HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- On Thanksgiving, we're surrounded by the people most important to us, safe at home. The holiday may look a little different this year as we gather around the dinner table in smaller groups, but the love and happiness we feel is, like it always has been, stable and unwavering.
Thanksgiving was that way for the Wilsons, too, until November 27, 1996.
Kristen Wilson, 29, was supposed to meet her parents, cousins, aunt and uncle at her grandparents' house in Katy. The night before, Kristen had gone to the grocery store to get some last minute ingredients for Thanksgiving Day, but no one had talked to her after she returned home.
"Thanksgiving was the biggest event of the year," says Kelly Wilson Hancock, Kristen's younger sister. "We'd all go over there and it was just a big family get together. It was so much fun."
When Kristen didn't show up for dinner, her parents began to worry. They went to Kristen's apartment in southwest Houston on Meadowglen Lane and found her door unlocked. It was Kristen's father who discovered his eldest daughter's lifeless body on the floor of her bedroom.
WATCH: In 2001, Jessica Willey reported on the cold case murder
Kristen had been raped and strangled. She was left bruised, her fingernails broken, because detectives say she fought her attacker hard. In 1996, police said it appeared the killer slipped into Kristen's apartment while she was at the store, hid in her closet, waited for Kristen to return, then made his move. Nothing was stolen and there were no signs of forced entry.
"My grandma used the words 'brutally murdered,'" Kelly said, talking publicly about the case for the first time in more than a decade.
She'll never forget the call from her grandmother saying Kristen had been killed. "My whole world was... Our whole family's world was turned upside down. Personally, in my heart, I think she knew the person, but I don't know."
Kristen was the middle child of three girls. She had just started her own business, doing office work for small companies. Kelly says Kristen had made plans to move out of the apartment complex on Meadowglen in a few weeks because lately she hadn't felt safe there, after a maintenance man let himself into her apartment unannounced.
"Sometimes you just try not to think about (what happened). That sounds horrible but, you try not to think," Kelly says. "But, you always know she's not there. She's not there to give you a hug, to laugh with, to be with."
Kristen and Kelly were especially close. Kristen was like a second mother to Kelly's son and daughter.
"She was just so beautiful with an infectious smile," Kelly says. "My mom always called her the golden child because she just was. I hate to say she was perfect, but she pretty much was."
Kelly says Kristen never mentioned anyone threatening her, following or stalking her. Twenty-four years ago, detectives said no witnesses or neighbors came forward. There were no security cameras at the complex at that time. The case went cold. Kelly and Kristen's father passed away without ever knowing who killed his middle daughter.
"It's hard on everyone, especially my mom. She's 71 years old now and she struggles," Kelly says. "I just try to remember the good times we had with her."
HPD says just this week, the lead detective on the case is reexamining the evidence in Kristen's case. Kelly questions whether or not DNA could be retested, considering the advancements in technology and science.
"I hope it's solvable," she says. "I will keep (talking about this) until my last breath."