AMU Law Enforcement Original Public Safety

Analyzing Debbie Williamson’s Autopsy Report – Part III

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This is the third 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.

Deborah “Debbie” Williamson was stabbed to death outside the back door of her home on August 24, 1975. An autopsy was conducted the next day by a doctor at St. Mary of the Plains Hospital in Lubbock, TX. I was able to obtain a copy of the autopsy report and photos, which provide critical details about Debbie’s injuries and the attack itself.

Official Causes of Death for Debbie Williamson

Three medical conditions were identified as leading to Debbie’s death, according to the autopsy report. The first was pneumohemothorax in both lungs, meaning her lungs had collapsed as a result of multiple stab wounds.

A traditional lung collapse occurs when air escapes through a perforation (in Debbie’s case, multiple stab wounds) in the lung and leaks into the cavity between the lung and chest wall. The pressure of the air from outside causes a great disruption in the normal inflation of the lung with air.

This disruption, in turn, leaves a victim unable to catch her breath or inhale an adequate amount of oxygen. In Debbie’s case, her lungs collapsed from a combination of air escaping her lungs and blood filling them.

Debbie also suffered a stab wound to the right atrium of her heart, which receives blood flow via the veins and circulates it throughout the body. Any penetrating injury to the heart results in internal hemorrhaging, but a stab wound to the right atrium results in extreme and rapid blood loss due to the large amount of blood in that area of the heart at any given time.

Penetrating injuries to the heart are always associated with a high rate of death. Without immediate medical and surgical care, the heart cannot recover from such an injury.

Exsanguination, a severe loss of blood, was observed in Debbie’s lungs and heart. During the autopsy, two liters of blood were removed from her lungs. Most of the blood flowed into her lungs as a result of the multiple stab wounds. This extraordinary amount of blood in her lungs, combined with the lack of air, led to the inability of Debbie to breathe properly while her heart continued to circulate blood.

Debbie Williamson autopsy report
An excerpt from Debbie Williamson’s 1975 autopsy report. Image courtesy of author.

Observations Noted in the Autopsy Report

Debbie suffered 17 stab wounds during the attack. All of them were to the upper half of Debbie’s body: 10 to her back and seven to her chest.

The pathologist noted bruises and abrasions on her knees, elbows, and chin. No stab wounds or other injuries were found on her legs other than the bruises on her knees.

She had a foreign strand of hair clutched in one hand. Investigators believed the hair belonged to her attacker, but forensic analysis has not yet identified its source. 

Debbie was found partially clothed, with her blouse and bra pushed up and her pants and underwear pulled down, possible indications of sexual assault. Her knee-high stockings and boots were not disturbed and were found on her legs and feet in a normal fashion.

Evidence Collected at the Autopsy

At the autopsy, several items of evidence were collected and submitted to the Texas Department of Public Safety for testing. These items included:

  • Debbie’s clothing
  • Head and genital hair samples
  • Genital combing samples
  • Fingernail scrapings from all 10 fingernails
  • The hair found in her hand

Other items of evidence collected at the crime scene included Debbie’s puzzle magazine, two bricks from the patio where her body was found, blood samples from the carport and patio, and a knife found on the kitchen counter of the residence.

Vaginal swabs were obtained, and a complete sexual assault kit was conducted. Extensive forensic testing concluded that her killer did not rape or sexually assault her.

What Does the Autopsy Report Indicate about the Attack?

The bruising and abrasions on Debbie’s knees, elbows and chin suggest she was pushed or tackled from behind at some point during the attack. The most logical scenario is that this action occurred while Debbie was attempting to run away from her killer at the beginning of the attack. This scenario will be discussed in more detail in a future article.

Based on the fact that Debbie had stab wounds to her front and back, we can deduce that she was facing her killer for part of the attack and attempted to defend herself.

Due to her lungs collapsing and rapidly filling with blood, Debbie quickly lost her ability to yell and breathe. Although she was able to fight her attacker for a period of time, she likely was subdued within a couple of minutes and succumbed to her injuries not long after. The adrenaline of the fight resulted in her heart pumping faster than normal, which led to her bleeding out quickly.

Four of the stab wounds to Debbie’s back were all inflicted at nearly the same angle and in the same general location. It is likely these four injuries were delivered in quick succession and without much movement from Debbie.

This pattern indicates the killer was able to maintain control of Debbie from the back for the time it took to deliver those four injuries. It is likely the killer had Debbie temporarily pinned to the ground while he or she administered those four stabs.

Based on the distinct angle of some of the stab wounds, it is likely Debbie’s killer held the knife in the right hand; therefore, the killer probably was right-hand dominant.

What Can Be Learned from Visiting the Scene of the Crime?

Investigative journalist George Jared and I will be traveling to Lubbock to conduct some on-the-ground research and investigation. It is always valuable to visit the scene of a crime and meet with witnesses and other interested parties in person. My next article will detail our time in Lubbock and the new information we uncover.

Readers who wish to follow future progress on Debbie’s case are encouraged to join the Facebook group dedicated to getting justice for her, Unsolved Murder of Deborah Sue Williamson (Deborah Agnew). The administrators of the group will continue to post updates and topics for discussion. Anyone who has information about Debbie’s murder is asked to please report tips to the Lubbock Police Department at 806-775-2865.

Read the next article in this series.

Jennifer Bucholtz is a former U.S. Army Counterintelligence Agent and a decorated veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. She holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice, a master of arts in criminal justice and a master of science in forensic sciences. Bucholtz has an extensive background in U.S. military and Department of Defense counterintelligence operations. While on active duty, she served as the Special Agent in Charge for her unit in South Korea and Assistant Special Agent in Charge at stateside duty stations. Bucholtz has also worked for the Arizona Department of Corrections and Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City. She is currently an adjunct faculty member and teaches courses in criminal justice and forensic sciences. Additionally, she is an instructor for the Department of State’s Office of Anti-Terrorism Assistance and a licensed private investigator in Colorado. You can contact her at Jennifer.Bucholtz@mycampus.apus.edu.

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