By Jennifer Bucholtz
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice and Forensic Science
This is the seventh in a series of articles reviewing and analyzing the facts and evidence related to the murder of Deborah Williamson. Learn about the facts of the case in the first article. Read up on additional information provided by Deborah’s widowed husband in the second article. Learn more about Deborah’s injuries by reading an analysis of her autopsy report in the third article. Follow us as we travel to Lubbock, Texas, to conduct some on-the-ground research in the fourth article. New revelations about the crime scene are covered in the fifth article. Behavioral analysis of Debbie’s killer is discussed in the sixth article.
During the evening of August 24, 1975, Deborah “Debbie” Williamson was stabbed to death outside her home in Lubbock, Texas. Nearly 47 years later, her killer still has not been identified and brought to justice.
In a podcast interview I conducted with Jeff Schafer, a knife designer and expert, he revealed some pertinent information about the style of knife likely used to stab Debbie. He also enlightened me on the significance of some of her injuries.
An Overview of Debbie’s Injuries
Debbie suffered a total of 17 stab wounds, most of which were delivered to the upper torso area of her back. She also had a large gash near her left armpit, two slash wounds to her scalp and one to her right cheek.
The wounds to Debbie’s back side are uniform, which indicates that there was no struggle from Debbie as she was being stabbed in the back. She was probably incapacitated by the time her killer inflicted these injuries.
Because there is no evidence of movement from Debbie as she was stabbed in the back, photos of her wounds provide a quality representation of the profile of the knife blade used in the attack. Jeff feels confident that a knife with a double edge, like the one seen below, was used by Debbie’s killer. This opinion is congruent with the opinion of the doctor who conducted Debbie’s autopsy.
Based on Jeff’s analysis of the angle of the knife wounds, he feels Debbie’s killer held the knife in his or her right hand. This, in turn, likely means the killer is right-hand dominant.
The Anomalous Injury
The large gash to Debbie’s left armpit (see photo below) is one of the most revealing wounds she suffered. It measures approximately four inches in length and a minimum of an inch in width at its widest point.
Jeff explained that the sharpness of both sides of the knife’s blade are visible at the top and bottom of the injury. This wound is further evidence that the knife had a double-edged blade.
Jeff also suggested the knife may have become wedged between two of Debbie’s ribs and the killer had to struggle with it to remove it. It’s also possible that Debbie’s movements in reaction to the injury resulted in the larger wound pattern.
[Listen to Episode 05: What Type of Knife Was Used to Kill Debbie Sue Williamson?]
The armpit injury is an outlier compared to the rest. It was likely inflicted either towards the beginning of the attack or at the end because it’s unlike any of the other stab wounds.
I lean towards the armpit wound being inflicted first as it’s the only major stab wound to Debbie’s front side. It is also the one stab wound that would have been quickly lethal because the knife blade probably lacerated her heart. No defensive injuries were noted in the autopsy report, which also leads me to believe Debbie had little time, if any, to try and fend off her attacker.
Jeff has offered an alternate theory. He believes Debbie may have incurred the armpit wound while being attacked on the ground of her carport, next to her car.
If the knife became wedged between two of her ribs, the killer would have had to work it back and forth to dislodge it. During that time, the sharp tip of the knife blade would be moving internally and causing grave damage to Debbie’s heart. She would have been rendered unconscious shortly after.
Reenacting Debbie’s Murder
Recently, our volunteer investigative team took a trip to Lubbock and spent a significant amount of time at the crime scene. We did our best to re-create and decipher the order of events that occurred that August night.
It appears Debbie was not struggling by the time she was stabbed in the back. But what happened that led to Debbie being incapacitated so quickly?
Debbie’s murder may have started with a face-to-face confrontation with her killer, and the injury to her armpit area was the first one inflicted. If her heart was perforated at the onset of the attack, she would have had just seconds before she became unable to defend herself and would have collapsed shortly afterwards.
She and her killer may have argued near the back door of Debbie’s home. If Debbie incurred the armpit injury at that location, she would have then realized she was under attack and needed to flee.
Debbie likely tried to run through the carport and get to the street, but didn’t make it far due to the severity of her heart injury. She may have collapsed face down in the carport next to her car, where she most likely laid as the killer stabbed her 16 more times.
What Do Debbie’s Injuries Indicate about Her Killer?
The way in which the killer held the knife during the attack is inconsequential to a prosecution against that person. However, it provides us some insight into the personality and criminal sophistication of the killer, which might offer clues to his or her identity.
The majority of the wounds to Debbie’s backside were certainly delivered with the knife in an “ice pick” grip, an overhand grip. We have engaged in hours of debate as to how the knife was held when the armpit wound was inflicted, and we still do not have a solid conclusion.
We have re-created this particular injury with both an overhand and underhand grip. The overhand grip required the killer to be in close proximity to Debbie in order to properly replicate the right-to-left angle as well as the internal angle of this particular injury.
The underhand grip provided more of a standoff between Debbie and her killer. It’s possible that the killer had the knife in an underhand grip, holding it at one side. During a verbal confrontation with Debbie, the killer may have haphazardly driven the knife in her direction, striking her by the armpit.
If Debbie’s killer used an underhand grip, that points to someone who was criminally unsophisticated. Her killer may have been unskilled with a knife and wasn’t sure of how far he or she planned to take the situation. By contrast, someone with training or experience in knife fighting would have been more likely to approach the situation differently and more effectively.
In Debbie’s case, the killer might have brought the knife to the scene only to scare her. A verbal altercation may have escalated and caused Debbie’s killer to become enraged. After delivering what was surely a fatal wound and witnessing Debbie collapse shortly after, Debbie’s killer may have taken advantage of the opportunity to inflict more wounds out of anger and ensure her death.
Readers Are Urged to Get Involved
Readers who want to follow the future progress of Debbie’s case are encouraged to join the Facebook group dedicated to resolving this case and getting justice for Debbie, Unsolved Murder of Deborah Sue Williamson (Deborah Agnew). The administrators of the group regularly post updates and topics for discussion. Readers can also listen to season 2 of Break the Case, an investigative podcast covering the current investigation of Debbie’s murder.
Additionally, several episodes of the Diamond State: Murder Board podcast are dedicated to Debbie’s case. Anyone who has information about Debbie’s murder is asked to please report tips to the Lubbock Police Department’s Crimeline at 806-741-1000. Readers may also contact the University’s investigative team at breakthecaseAMU@gmail.com.
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