AMU Law Enforcement Original Public Safety

Behavioral Analysis of Debbie Williamson’s Killer – Part VI

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Image courtesy of Scott Rodgerson on Unsplash

By Jennifer Bucholtz
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice and Forensic Science 

This is the sixth 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.

Deborah “Debbie” Williamson was stabbed to death outside her home in Lubbock, Texas, on the evening of August 24, 1975. 46 years later, her killer still has not been brought to justice.

In an article I wrote last year, I discussed the use of behavioral analysis – often referred to as criminal profiling – in murder investigations. The concepts covered in that article can be applied to the unsolved murder of Debbie Williamson and may assist in narrowing the list of suspects.

In cases of murder, there are several behavioral clues inadvertently exhibited by the murderer during the commission of the crime. These behavioral clues provide investigators with valuable insights into the psychology, personality and motive of the murderer. 

Was Debbie’s Murder Premeditated?

There are several pieces of information that indicate Debbie’s killer put some thought into the crime prior to arriving at her residence. No knives were missing from Debbie’s home, and she was not known to carry a knife with her. It is therefore likely the killer brought the murder weapon to the crime scene, which indicates he or she had some thoughts about using it.

Police stated they discovered a vehicle tire track in the dirt alley to the south of Debbie’s home. If the perpetrator parked in that location, we can deduce that the murderer did not want the vehicle to be seen out front of Debbie’s home, in the location where guests would normally park. If the perpetrator had no plan to confront or attack Debbie, there would be no reason to hide the vehicle. 

The back door of Debbie’s house was standing open when Doug, and later police, arrived. For some reason, when Debbie was exiting her home, she did not have the opportunity to shut the door behind her.

It is possible that Debbie’s attacker ambushed her as soon as she walked out onto the back step. Another possibility is that Debbie’s killer formulated a ruse to gain entrance to the home and planned to attack her inside, but Debbie had her belongings in hand, ready to walk out the door when the killer arrived.

If the killer was lying in wait for her to exit, it follows that the plan to kill her was already formed. Developing a ploy to gain entry to the residence also indicates a level of premeditation.

Was Debbie’s Killer Organized or Disorganized?

Once known facts and evidence are collected about a crime, an investigator can begin to determine the broad category in which the murderer falls: organized or disorganized. Most offenders exhibit traits that fall into both categories (known as a “mixed” offender), but the majority of their characteristics usually fall on one side of the spectrum.

Overall, the murder scene in the carport where Debbie was attacked appears chaotic, and it is clear Debbie fought valiantly against her attacker. The killer was not able to control her well, which provided Debbie with the opportunity to struggle and fight back. This behavior points to a disorganized attack that was not well planned.

Using a knife to stab someone results in a very messy crime scene, due to the blood loss on behalf of the victim. Someone who diligently plans out a murder will take measures to avoid an attack method that results in heavy blood loss.

The more blood a victim loses, the more likely it is that the killer will become bloodied as well. Debbie’s murder indicates her killer was not criminally sophisticated and had not been involved in a violent crime prior to this one.

The Significance of Moving the Body

When a killer remains at a murder scene longer than necessary, there is a distinct reason for taking this extra risk. In Debbie’s case, her killer took the extra time to drag her body to a secondary location and to partially disrobe her.

Image from Debbie Williamson’s murder scene, showing the drag marks from the carport to the back step of Debbie’s home. Photo courtesy of Phillip Hamilton.

Additionally, it’s probable the killer broke the kitchen window before fleeing the scene. Debbie’s purse was also stolen.

These actions were not necessary to complete the murder; typically, a killer will grab the murder weapon and flee the scene as quickly as possible. For some reason, the killer felt compelled to take these additional actions after stabbing Debbie.

It was important to Debbie’s killer to place her at the back step to her home and leave her genitals and breasts exposed. Partially removing Debbie’s clothes may have been an act of staging in an attempt to make the crime look sexually motivated.

Initially, investigators thought Debbie had been sexually assaulted, but her autopsy confirmed she was not. It’s also important to note that removing blue jeans from a dead body is very difficult; it takes a great deal of effort.

