about how much he helped you.
Ryan went with me down to Decab County Police Department.
What were you guys trying to find?
I wanted to see the homicide report. What was his cause of death? I just assumed it was a homicide. I'm 15. I thought I was crazy. They gave me an incident report. There was no investigation. Nobody had ever done anything.
What did it say?
The incident report said that he suffered a head injury. The ambulance is coming. They're taking him to the hospital. And that's all. So that's when it really opened all up.
She is only 15, and she finally has this document in her hand. So, of course she studied it carefully, and she found the lack of information suspicious. A baby had died, and there was practically no information. That was not a typical situation. There was a lot more digging to do. But she was a teenager, and there was also school and sports. Before she could completely immerse herself into the investigation of Matthew's death, tracy graduated from high school, and then her first thought was she needed to get out of Kathy's house, where she felt like there was no safety or protection.
I lived with Kathy until I was 18, and I moved out on my own and had this little apartment up on the lake and worked four jobs just trying to be away. I was terrified. I was scared of everything all the time. I never slept. I still don't really sleep.
Her solution building herself up into a physically strong person, someone who would be able to defend herself. That's why the military appealed to her.
I needed to get out of where I was. I thought, I'm going to go in the Army, I'm going to go to Ranger school, jump out of airplanes, and I'm going to learn all these skills that are going to make me super tough and no one can ever hurt me.
Tracy Raquel had just seen Top Gun. You know, the first one, I feel.
Some people wanted to date Tom Cruise. She wanted to be Tom Cruise. How did you like the military?
Basic training was hard. Lot of sleep deprivation, all that drilling ceremony and following rules and getting up at different times of day and all of that. But it really sort of clicked in a way. I was stationed overseas, so I was learning who I was. Came back home and found out that Jan was going to come up for parole.
Jan was serving life in prison for a crime he committed in Florida. So how long had he been away?
At that point, he had done 15 years for an armed robbery, so it seemed reasonable that he might get out. And that's where I think the fear really hit.
What was your fear?
It was just this terrifying thing that he was going to get out of jail and he was going to come and kill me, and I just couldn't let happen.
So you thought he would kill you?
It was a very realistic thought. At the time, I thought he was a danger to me. He was a danger to Kathy, he was a danger to my brother Jason.
If you think that sounds extreme or paranoid, consider this. Jan Barry Sandlin had terrorized her as a child. Another incident Tracy Raquel shared was so painful, she could barely get out the details through tears. Here's what she shared.
It's really hard to sit here and do all this and then think there's not something wrong with you. It's so embarrassing.
What was embarrassing?
Roaches and butter on toast. That was a form of punishment from Jan.
He made you eat that to punish?
Yeah. Gosh, I'm like a basket case. I don't know how any one could think you could be like, okay, some of this stuff is ridiculous. I might as well just do my best to get it all out there.
I have to tell you, my heart broke as she cried. This is an emotional revelation I don't think she's ever spoken about before. Her father forced her to eat bugs on toast as punishment, and yet she carries the weight of shame and embarrassment. There were no limits to his cruelty and depravity. Outside of the home, there were whispers into CABB County about Jan being part of a ruthless organized crime group. He was sentenced to a long prison term for a crime he was caught committing. But were there crimes he had never been prosecuted for? At this point, she was an adult. Tracy Raquel had married while serving in the army and had two very young children of her own. When she was a child, Jan had beaten her for asking to visit her brother Matthew's grave. So how would he respond to finding out that she was now investigating his death?
I'm trying to figure out what happened to Matthew, and he's going to get out of jail. Do you know how much harder it's going to be, the amount of chaos that came with him? It's a category five hurricane. It's unpredictable. It's literally a nightmare.
You were on a mission.
He just couldn't get out of jail. So everything just expedited. And I just worked harder, made more calls, reached out to more people.
But here's the problem. When Tracy Raquel tried to bring attention to the circumstances around her baby brother Matthew's death, law enforcement in DeKalb County, Georgia wasn't interested.
For years, I had called DeKalb County Police Department, and I always got the run around or was hung up know, it's a cold case, it's an old case. They didn't have time. I had to call a lot of people.
How did you not give up?
I had a friend whose uncle was in the FBI at the time who talked to me. Just keep doing what you're doing. You got to keep sending letters, and you got to keep calling till you get somebody different. And I did.
