Friends and family gather to remember murder victim

Hey, hey… I was at this gathering at the gracious invitation of Debbie’s sister, Susan. It was a great pleasure to meet her friends and to hear about Debbie as she lived. To see pictures of her (I never knew what she looked like), and to understand how dearly she is missed.

I’ve never met a more loyal group of friends, may they stay together for as long as they feel the need.

I’d write more but I’m rushed preparing for the Quebec conference next week. It will be good to see Pierre Boisvenu again. More important, it will be good to see my brother.

By Susan Broili : The Herald-Sun

Oct 17, 2004 : 6:40 pm ET

CARRBORO — People who love Deborah Leigh Key smiled through tears as the pain that never completely goes away eased a bit Saturday night.

They gathered over the weekend for the first time since the September arrest of a suspect in Key’s murder seven years ago.

About 15 friends and family came together at the Jade Palace in Carrboro across the street from the parking lot where Key, then 35, was last since early on Dec. 1, 1997.

Key’s sister, Susan Key Gagnon, became overcome with emotion and had to stop several times as she gave her family’s first public statement since Carrboro police arrested Andrew Douglas Dalzell on Sept. 9 and charged him with second-degree murder in Key’s death.

Dalzell remains in Orange County Jail under a secured bond of $90,000.

“This is good news for the family,” Gagnon said.

“We are pleased that Andrew Dalzell has been charged and arrested for Deborah’s murder. We appreciate the work and continued efforts of the Carrboro Police Department, Lt. John Lau and Anthony Westbrook, in particular,” Gargnon said, from her prepared statement.

“We have spoken with [Orange/Chatham] District Attorney Carl Fox and we are confident that he and his team appreciate the magnitude of our loss and the horror of this crime. We have complete faith that Carl Fox will prosecute Andrew Dalzell to the fullest extent of the law. We will be working with him and his team to see that justice will be served,” she said.

Gagnon asked Key’s friends to attend the trial, which has not yet been scheduled, in order to show support.

She needed no notes to talk about her sister and how much she was missed.

“She had a very bright smile and she was very outgoing,” Gagnon said.

She also spoke of the everyday joys of life her sister would never experience again: “the sunset, the leaves turning … motherhood” and of how losing her had affected her family.

“The void in each of our lives is without measure. The pain is immense even to this day,” Gagnon said. “We are devastated.”

A real person

In the United States, close to one-third of all homicides go unsolved and, for every murder, solved or not, there is a real person who is forever missed, she added.

“Deborah is not a statistic. She was my sister, a loving daughter and had many, many friends. She is missed every single day,” Gagnon said in her statement.

Friends spoke of feeling a range of emotions upon hearing that an arrest had been made in Key’s death.

“I felt relieved, [angry]. I took a deep breath and then I broke down and cried,” Laurel Schwartz said. “I’m very, very glad they finally got him.”

“We can finally go ahead and process the thing,” Joy Preslar said, of how the arrest was helping Key’s friends and family come to terms with what happened.

Dave Hurlbert said that his initial impression of Dalzell had not been a good one when he had first seen the man in the Sticks & Stones bar at 102 E. Main St. in Carrboro, and Dalzell had been drawing “pornographic cartoons of women.”

Some time later, Key had spent the evening of Nov. 30 into the wee hours of Dec. 1, 1997, at the same bar and had been seen there with Dalzell before she disappeared from the adjacent Nationsbank (now Bank of America) parking lot.

“I am certain she did not leave that parking lot willfully. She always took her purse with her,” Hurlbert said.

When one of Key’s friends noticed her car still in the parking lot, her purse was found in the car.

Prime suspect

After police had identified Dalzell as the man last seen with Key, hugging her in the Nationsbank parking lot on Dec. 1, 1997, they had considered him their prime suspect. But police were never able to come up with enough evidence to link him to her death until now.

“They’ve been keeping an eye on him and waiting for him to do something stupid — and he did,” Hurlbert said.

In August, Dalzell called police and asked them to provide security for him as he moved out of his Royal Park apartment. While an officer was inside Dalzell’s apartment, he noticed craft supplies and figurines and, after checking with Hungate’s where Dalzell had worked, learned that those items had not been purchased.

Police charged Dalzell with possession of stolen goods and larceny by an employee. After further investigation, police charged Dalzell with six counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, the equivalent of possession of child pornography, and also with fraud for allegedly using another man’s credit card to obtain access to a Russian mail-order bride Internet site.

While investigating those crimes, police said they obtained evidence that Dalzell had killed Key.

Police have not publicly identified the evidence that led to the murder charge, and have not released any information about Key’s remains.

Key’s friends would like some answers.

“I want to know what happened and why. I want to know where she is so we can bury her properly,” Liz Edwards said.

Happy memories

At the gathering, Key’s friends raised a glass of wine in her memory.

“Here’s a toast to Deborah Leigh Key, who brought so much joy into all our lives,” Hurlbert said.

Her friends spent most of the get-together sharing good memories of Key as they looked through photo albums.

“It’s good to see the pictures and remember the good old days,” Forrest Covington said. “She was just a lot of fun to hang out with.”

Even though Key had been a country music fan, especially liked Patsy Cline and could sing a bit like her, she also enjoyed hearing Covington play classical music. “She loved to hear me play [Modest] Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition,’ ” he said.

Hurlbert recalled how hard Key had fought to recover from being completely paralyzed from Guillian-Barre syndrome, and how she had done so in only six months after doctors had said it would take years. That she had beat the illness only to be murdered just “accentuates the tragedy,” Hurlbert said.

Key was kind-hearted and loved people — and animals.

“We still have the stray cat she let into our house in 1996 after Fran,” Hurlbert said.

Broken dreams

Laurel Schwartz remembered how Key had loved the Pittsburgh Steelers — “she always wore a Steelers jacket” — and the Penguins and had been a big fan of NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace.

“She never met a stranger — until seven years ago,” Schwartz said.

“We used to go and watch the sunsets at Jordan Lake … and I sure do miss her,” Schwartz said.

Edwards recalled how she and Key, who shared September birthdays — Key’s on the 21st, Edwards’ on the 17th — would celebrate by spending a week together at Topsail Beach.

She still wears the sapphire ring Key once gave her.

“She just was a loving person … I still dream about her all the time,” Edwards said.

It also saddens her that Key never knew Edwards’ son Matthew, who is 7.

“I wish Debbie could have known him. She loved children,” Edwards said.


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