ID’s ‘People Magazine Investigates: Nine Years in the Shadows’ examines one of the most heinous cases to have transpired in California in the late 1980s – one that baffled the authorities for nearly a decade before an unlikely tip came in to help them solve the matter. In 1988, Deborah Whitlock was found murdered in her home, which led the investigators to probe into her personal and professional life, uncovering a tangled web of secrets, strife, and infidelity in her marriage. However, little did they know that all this had little to do with her death. So, let’s find out exactly what happened, shall we?
How Did Deborah Whitlock Die?
Deborah “Debi” Anne Whitlock, born on April 16, 1955, in Newmarket, Forest Heath District, Suffolk, England, moved to America with her family when she was little. There, she completed her education, found love, and made a seemingly happy life for herself. At the age of 32, she was a wife, a mother of a three-year-old girl, and the assistant manager at a Sears in Modesto, California. However, all that changed on the night of March 24, 1988 (or in the early hours of the next day). That evening, Debi’s husband, Harold Whitlock, left their shared apartment for the night, saying that he was going to a friend’s bachelor party.
But when he returned home the next morning, all he saw was blood. His wife of five years was lying dead on the hallway floor, stabbed and raped, with vicious slashes right across her throat to end her life. Their daughter, though, was safe and unharmed just a few feet away in her room, having slept through the entire attack on her mother. When the investigators subsequently arrived at the scene, they noticed no signs of forced entry or any indication of a struggle, suggesting that Debi had willingly let her attacker indoors, unaware of what would transpire. However, even with that, the police found themselves at an impasse.
Who Killed Deborah Whitlock?
When the investigations into Deborah’s murder first started, there were some crucial mistakes made by the officers at the crime scene, including the mishandling of evidence, which caused them significant troubles later on. Although, an officer has since admitted to the cause for that, saying that even though everyone associated with the matter had good intentions, their judgments were clouded after seeing the savagery of the attack. Following that, when the officers responsible took a look into Debi’s life, they were baffled to learn the extent of the infidelity within her marriage, coming from both sides.
Therefore, as Debi was the one who was slain, Harold became a prime suspect. The fact that he lied about being at a bachelor party when he was, in fact, at his girlfriend’s house for the night did not help his cause either. However, after a few years, DNA analysis ruled him out, clearing him of any involvement. Debi’s ex-boyfriend was a possible suspect as well, but he was also cleared with the help of DNA. And so, Debi’s mother, Jacque MacDonald, started working on the case. She demanded answers and kept it prevalent in the minds of everyone affiliated, even offering a $10,000 reward for information.
And thus, in late 1996, a breakthrough arrived. Jacque, in partnership with Citizens Against Homicide, a local Californian organization, had rented a few billboards featuring her daughter’s picture. She was pleading with the general public for any leads, which led to a crucial anonymous tip. A former drug dealer called the authorities and revealed that he had been acquainted with Debi’s murderer and forwarded them a name. He had seen the billboards, he said, and wanted to do the right thing. Apparently, he even declined the hefty cash reward. His information sent the police to search for Scott Avery Fizzell.
Where Is Scott Avery Fizzell Now?
At the time of the murder, Scott Avery Fizzell had been 18-years-old and living in Modesto, California, with his mother and stepfather. He had told the witness in the days that followed that he had killed a beautiful woman during a burglary gone wrong and then raped her corpse. And so, in January of 1997, the police tracked down the then 27-year-old drifting day laborer to Flippin, Arkansas, near Little Rock, where he was working in a boat factory. After questioning him, his DNA was collected, which turned out to be a match to the evidence found at the crime scene, resulting in his arrest for murder.
Initially, Scott maintained his innocence and denied having a hand in Deborah’s killing. But after two years, in 1999, he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and burglary, getting sentenced to 31 years in prison. At that time, there were no laws against necrophilia in California, so Scott couldn’t legally be charged with that. And with his plea agreement, the prosecutor also dismissed the rape charge and the host of special-circumstance allegations against him. Therefore, today, Scott Avery Fizzell, 51, is incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione. He will be eligible for parole in 2021.
Read More: Where Is Deborah Whitlock’s Husband Now?