Local News

NC Wanted: Carrboro woman's body hasn't been recovered in 20 years

Posted April 2, 2011 8:32 p.m. EDT
Updated December 2, 2017 11:29 p.m. EST

— After two decades of uncertainty, friends and family of a missing Carrboro woman are still waiting for answers.

Debbie Key, then 32, disappeared from a parking lot near a Carrboro bar after a night out with friends in December 1997. Her car was left illegally parked in the same spot for days. Her passenger door was unlocked, and her purse was on the front seat, investigators said.

"Our gut response, our initial response was that she had not run away – that something bad had happened," said Lt. John Lau of the Carrboro Police Department. "You always have some hope that you're wrong."

Investigators say they're hoping modern DNA technology that wasn't available in 1997 will help them piece together what happened to Key.

From the start, the investigation centered around 21-year-old Andrew Dalzell, who witnesses said spent the evening talking to Key in the bar.

In 2004, Dalzell was charged with her murder, though Key's body has never been found, but a judge threw out the case because officers allegedly used fake documents to elicit a confession from Dalzell.

In an April 2008 interview with NC Wanted, Dalzell described the last time he saw Key.

"I saw her open her door as I was pulling out of the Capital One bank parking lot," he said. "I saw her open her car door and I was off. So her car door was open and she was getting in her car last time I saw her."

Dalzell was arrested in February 2009 in Buncombe County after trading messages in a chat room with an undercover officer posing as an 11-year-old. Authorities said the messages discussed performing sex acts.

He pleaded guilty to using the Internet to knowingly persuade, induce, entice or coerce a person who is younger than 18 years of age to engage in illegal sexual activity. He is serving a 26-year prison sentence.

For Key's friend Joy Preslar, knowing Dalzell is behind bars is a relief.

"To hear that the man who confessed to her murder, whether he was convicted of it or not, is in jail is good news," Preslar said.

But even after 20 years, the pain of losing her friend is still fresh.

"It's hard; it's hard to be without her," Preslar said. "I can't go to Walnut Creek to see bands anymore because she was my Walnut Creek buddy. I can't go out to hear a band without thinking of her."

Anyone with information about the unsolved disappearance of Debbie Key of Carrboro can call NC Wanted's tipline at 1-866-439-2683 or .