by Robert A. Waters
On the morning of January 29, 1969, in Allenstown, New Hampshire, eleven-year-old Debra Lee Horn walked up the driveway toward her school bus stop. Before she reached it, however, she slipped on the ice and fell. Helped by her brother, she returned to her house and told her parents she’d hurt her neck. She asked to stay home that day and they reluctantly agreed. Her father later said he thought she wasn’t really hurt but just wanted to skip school.
Debra's brother went back out to catch the bus and both her parents left to go to work. The last time they saw Debra, described as a “frail, brown-eyed girl with a pixie haircut,” she was lying on the couch with a blanket covering her.
Her parents returned home at noon to find the front door wide-open. An Associated Press article reported: “Debra’s coat and boots were in place and the blanket was tossed on the couch. She was gone. Her two pet poodles, who would have trailed along behind her, were in the house.”
New Hampshire State Police investigators had few leads. In the driveway, they did discover a tire track. A police spokesman told reporters they were looking for a car with “studded snow tires.” A report came in that someone had seen a girl who looked like Debra with a man buying gasoline at a nearby service station. It turned out that the customer was a local resident who had his daughter in tow. Searchers found human blood beside a highway two miles from Debra’s house, but since DNA was unknown at the time, detectives couldn't determine its origin.
Debra's mother and father took to the local airways to plead for their daughter's safe return. The sobbing mother said: "Only God in His infinite wisdom knows at this moment where and how Debbie is..."
Police, firefighters, and civilians formed human chains to hunt the frigid area around Allenstown. Plodding over snow-banks and icy creeks, exploring empty homes and vacant cars, the searchers refused to quit. Day after day, they came up empty. Finally, in late February, heavy snows locked in the region and the search ground to a halt.
In late March, a woman reported seeing the body of a blonde-haired girl floating in the Merrimack River at Manchester. Two-man teams of state troopers searched the banks while others used aluminum boats powered by outboard motors to check the river from Manchester to Tyngsboro, Massachusetts. Shooting hazardous rapids and dodging dangerous ice-floes, they found nothing.
Finally, on August 10, three teenage boys exploring an abandoned 1952 Plymouth in Sandown, New Hampshire opened the trunk and discovered a decomposed body. One teen told a reporter: “We thought at first it was a dummy.” The sad remains of Debra Lee Horn had been located. She was completely nude. Her clothes, a light gold jumper, a white turtleneck jersey, and gold knee-length stockings, were missing. Debra's grieving parents identified a gold ring and a silver ear-ring she wore.
Attorney General Norman D’Amours reported that “there was an indication of some trauma to the back of the head. Although the doctor could not state positively that this mark...was a trauma, it appeared very probably that such was the case.” No one could determine whether the trauma to the head was the result of the fall she'd taken or a homicidal blow.
Regardless of the cause of death, someone took the child from her home, removed her clothes, and stuffed her body in the trunk of an old car 25 miles away.
Even though investigators continued to work occasional leads, they never developed a viable suspect. The case eventually went cold.
Decades passed. A few years ago, the New Hampshire Department of Justice created a website to publicize cold cases. Debra Horn's unsolved murder is included.
Who abducted Debra Lee Horn from her home in icy Allenstown, New Hampshire? My guess is that it was a crime of opportunity, a random act by someone who came to the door. Maybe a salesman, or a friend of the family. Finding the child alone, he kidnapped, raped, and murdered her.
Unless some unknown clue surfaces or someone confesses, this random killer got away with cold-blooded murder.
At least two other unsolved murders of young girls occurred in New Hampshire between 1968 and 1971.
On June 11, 1968, Joanne Dunham, 15, disappeared from Charleston as she was walking to school. Her body was found the following day on a dirt road in Unity. The coroner determined that she had been sexually assaulted and died of asphyxiation.
On November 21, 1971, Kathy Lynn Gloddy, 13, vanished from downtown Franklin. The next day, searchers located her body in a wooded area five miles away. She'd been brutally raped. Cause of death was blunt force trauma to the neck, head, and abdomen.