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Debbie Wolfe

Debbie Wolfe

Debbie Wolfe

The death of a woman found in a barrel at the bottom of a pond is ruled an accident, but her family believes she was murdered.

On Wednesday, December 25, 1985, after completing her shift at the hospital, Debbie Wolfe of Fayetteville, North Carolina, left work, presumably heading home. According to Debbie’s mother, Jenny Edwards:

“The next morning, Debbie should have been at work. She had to be at work at eight.  Debbie did not go to work. Debbie did not answer her telephone. It wasn’t like Debbie at all. She never missed work.”

Debbie’s parents and a family friend named Kevin Gorton hurried over to her house, an isolated cabin, four miles outside Fayetteville. Knowing that Debbie took good care of her home and her pets, Debbie’s mother was surprised by what they found: 

“We looked around and we saw beer cans laying in the yard. Her dogs had not been fed. There was a uniform laying on the floor, in the kitchen, and other things thrown on the floor, like maybe she took them off.”

Debbie’s purse was not in its usual place. Kevin found it shoved under her bed. There was also an odd message on Debbie’s answering machine recorded earlier that day. A man from the hospital was calling to see how Debbie was doing. He mentioned that she had missed many days of work. This made no sense to Debbie’s mother:

“What concerned me about his message was that he said that she had missed a lot of days at work, and she hadn’t. In fact, she had only missed a few hours at work at the time that he put the message on the answering machine.”

They searched and found her in the pond

They searched and found her in the pond

The search continued outside the cabin and around a nearby pond. There were no signs of Debbie. Debbie’s mother called the Sheriff’s office and was told they would investigate only after Debbie had been missing for three days. But five days passed before authorities began a full-scale search:

“They searched the cabin. Later that afternoon they brought the bloodhounds out and they could find nothing at all. They then walked around the edge of the pond.  I was there for that.”

Captain Jack Watts of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department:

“I think it was mentioned that they had already looked in the pond…there was no use for us to look in the pond, so I don’t think we did a dive of the pond or a complete search of the pond on that day. No, we did not.”

Jenny Edwards decided to hire her own divers. On January 1, 1986, Kevin Gorton and another friend, Gordon Childress, returned to the pond. Both men were familiar with rescue work. Childress dragged the pond looking for evidence. According to Kevin Gorton:

“He was in the water approximately two minutes when he called out to me and told me that he had found what looked like a set of footprints and a drag mark.”

In fact, according to Gordon Childress, he found two sets of footprints pressed into the thick mud, along with the drag marks. Once he went under the murky water, it wasn’t long before Childress came across a body:

“It was inside of  what looked like a burn barrel. That’s a rusty, 55-gallon oil drum type thing with holes in it.”

Was the man on the machine the killer

Was the man on the machine the killer

The police were called to the scene. The dead woman was identified as Debbie Wolfe.
The coroner concluded that she had drowned.  An autopsy revealed no trace of drugs, no alcohol in her system, and no signs of foul play. Kevin Gorton does not believe Debbie’s death was as a result of drowning:

“A typical coroner drowning would be eyes open, mouth open, hands and arms in a very clawed state, you know, just a fight for life. Which was quite on the contrary to what Debbie was. The eyes were closed, the mouth was closed, arms were in a relaxed state, just her whole body was relaxed. She looked like she was asleep.”

Capt. Jack Watts proposed a theory:

“Her dogs were running loose when the family members and the Sheriff’s Department first met over there. Possibly, she was playing with the dogs and fell in.”

As the investigation continued, Debbie’s mother said, police began to deny that Debbie’s body had been found inside of a barrel:

“I asked one of our friends who was there, I said, ‘What happened?  Do they have the barrel?” And they said, ‘No, they decided to leave it there. They’ll get it in the morning.’   The next day, they went back to get the barrel, and they said that the barrel was gone.  All of a sudden it didn’t exist. The same barrel that had been there the night before.”

Capt. Jack Watts denies there ever was a barrel:

“In my opinion, and the opinions of some of the investigators, what appeared to be a barrel to some of the divers could have been Debbie’s jacket which may have ballooned out as she was laying at that angle in the bottom of the pond.”

Gordon Childress is certain of what he saw:

“There was no doubt in my mind, I’m a hundred percent positive that it was an old burn barrel or something of that nature. You know, metal, rusted, 55-gallon type drum, that the body was in.”

Jenny Edwards then recalled a barrel she had seen near Debbie’s cabin:

“I went over to the spot where the barrel was and the barrel was gone. The indentation of the barrel was still there, on the ground, but the barrel was no longer there.”

A few months later, Jenny discovered another inconsistency:

“When I got a chance to examine the clothes that were on Debbie’s body, I looked at them very carefully and realized that those were not Debbie’s clothes. The pants were very, very much too long for Debbie. The bra cup-size was three sizes too large for her and around-size, it would be two sizes too large for her. The shoes, Debbie wore a ladies size seven, and these were a men’s size six, which winds up being about three sizes larger.”

Debbie’s family became convinced that she had been murdered. One of Debbie’s responsibilities at work was coordinating the hospital’s volunteers. According to Jenny Edwards:

“There was a volunteer at the hospital that wanted to become romantically involved with Debbie. Debbie discussed this with everyone, including him, and told him that she would be his friend but nothing else.”

Jenny is convinced that this was the man who called Debbie the day after she disappeared, expressing concern that she’d been missing from work. Capt. Watts says the man was investigated:

“Anyone that the family requested that we talk to or interview, we tried to interview. Of course, through the information we received through these interviews, there was nothing there that we could use in any criminal prosecution, or there was nothing there that would indicate to us that this was a homicide.”

Jenny Edwards said the volunteer had since left the area:

“He was investigated by the Sheriff’s department the night that the body was brought to the surface. However, he provided an alibi and refused to take a polygraph. So he wasn’t questioned any longer. He left several days after that to go out of state.”

What really happened to Debbie Wolfe? Her mother believes she was taken hostage and then murdered.  She believes that, later, someone returned to the pond to remove the barrel, so that the death would seem accidental:

“There are people out there who know what happened to Debbie. And I’m hoping that they will come forward and finally say something. She was loved by very, very many people.  And I think that she has a right to be put to rest, finally. And I’d like to do that.”