And then something remarkable happened. Tracy Raquel reached Investigator Jim Mabe.
I am a 30 year retired law enforcement officer. I spent most of my career in uniform division, and I got promoted to detective, where I worked homicide for several years. And after that, transferred over to the medical examiner's office was a forensic death investigator. She had mentioned her father was Jan Barry Sandlin. That shocked me. Before I came to the medical examiner's office, I'd been assigned a cold case file where a police officer had been killed about the time that her baby brother had been killed. And one of the people of interest in that police officer death was Jan Sandlin. I couldn't believe it. That was her dad.
Jim Mabe had never encountered someone like Tracy Raquel before.
Wasn't some politician or someone of great importance, just a child that died. It's terrible. Yeah, but why would I take it? Well, Tracy said some things that intrigued me. She wasn't interested in money, fame, or fortune or anything like that. She was simply wanting to know the truth about what happened. Well, one of the mottos that we have in the medical examiner's office, it isn't justice that we seek. It's truth, so justice can be served.
What was your first meeting with Jim Mabe like?
He said he would help, and we talked for a couple of hours.
During that conversation, Jim Mabe asked Tracy Raquel to put everything she knew in writing. And he thought he might never hear from her again, because in his experience, that's how things went.
She typed out a two or three page letter of everything that she could remember that occurred the day that Matthew died. And I started to read it, and investigate it.
Now, only a parent can request access to their child's medical records. And so for years, Tracy Raquel had asked Kathy to get them from Decab and Northside hospitals, but Kathy refused.
She tried to obtain records surrounding Matthew's death after her mother just really wouldn't discuss it with her.
That all changed when investigator Jim Mabe got involved.
I convinced my mother to request records from decib Medical.
And so that's when it started. Early 93, the medical records from the hospital came.
You heard at the very beginning of this series about this moment when Tracy Raquel first saw the records. Finally, 22 years after Matthew's death, she held the envelope that would solve the mystery that had haunted her most of her life.
Degab General Hospital, December 1771. Patient name? Matthew Stephen Golder. Skull x rays reveal extensive skull fracturing, primarily on the left side. The clinical findings indicate massive brain damage. The brain was markedly contused and swollen. He was felt to be terminal. Mother reports that the child was thrown out of the crib by a two year old sister and that she found him comatose.
The report is shocking. What did you do after reading it?
I called my grandmother first and I asked her, do you know this? Did you know that this says this? What is this? And she said, very matter of fact, not in a cruel way, honey. Yes, we know this. We've always known that.
Did you believe it?
As a human being, you have a moment where you have to ask the question, is it possible that I killed my baby brother? There's this terrible thing to think that someone said this about you, and then that people had to wonder.
On top of that, friends, neighbors, and people who knew the family, like Jackie Wilson, they all heard the same thing.
Everyone was safe, that Tracy had thrown her brother out of a bed. I talked to Jan one time. He said that Tracy had a temper and that she climbed in the bed and she threw him out. It didn't make sense to me, but that was what they said I did. You went with it.
Tracy Raquel has heard different versions of what happened to Matthew since she was a child. It was chalked up to accidents. At one point, Kathy even said Jan did it. But those were just stories. This hospital report was in writing. Then Tracy Raquel called Kathy, hoping for some kind of explanation.
Once I got Kathy on the phone. She said she never said that. They just wrote it down wrong. And then she said, well, you know, it was an accident. You picked him up and you dropped him.
She says she didn't say it. Then she says it was an accident. I'm having a hard time making heads or tails of your mother's response. What did you think?
I'm a person who I think just guilt and I are friends. So I'm looking around, trying to think, well, is it possible? Is this the horrible secret that's been going on?
Is this why Matthew's name could never be mentioned out loud? Is this why Jan beat her when she insisted on visiting his grave? Because they held her responsible. Matthew was in a coma and breathing erratically. It was all in the hospital record. But there was more. Doctors examined his entire body, and his physical state revealed evidence that her brother had been a victim.
There is an old dry ulcerated area over the mid left medial surface of the left foot. There are old, dark purple colored areas of echomosis and bruising in the left periclavicle region.
There was a level of abuse that Matthew had been through as a four month old child. He had a third degree burn on the instep of one of his little feet. He had what looked like an old fracture to his clavicle. He had bruising on his body.
