Debra Lynne

Debra Lynne Makel, 8, got off her school bus in rural Greene County on a bright autumn afternoon after attending Dry Tavern Elementary School all day.

The young girl with the blond hair and blue eyes started up her driveway toward her split-level home where she lived with her mother, father, and two older brothers while carrying a pink purse.

A neighbor noticed her strolling.

A jogger also did so.

As the boys canvassed homes in the neighborhood to try and sell magazine subscriptions, her brothers, ages 12 and 11, claimed that they too saw “Debbie” heading to their house.

On October 5, 1973, a Friday, it was 3:45 PM.

It was also the last time the third-grader, who excelled in dance and was a straight-A student, would ever be seen alive.

The Longest Weekend

Makel’s school supplies were found outside of her home off Ferncliff Road, close to Rices Landing in Greene County, as well as the child’s coat, leading investigators to believe she made it to her home, according to Trooper John F. Marshall, who is in charge of cold-case investigations for the state police station in Uniontown.

Marshall reported that Makel’s mother Charlotte, who worked in a clothing factory in nearby Nemacolin, and father Duane, a teacher at Avella High School, had not yet arrived home.

Marshall claimed that when they did, the family initially assumed Makel was simply playing outside.

But by dinnertime, according to Marshall, the police had been called and worry had given way to fear.

“At that point, a search begins with about 180 people looking for her,” Marshall said, adding that local residents and volunteer firefighters from the neighborhood joined police and search teams in one of the biggest searches in the county’s history.

That evening, during the Friday night football game at Jefferson-Morgan High School, a statement was made. People started to leave the stands in order to join the search party. The Makel’s home was surrounded by more people than ever as everyone from family friends to Boy Scout troops combed the area. Bloodhounds from the State Penitentiary at Moundsville, West Virginia, were brought in to help.

After a weekend of searching, two of Makel’s cousins discovered something green poking out from among some logs and other debris in the wooded area known as Pumpkin Run on Sunday morning. The flash of green caught their attention as the cousins, who had only joined the search that morning and had only been looking for the child for about 15 minutes, were walking about 10 minutes from the family homestead. Makel’s body lay in a small grave beneath the rubble.

Police discovered that Makel had been raped before being strangled with a piece of twine, which caused her larynx to break.

“At that point, the case immediately moved from a missing persons case to a criminal homicide investigation,” Marshall recalled.

Faint hope and false confessions.

Marshall claimed that despite conducting countless polygraphs and conducting numerous feverish months of interviews, no prime suspect had been identified by the detectives. As new investigator after new investigator was assigned to Makel’s case and added to the thousands of typed pages and notes associated with the child’s homicide, police and family prepared for the long haul and the trying years ahead.

The police were “bombarded” with tips in the first few weeks after Makel’s body was found, according to Marshall, but none of them turned out to be useful.

The following year, Dr. David Hoy, a psychic from Paduka, Kentucky, was invited. He admitted to the authorities that he knew what happened, how it happened, and who did it. Still, nothing became loose, according to Marshall.

Marshall claimed that more than 1,000 people were questioned by police during the course of their investigation and later ruled out as suspects. On a list of potential suspects, a small number remained over time, but none had evidence strong enough to support charges.

According to Marshall, several people came forward in 2001 and the years that followed claiming to have killed the child. At the time, the state police cold case squad was looking into these claims. They were all ruled out as potential suspects.

“They were ruled out as either braggarts or suffering from a hero complex,” Marshall said, noting that both types of confessions are common in high-profile cases.

He said that hero complex confessions are made by individuals who want to try and provide closure for the family. But it would have been a false conclusion, and police weren’t buying, Marshall said.

40 years to closure?

Marshall, who has been in charge of cold cases for about eight years, admitted that he hadn’t looked at the Makel case until Wednesday, but he quickly got sucked into the documents that filled a sizable cardboard box and at least a half-dozen large binders.

All of the physical evidence gathered at the scene has recently been subjected to DNA testing, which was not possible when Makel died, according to Marshall.

The DNA was then examined and added to the CODIS database, which is maintained by the FBI laboratory. According to police, this system links federal, state, and local crime labs to electronically exchange and compare DNA profiles in order to help solve violent crimes.

Marshall claimed that the DNA of “someone” had been found on pieces of evidence, but the profile has not yet been found to match anyone in the DNA database. That might alter, he suggested.

Marshall said, his lips thinning in a determined grimace, “I am going to be re-interviewing and asking for DNA swabs,” noting that there are three potential suspects who are still alive and still thought to be viable. If 99 out of 100 people say yes when I ask for cooperation, then things will get interesting.

Anyone with information regarding Makel’s death is asked to call police at 724-439-7111 or 724-627-6151.

Additionally, Marshall said Fayette County Crime Stoppers is offering up to a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.

Tips can be made by calling 1-888-404-TIPS.

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