Bad Dream House II
Holy Irony-of-Ironies Batman!
Murder charge revives ’97 case
Carrboro police apprehend suspect
Key was seen with a man about 2:30 a.m. Dec. 1, 1997.
By ANNE BLYTHE, Staff Writer
CARRBORO — Nearly seven years after Deborah Leigh Key was last seen outside a downtown bar and pool hall, a man who had been a suspect in her disappearance and presumed death was arrested Thursday and charged with second-degree murder.
Andrew Douglas Dalzell was booked into Orange County jail, according to police. Investigators, who have questioned the suspect previously, arrested Dalzell after a search Sept. 2 of his Carrboro apartment and a search Wednesday of a Lincoln County home where he was staying with friends.
During the search Sept. 2, initiated on an unrelated matter, investigators discovered evidence they believed to be related to the Key case, police said. With that information, investigators obtained a warrant to search the Lincoln County home, where sheriff’s deputies made the arrest without incident.
Investigator John Lau, who has been on the case in Carrboro since December 1997, when Key was reported missing, would release few details Thursday. He worried that making too much information public might hurt the case.
“I feel relieved that this person has been locked up, that we have made this arrest,” Lau said. “This has certainly been one of the longest cases for me. It’s been hanging over our heads. We’d pick up a lead and run with it to the end, and often that was a dead end.”
Key, born Sept. 21, 1962, went missing on the last day of November 1997. She left her mother’s Chapel Hill home and ended up at Sticks and Stones, a bar and pool hall that used to be on Carrboro’s East Main Street.
Key had been at the bar for several hours, family reported in 1998, when a sandy-haired, round-faced man in his early 20s came in about closing time. He had a sketch pad with him, and regulars at the bar told investigators back then that on other occasions he had sat at the bar with a soda and roughed out sketches.
About 2:30 a.m. Dec. 1, 1997, Key was seen with the man in a bank parking lot a short distance from the bar, which no longer exists. They were standing between two cars, one of which was her gray 1990 Pontiac Sunbird.
Two days later, one of Key’s friends called her mother to say the Sunbird was parked illegally in the bank lot.
Key’s mother had not seen Key since Nov. 30, but it was not unusual for them to go several days without contact. Key was 35. Nevertheless, her mother went to the bank lot with an extra set of keys and moved the car.
Things didn’t look right, Key’s mother said in a 1998 interview. Her daughter’s purse and jacket were on the front seat of the car.
After several more days passed without Key showing up, the family called police and reported her missing.
Public help was sought
Key was outgoing and had many friends. At the family’s request, police did not go public immediately with the fact that Key was missing. But as weeks passed and nothing turned up, investigators turned to the community for help.
A police sketch artist worked with witnesses and issued a rendering of the man Key was seen with. Investigators asked for help identifying him.
Help came in, and investigators tracked down the suspect. They obtained a warrant in 1998 to search his 1990 Honda and collect several items. But the investigation was hampered, police said, because a lawyer had advised the man not to talk to investigators or take a polygraph test.
Investigators declined to say what they found in the Carrboro apartment this week that gave the case the new turn.
“Our hope is that this arrest will help to bring closure for all concerned,” Chief Carolyn Hutchison said in a statement.
“Over the years, we have invested considerable efforts in this case. … The immense satisfaction we all feel as a result of this arrest is, of course, tempered by compassion and sorrow for Debbie’s family and many friends.”
Joy Preslar, a musician and friend of Key’s since 1985, experienced a range of emotions Thursday after learning of the arrest. Since December 1997, she has wondered about Key’s whereabouts and fate almost every day.
“The not knowing has been very frustrating,” Preslar said. “This has haunted everybody who knew Debbie because she was such a sweet, kind person.
“This gives it some finality in my mind. I had always tried to hang on to the idea that she might be back. Her friends and her family would like very much to be able to put her to rest. We want to learn about what happened to her.”
Key’s mother could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Staff writer Anne Blythe can be reached at 932-8741 or firstname.lastname@example.org.