December of 1985, the body of 28-year-old Debbie Wolfe was found at the bottom of a pond on her property in the outskirts of Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Debbie lived in a reclusive cabin in North Carolina with her two dogs, Morgan and Mason. She was a nurse who worked at the Fayetteville Veterans Administration Hospital nearby.
Debbie reported to work the morning of December 25th, 1985 for a typical work shift after which she headed home. Debbie was scheduled to return to the hospital the following morning, December 26th, at 8:00 a.m. When she failed to show, co-workers immediately started to worry about her as this type of behavior was extremely out of character for Debbie. They tried to reach her via phone but had no luck. Debbie’s co-workers eventually reached out to her mother and to see if she was able to reach her daughter.
Jenny Edwards, Debbie’s mother, could not reach her daughter that morning. As her concern began to grow, Jenny called up a family friend, Kevin Gorton. Together they headed over to Debbie’s cabin to check on her. Jenny was hoping that her daughter was simply sick and had been too ill to answer the phone.
When Jenny and Kevin arrived at the cabin’s property, they could immediately sense that something was off. Beer cans were littered around the yard and her car wasn’t parked in its usual spot. Debbie was normally an extremely tidy person, kept her home clean, and made sure that her dogs were well-taken care of. As such, it was gravely concerning that when upon entering her home, the cabin was in complete disarray and her dogs were unfed. As Jenny and Kevin continued to work their way through the cabin, they found Debbie’s purse tucked into the side of the bed. This was not a place Debbie regularly kept her purse, and the way it was tucked looked as though it was hidden there intentionally.There was no trace of Debbie anywhere.Jenny decided to listen to her daughter’s answering machine to see if there was any information about her whereabouts. There was only one message on the machine and it was from an unknown man. The message they heard was, “Hey Deb, missed you here at work today. Just wondering what you’re doing. You’ve been out a lot of days, you made me worried when you missed another one. I just want to make sure you’re ok. Bye.” Jenny felt instantly alarmed by this voicemail because she did not recognize the co-worker’s voice and his story didn’t add up. When the voicemail was left, Debbie had only been out of work a few hours and not a few days like the man in the voicemail claimed.Jenny and Kevin decided to search the pond just a stone’s throw away from Debbie’s cabin. They had not found anything of note, so they decided it was time to contact Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department. Captain Jack Watts arrived on the scene with bloodhounds to search for Debbie.Captain Watts ultimately felt that Jenny and Kevin had done a sufficient search of the pond and did not order a dive team. Captain Watts did a quick search through the cabin and the surrounding area and came up empty-handed. He informed Jenny that they would need to wait 72 hours days before organizing an official search for Debbie.It would be five full days after Debbie’s disappearance that a complete search would be conducted. Still assuming the pond had been thoroughly searched, they did not have a dive team. They explored the property by foot and came up empty-handed once more.The team investigating Debbie’s whereabouts did take note that her car was not parked in its usual spot and the driver seat was pushed all the way back. This would make the car impossible for Debbie to drive, as she usually drove the car with the seat much closer to the steering wheel.Later that day, Jenny pleaded with the search team to put a paddleboat on the lake to give it a proper search. They responded by telling her it was too late in the day and that they would get back to her.Becoming frustrated with the lack of support from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department, Jenny hired a private dive team herself. On January 1st, 1986, Kevin Gorton and Gordon Childress, both familiar with rescue work, entered the pond.After just a few minutes in the water, Gordon discovered footprints embedded in the mud on the side of the pond, along with what appeared to be drag marks. He followed the drag marks for roughly 30 feet, and at a depth of five feet under the lake, he found Debbie’s body. She was discovered stuffed inside of a rusty 55-gallon drum, also known as a burn barrel.An autopsy was conducted on January 2nd, 1986. Because Debbie was found in the pond, it would be fair to assume that the cause of death would have been drowning. However, there was only half a teaspoon of water found in Debbie’s upper bronchial area during the autopsy. There was no white foam or froth found in her mouth or nose areas consistent with victims who are alive at submersion. Debbie’s body was also in a relaxed position with her mouth and eyes shut, which clear opposition to how drowning victims are usually found. The autopsy also noted that Debbie had abrasions on her fingertips, which could have been from fending off an attacker. However, there were no other markings or abrasions on her body. Curiously, Debbie’s body did not show evidence of being submerged in a silt-rich for 6 days.Both her clothing and her face was clean. Conversely, it had reportedly taken the dive team 3 days to get all the mud and silt off of their suits after only being in the water for 20 minutes. Additionally, Debbie was 5’3″, and she was at most 9cm shorter than the area she was found. Her death was marked as undetermined.Investigators from Cumberland County committed to the story that Debbie had drowned. They believed that she had simply fallen into the pond, grew disorientated, and had finally succumbed to immersion syndrome. The local coroner believed that due to a lack of discoloring and bloating to Debbie’s body, she had not been in the water very long before she was discovered and that she had been placed in the pond post-mortem. Debbie was given an open casket ceremony, proving how well Debbie’s body had been preserved.Investigators from Cumberland County denied the existence of the barrel that Debbie was found inside of. They claim it was her jacket that had ballooned up around her. However, Jenny claims that the day her daughter was found, police were discussing how to bring the barrel up out of the water. Suddenly and abruptly, the police just left the property, leaving the barrel in the pond. Jenny said that barrel was one that Debbie had used to store firewood by the side of the house. This barrel that Jenny mentioned was missing from the home and there was an impression in the grass of where the barrel usually sat.Two months later, Jenny received the clothing that Debbie had been wearing the day she was found. She was even more convinced that her daughter’s death was not an accident and was the act of something far more sinister. The clothing given to Jenny was excessively large: Debbie was a 34B bra size and the bra in which she was found was a 38C. Additionally, the shoes she was wearing that day was actually 3 sizes larger than Debbie’s usual shoe size and were totally clean from mud or silt. The police department claimed her death was an accident but considering there were footprints on the bank of the pond, her shoes should have been covered in mud. The remaining items that the police had found Debbie in (a jacket, a pair of pants, and a football tee) were all unrecognizable by her family and friends.Police did conduct interviews with a few of her former co-workers as well as the man heard on Debbie’s answering machine. The man, however, declined the polygraph test. He subsequently fled the state as soon as he was “cleared” as a suspect as well. Years later, new evidence suggested that Debbie had semen present in her body. However, the police department has since lost the vaginal swab confirming this, eliminating the possibility of testing it with today’s forensics.We are left with a slew of unanswered questions, suspicious police work, and just a handful of theories of what could have happened to young Debbie. Why was she wearing oversized clothing? What happened to the barrel? Why was there no mud on her shoes if she had accidentally fallen into the pond? Where did the beer bottles come from? Who drove her car?Jenny passed away back in 2002, never able to find out what really happened to her daughter and who was responsible for her death.From all evidence presented, it is reasonable to believe that Debbie was kidnapped by someone, taken to another location, assaulted, and then murdered. She was then brought back to her cabin and dumped into the pond, where her body was ultimately recovered.
Special thanks to our new contributor, Mariya Hamilton, for all the hard work she put into researching and writing this fascinating true crime story for us.