At 4pm on December 26, 1985, Debbie Wolfe left the Veterans’ Hospital where she worked as a nurse in rural Fayetteville, North Carolina. At the time there was nothing out of the ordinary about it at all, and it was by all appearances just another normal day of work done. After clocking out, Debbie left, presumably to head back home. The next day when her 8 a.m. shift was supposed to start Debbie was nowhere to be seen. It was very odd, as she never missed work and was a responsible, respected employee who would have at least called if she was going to be absent or late, but she never did. It was not like her at all, and calls made to her home went unanswered. Her concerned family thought it was odd enough that Debbie’s mother, Jenny Edwards, her stepfather, retired Army Sgt. John Edwards, and a family friend named Kevin Gorton went out to the small, unassuming cabin where Debbie lived with her two dogs, and this is where things would get very strange, indeed. Thus would begin a strange mystery full of odd clues and whispers of conspiracy that has never been solved.
Upon pulling up to the cabin, which sat among twisted pines about a hundred yards off the main road, something was immediately off about the place. Her car was parked in a different spot than usual, with the driver's seat pushed all the way back rather than in a forward position, as she was known to have it, there were empty beer cans scattered about on the ground out front, and Debbie’s two dogs were milling about unfed and without water. This was all very strange, as Debbie was known for being a neat and meticulous person who took good care of her home and her pets, and it would get even weirder when they let themselves into the cabin. On the kitchen floor Debbie’s nurse uniform was lying in a crumpled heap, various personal items were scattered on the floor, and her purse was found unceremoniously stuffed under the bed. None of this was like Debbie at all, who always kept her home clean and tidy and who always put her purse and other belongings in the same spot every time. Strangest of all was that there was no sign of Debbie herself anywhere, although the presence of the car, uniform and purse indicated that she had indeed come home. Curious, they checked the answering machine and the next odd discovery would be made.
On the message machine was a single message left by an unidentified man earlier that day. On the message, the mysterious caller is calling from the Veteran’s hospital to see how Debbie was doing, and he expresses concern that she has missed so many days of work. This made absolutely no sense, because Debbie had been at work the previous day and had not missed any days, in fact, at the time of the call she would have only missed a few hours at most, so what was this guy talking about? It was all somewhat sinister, and along with the disheveled state of the cabin they were getting a really bad vibe from it all. They went outside and did a cursory search of the property, but no trace of Debbie could be found. They then contacted authorities to report Debbie missing, but in the first ball fumbled by police they were told that they had to wait 72 hours before an official search could be launched. In the meantime, Debbie was nowhere to be seen.
When the Sheriff’s Department began their own search it was oddly a full five days later, and they were unable to turn up much. The entire area was searched to find no trace of the missing woman, and bloodhounds were brought in but could not pick up a scent trail. One oddity was that there was a shallow pond on the property, but although Debbie’s family did not see anyone search it, they were told that police had already looked there to find nothing. Debbie’s mother would say of it:
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. 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.
Frustrated by the perceived lack of action being taken by authorities, Debbie’s family hired their own private diver by the name of Gordon Childress to go into the pond and check it out, and almost immediately he found something weird. Within just a few minutes in the water, the diver reported finding what looked like a set of footprints and a drag mark on the bottom, and not long after that the diver found Debbie’s body down in the frigid water about 30 feet from the bank. According to Childress, the body had been stuffed into a rusty, 55-gallon oil type drum with holes in it that had been dragged along the bottom. The ensuing autopsy turned up no sign of drugs or alcohol in her system and no evidence of foul play, so the official cause of death was accidental drowning after she had somehow slipped and fallen into the water, and as far as the Sheriff’s Department was concerned that was that, but there were myriad sinister clues that did not add up.
First and foremost was the state of the cabin. Considering Debbie’s meticulously neat and tidy nature, it seemed rather odd that authorities should so quickly write off the possibility of any sort of foul play, especially considering the empty beer cans and a lack of any alcohol in the body of the victim. There was also the state of the body. In a typical drowning there would be signs of a struggle, but Debbie’s body was pristine and relaxed, her eyes closed, and it looked as if she were merely asleep. Why should this be if she had fallen into the icy water and fought for dear life to get out? It is also odd that she would have drowned to begin with, as the water was only five and a half feet deep and Debbie was described as a strong swimmer. There was also no injury that would indicate that she had been knocked unconscious. Adding to this was that there was found only a half teaspoon of water in Wolfe's upper bronchial area, and there was a complete lack of a white froth or foam like substance that is typically found in the airways of drowning victims or oozing from their nostrils or mouth, all of which indicated that she was likely already dead when her body had entered the water. Also rather suspicious is that Debbie’s corpse had abrasions on her hands and fingers that could have possibly been defensive wounds. Despite all of this, police adamantly stuck with their official conclusion of an accidental drowning, and perhaps the most bizarre of all is that they denied that the body had been in a barrel or that there had even been any barrel at all. Debbie’s mother would recall:
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. 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.
When confronted, police continued to insist there was no barrel, despite Childress stating “There is no doubt in my mind, I’m a hundred percent positive that it was an old burn barrel or something of that nature.” What was going on here? Another oddity would pop up later, when Debbie’s mother came to the realization that the clothes her dead daughter had been found in were not hers. She would say of this:
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. The jacket found on her body was a men's small. It's brand new, with no markings. Look in the pockets. No lint. No sand. If she was in the water six days and nights, where's the debris?
All of this evidence led Debbie’s family to the conclusion that she had been murdered, possibly by a coworker who had been involved in unwanted romantic advances on her. In this version of events, the man went to her house, killed her, put her body in the barrel, threw it into the pond, and then had gone back and removed the barrel later. Just to appease her, authorities questioned the co-worker she mentioned, but he was found to have an alibi and was quickly dropped as a possible suspect, despite the fact that he refused to take a polygraph test and left the state a few days later. The official conclusion remains to this day that Debbie Wolfe accidentally drowned, but her mother would never accept this, saying:
There are so many questions and not even one answer. Investigators have decided it will be much easier to keep it under the proverbial rug. 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.
Debbie's mother would sadly spend the rest of her life looking for answers, only to pass away in 2002 without ever knowing what had happened to her beloved daughter. The case has seen no breakthroughs in years, and it is looking more and more like it never will. What hapopened to Debbie Wolf? What is the meaning behind all of the strange clues orbiting the case and the odd behavior by law enforcement and their handling of the case? Was this just an accident, as they would have us believe, or is there something more to it? For now it remains unknown.