NBC’s ‘Dateline: The Disappearance of Debbie Hawk’ chronicles how 46-year-old Debbie Hawk mysteriously disappeared from inside her Hanford, California, home in June 2006. The police could not find her body for around a decade, though the perpetrator was convicted of murder a couple of years later. The episode aims to provide the viewers with a chronological view of the events through interviews with Debbie’s family, the convicted killer, and others involved in the case. So, how did Debbie die, and who killed her? Let’s find out.
How Did Debbie Hawk Die?
Deborah “Debbie” Triantis Hawk was born to Angie and William “Bud” Triantis in Kings County, California, on July 3, 1959. Her sister, Diane Triantis, recounted, “She was very talkative, friendly. Likable. Always was, kind of, the life of the party.” She talked about how Debbie’s friends set her up on that blind date years ago in the late 1980s, where she met her former husband, David “Dave” Martin Hawk. They were married within a year and built a home among his family’s almond groves in Lemoore in Kings County, California.
The couple welcomed three children within nine years of marriage — Conrad, Chelsa, and Savannah. Dave’s father, Stan Hawk, set up irrevocable trust accounts for each of the children in October 1997, and they were funded with cash and securities. Court documents state that Debbie and Dave were the original co-trustees on the accounts. However, she petitioned for the dissolution of the marriage in 1998, and the kids were 9, 8, and 4 when the divorce was finalized in 2000.
After divorce proceedings began, Stan set up another irrevocable trust account for each child and stopped depositing money into the first batch of accounts. Dave was the sole trustee of the second set of trust accounts. Around that time, Mary Royer, who ran an in-home daycare, started caring for the three children, and he began dating her. She had three children and moved into the Hawk family home with him in October 2000. Mary stated how Dave blamed Debbie for taking the children away from him.
Dave would also be upset about child support matters, and Mary would try to talk him through it. As a co-trustee on the first set of trust accounts, Debbie continued to receive duplicate statements for them. According to court documents, her father, William Triantis, saw the bank statements and noted that money had been withdrawn. Debbie filed a motion seeking a modification of visitation, child support, and attorney fees and costs in October 2000. She also requested Dave be removed as trustee of the children’s accounts in her court-filed motion.
Court documents state Debbie claimed the stolen money needed to be returned and Mary Royer be ejected from the family residence. On the motion hearing on November 6, 2000, Dave conceded he had removed $500 from each of the children’s accounts. However, he stated he had used the money to pay the medical expenses of Chelsa’s appendectomy. But Debbie disputed his claim and said Healthy Children, a state program, had settled the bill. The court ordered him to be removed as trustee of the accounts on January 8, 2001.
The court further ordered Dave to reimburse the money with interest. The order mandated him to pay $45,000 to Debbie, transfer and divide certain stocks, and pay her attorney fees and costs. She purchased a home on Taragon Avenue in Hanford in 2001, where she was living with her children when she disappeared. Debbie worked as a successful Pharmaceutical Representative at the time. She and Taryn Maltes were close friends, and they spoke by phone around 7:30 PM on June 12, 2006, for about an hour.
Besides, Tiffany Jones and Debbie were next-door neighbors, with the former last seeing her around 7:50 PM on June 12. The latter was in her front yard, looking at her flowers. She and her father, William, spoke for about half an hour around 9:30 or 9:45 PM that night. He stated his daughter sounded in good spirits but was tired and had to go to bed. According to court documents, several people living in Debbie’s neighborhood heard one or more screams in the early morning of June 13.
Who Killed Debbie Hawk?
Tiffany estimated the time to be around 1:15 or 1:20 AM and described a high-pitched scream that lasted two seconds, followed by a shrieking one that lasted about three seconds. They sounded like they came from the direction of Debbie’s house. Meanwhile, no one heard gunshots or called the police. According to Debbie and Dave’s shared custody agreement, the children spent every other weekend at his house. She was scheduled to pick up the children from his home at 5:45 PM on June 13.
When Debbie did not arrive at the appointed time or receive repeated calls, Dave offered to take the kids to her house. The three children reached to find a trail of blood that led from the master bedroom into the garage, with their mother’s tan Ford Freestar van vanished along with its owner. The police found the missing vehicle two days later in southwest Fresno. According to reports, the rear license plate had been switched out for another, with the key still in the ignition.
Still, the police found no signs of Debbie, though her blood stains on the abandoned van’s back suggested she was an unwilling passenger. The vehicle and her Hanford house became the primary crime scene in the homicide investigation. The investigators conducted extensive forensic searches at both locations but found no trace evidence that could help them apprehend the culprit. Thus, they soon focused on Dave after learning about the acrimonious divorce and the ongoing bitter child custody dispute.
Dave was arrested in early 2007 after police uncovered evidence of the alleged theft and embezzlement of more than $300,000 from his three kids’ funds. He was arrested for homicide on May 29, 2008, even though the police could find Debbie’s body. The police had found no evidence of forced entry, no valuables were stolen, and the overall neatness, barring some selected rummaging, disputed it was a burglary gone wrong. With Dave’s repeated blaming of his wife and the financial motive, the authorities were sure they had enough evidence.
The prosecution stated Debbie had subpoenaed Dave’s financial records in 2006. Prosecutor Shane Burns said, “It was important for Debbie to disappear. Not to just die, but to become a missing person never heard from again, so it would never be traced back to Dave Hawk.” The defense counsel argued the prosecution had no DNA evidence or physical proof tying Dave to the murder, except for “a series of inferences.” They stated Debbie had been murdered by some junkie to steal prescription medicine from her van.
A jury convicted Dave of first-degree murder, five counts of tax evasion, three counts of embezzlement, grand theft, and perjury. He was sentenced to life without parole on December 2009. Eventually, farm workers found Debbie’s remains near Stratford in March 2016. A DNA expert said because the remains were in dirt and exposed to weather elements, including sun, heat, and cold, it degraded the DNA, and it was impossible to find how she was killed. Debbie’s remains were returned to her family, and Dave’s conviction and sentencing remained unchanged.
Read More: Dave Hawk: Where is Debbie Hawk’s Ex-Husband Now?