How exactly would a two year old break and bruise Matthew's clavicle or burn his foot? Then something happened that would dramatically change everything. And ironically, it was something her little daughter Goldie did.
Goldie was getting close to two. We had brought groceries in, and there was a gallon of milk sitting in front of the door. And she was trying to lift this gallon of milk to get it in the kitchen, and she could not even drag it. And it's like a light went off.
What do you mean?
It occurred to me that she can't even drag this gallon of milk, much less pick it up. How was it that I, four months old, picked this infant up, lifted him over the side of a crib and threw him onto a floor? That wasn't a possibility.
The weight of one gallon of milk is just about eight and a half pounds. According to the medical records, matthew's weight was just under 15 pounds. Goldie had unwittingly given Tracy Raquel a simple physics lesson.
There was this epiphany watching her and realizing, I know that that can't happen that way. I know that's not possible.
But even still, Tracy Raquel wouldn't just trust her own intuition. She sought out the opinion of experts.
I had multiple appointments with neurologists and pediatricians and pathologists just in Savannah alone to explain, is this possible?
So did anyone tell you it was?
No one ever said that. No. They said, no, it's not physically possible.
Finally, emboldened, she called anyone and everyone who was there the night Matthew died at De Cab Medical Center.
I just basically went down a list of people I could call and just called everybody. Most people didn't want to talk to me, and he did.
It was Butch, her father, jan's older brother. The Sandlin family didn't have a reputation for nothing, though his rap sheet didn't match Jan's. Butch had been busted for shoplifting, trespassing, firearms and driving offenses. But he did have a soft spot for his niece.
Butch was a kind of terrifying man when I was a child. Mr. Georgia, mr. All Southeastern bodybuilders, he was a really big, huge man, but he was always kind.
What did he say happened?
He didn't know the details exactly, but he said he knew that they were responsible, that they had planned this and that they were going to blame it on me.
This is really shocking. He told you that this was the plan all along? That Jan and Kathy wanted to kill the baby? How did he know that?
He said, I arrived at the emergency room and you were sitting on a concrete slab where ambulances pull up and they know football field away in the parking lot discussing their story and how they were going to get this together. He said he walked up and he grabbed Jan and said, what the have you done? What have you done?
How did Jan reply to that?
He said he didn't have a response. That was it. And so I think that I was the scapegoat.
They put the blame on Tracy Raquel, but they didn't say it was intentional.
The easiest thing was to say it was an accident.
The truth is that Jan and Kathy met little resistance. Think about it. Each person who had their hands and eyes on Matthew neglected to take any action. The staff at two hospitals had seen this child and examined him. They wrote about his injuries, even the old ones that showed clear signs of abuse. The doctors saw it. They knew the coroner signed off on it. The police didn't ask any questions. Everyone just went along with the story.
Nobody had to do any work. Nobody had to be responsible or held accountable.
But that was about to end. Tracy Raquel was a soldier, and she knew it was time to go to war. On the next Burden of Guilt.
According to the Georgia Death Investigation Act, anytime a child dies like that, an autopsy has to be done. I kept thinking to myself, well, how did the coroner sign it out as an accidental death?
Stay tuned for Burden of Guilt, the documentary coming in 2024 and airing only on Paramount. Plus, if you would like to reach out to the Burden of Guilt team, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. That's email@example.com. If you or someone you know is worried about maltreatment or suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, call the Child Help National Child Abuse Hotline. You can call or text 1804 a child that's 1804 224-4531. Way to show support is by subscribing to our show on Apple podcasts. And don't forget to rate and review Burden of Guilt. Five star reviews go a long way. A big thank you to all of you who are listening. And also be sure to check us out and follow us on Instagram at Glass Podcasts. Burden of Guilt is a production of Glass Podcasts, a division of Glass Entertainment Group, in partnership with iheart podcasts. The show is hosted and executive produced by me, Nancy Glass, written and produced by Carrie Hartman and Andrea Gunning, also produced by Ben Fetterman and associate producer Kristen Melchiori. Our Iheart team is Ali Perry and Jessica Krinchek. Special thanks to Tracy Raquel Burns and her husband Bart.
Voice acting in this episode was performed by Trey Morgan. Audio editing and mixing by Matt Delbecchio. Burden of Guilt's Theme composed by Oliver Baines music Library provided by My Music and for more podcasts from Iheart, visit the iHeartRadio app Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.