When a victim is left in a state of full or partial undress, the killer’s intent is often to humiliate that victim. However, Debbie was moved to a very private area of the property where there was little chance a stranger or neighbor would find her.

The killer must have known that Debbie’s husband was almost certainly going to be the one to discover her body. Doug had obviously seen his wife in the nude before, so the humiliation factor is lacking.

Instead, it’s possible the intent behind leaving Debbie partially undressed was to convey a taunting message to her husband: “Here lies the beautiful woman you married, but she is no longer yours because I took her away from you.”

The killer left Debbie laying face upward and made no attempt to cover her. This post-mortem behavior indicates a lack of remorse on behalf of the killer.

Additionally, the killer essentially had to look at Debbie’s face while removing her clothing. Psychologically, seeing the victim’s face is difficult for most humans because they feel scrutiny from the victim, even in death, and the victim’s face is a reminder of what crime has just been committed. Seeing Debbie’s face obviously didn’t bother her killer.

What Does the Number of Stab Wounds Indicate?

Many people have opined that Debbie’s killer engaged in “overkill.” Overkill refers to the act of inflicting more wounds to a victim than is necessary to cause their death.

We know that several of the wounds inflicted on Debbie would have led to her death if she did not receive immediate medical attention. However, none of the stab wounds were immediately fatal.

Human instinct leads a victim to fight an attacker as long as possible and make every effort to survive. We know Debbie made attempts to defend herself from her killer and thwart the attack.

Rather than overkill, the more likely scenario is that it took 17 stab wounds to subdue Debbie. The perpetrator probably continued stabbing her until she stopped fighting back. Once she was subdued, the killer felt no need to continue stabbing her.

A common reason a killer stops stabbing a victim is because the knife breaks. In Debbie’s case, there is no indication that the blade of the killer’s knife broke during the murder, so this would not explain why he or she stopped after 17 injuries.

From a behavioral analysis standpoint, it follows that someone engaging in overkill would have continued inflicting stab wounds until he or she was no longer able to (i.e. until the knife broke, the murderer received an injury, or the killer got spooked and fled).

The killer remained at the scene for several minutes after Debbie was rendered unconscious or dead. He or she had the opportunity to stab her more times and engage in overkill, but did not.

The Location of Stab Wounds Provides Clues

It was incredibly dark in the carport where the attack took place. The killer was likely stabbing haphazardly and Debbie was flailing, trying to escape. Some of her stab wounds may actually have been defensive wounds, even though the most serious cuts were not to her arms.

Because of the dark, Debbie would have struggled to see where the knife was as the killer wielded it. She was likely writhing in any way possible in a desperate attempt to escape and avoid further injury.

The majority of stab wounds were delivered to Debbie’s upper torso. Her lungs and right atrium of her heart were punctured.

It follows that the intent was to kill Debbie as quickly as possible. The killer took expeditious measures to achieve that goal.

However, the killer did not choose the swiftest tactic, which would have been to slice her throat. It appears, at least subconsciously, the killer wanted to preserve Debbie’s face, which was representative of her good looks.  

Determining the True Motive Behind Debbie Williamson’s Murder

When a killer takes measures to stage a crime scene, the intent is to mislead law enforcement regarding the motive behind the crime. When this staging occurs, we can deduce that the false motive(s) the killer attempts to convey is considerably different from the real motive behind the murder.

In Debbie’s case, it is probable that neither sexual assault nor robbery was the true intent behind her murder. With this possibility, the list of potential motives grows narrower.

Most likely, Debbie had a prior relationship (not necessarily a romantic one) with her killer, and they knew one another. The amount of rage indicated by 17 stab wounds also implies the perpetrator was extremely angry at Debbie or her husband. This attack was likely personal in nature.

If the killer’s motive was to send a powerful message to Doug, that means Debbie’s murder was essentially used to punish Doug for some perceived offense. It is possible that the killer had a personal grudge against Doug, and some interaction between Doug and Debbie’s killer occurred in the hours or days prior to Debbie’s murder.  

Readers Are Urged to Get Involved

Readers who want to follow the future progress on 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 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 806-775-1425 or 806-300-6490.

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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