Details of Disappearance
Debra was last seen in southern California on January 24, 1979. She and her husband, Dennis Vowell, and a companion, Gary Newton, disappeared off the coast of San Diego on their 41-foot fishing boat, the Armistice. A photograph of the boat is posted with this case summary.
An extensive air and sea search by the United States Coast Guard covered the ocean between San Luis Obispo, California and Ensenada, Mexico, but no sign of the Vowells, Newton, or the boat was ever found.
Two years after the Vowells vanished, Debra's grandfather, a sergeant with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, received a collect telephone call in the middle of the night. When he asked the operator who it was he heard someone shout, "It's Debbie. I am trying to go to California." Then the call disconnected.
Debra's grandfather, who is now deceased, believed the voice he heard was Debra's. No one in her family has heard from her since and the caller has never been definitively identified.
Authorities believe the disappearance of the Armistice and its occupants is linked to a large-scale marijuana smuggling organization which has been connected to other missing boats and crew members.
The Armistice was owned by Dennis and a San Clemente, California surgeon, Morris Frederick Skinner. Skinner had a business partner, Luis Alvarez, who is suspected in cases of fraud, theft, organized crime, car bombings, narcotic sales, smuggling, kidnapping and murder.
Debra's case was investigated only by the Coast Guard in 1979. In 2003, one of her family members filed a missing persons report with the Orange County Sheriff's Office, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's cold case unit opened an investigation. Her disappearance, her husband's, and Newton's remain unsolved.
Photographs of Dennis and Newton are unavailable. Dennis's date of birth is June 11, 1956 and Newton's is March 12, 1956; the men were 22 years old in January 1979.