Deborah Leigh Key

Key, circa 1997; Andrew Dalzell

  • Missing Since 12/01/1997
  • Missing From Carrboro, North Carolina
  • Classification Endangered Missing
  • Sex Female
  • Race White
  • Date of Birth 09/21/1962 (61)
  • Age 35 years old
  • Height and Weight 5'6, 115 pounds
  • Associated Vehicle(s) Pontiac Sunbird (accounted for)
  • Distinguishing Characteristics Caucasian female. Brown hair. Key's nickname is Debbie. She has pierced ears.

Details of Disappearance

Key was last seen in the parking lot of the now-defunct Sticks and Stones bar and pool hall on Main Street in Carrboro, North Carolina during the early morning hours of December 1, 1997. She was accompanied by Andrew Douglas Dalzell at the time.

A photograph of Dalzell is posted with this case summary. He was a regular at the Sticks and Stones, but none of the other patrons knew his name. Key met him in the bar that evening. They spent the evening together and were seen hugging and kissing in the parking lot. Key has never been heard from again.

Two days after Key's disappearance, her Pontiac Sunbird was found unlocked and illegally parked in the lot next to the bar. Her purse and jacket were on the front seat.

Key's loved ones began to suspect foul play at this point. It would be uncharacteristic of her to leave her vehicle behind if she left for an extended period, and she normally kept the car locked and stored her purse in the trunk.

By the time police got to examine the Pontiac, it had been detailed, and any fingerprints, fibers, hair or other clues that may have been there were gone.

It took several months for investigators to identify Key's companion as Dalzell. He initially agreed to an interview, then changed his mind and got an attorney. Authorities obtained a search warrant on Dalzell's car and found a large bloodstain in the backseat and a bloodstained pair of underpants.

The backseat stain turned out to be from Dalzell's dog, and investigators were never able to link the underwear to Key's disappearance. In 2000, another family bought Dalzell's home and gave police permission to search it. They found no evidence related to Key's disappearance at the residence and they don't believe her body is buried there.

In late 2004, Dalzell confessed to strangling Key and putting her body in a Dumpster in Wilmington, North Carolina. He told the police about her alleged murder after he was arrested on unrelated charges. Dalzell was subsequently charged with second-degree murder.

His statement was thrown out of evidence, however, because a judge ruled that police had violated his constitutional rights. Prosecutors did not have enough evidence to proceed to trial without the confession, so the murder charge against Dalzell was dropped in June 2005. Key was declared legally dead in that same year.

In 2009, Dalzell pleaded guilty in federal court to enticing a child for sexual activity; on the internet he had solicited an undercover police officer whom he thought was an eleven-year-old girl. In exchange for his guilty plea, a charge of possession of child pornography was dropped.

His previous confession to murder was included in the pre-sentence report, and his sentence of 26 years exceeded the guidelines for that type of crime. Dalzell appealed his sentencing on the grounds that the murder confession should not have been introduced, but he lost his appeal in July 2012.

At the time of her disappearance, Key lived her mother in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She had a somewhat nomadic lifestyle and would occasionally leave home for several days at a time, but she had always kept in touch with her loved ones and has never been gone for this long.

Foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved. Her disappearance is still officially listed as unsolved.

Investigating Agency

  • Carrboro Police Department 919-918-7397

Updated 7 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated September 9, 2017; distinguishing characteristics updated.