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Debra was last seen at her family's residence in Lebanon, Indiana on August 29, 1981 at approximately 11:00 a.m. She was allegedly with her mother's live-in boyfriend, Omer R. "Steve" Beebout. Debra disappeared during the day and has never been heard from again. She left all of her personal belongings inside her home. Debra's mother initially reported her missing on August 31, 1981, two days after her daughter was last seen. Her case was originally classified as that of a runaway.
Debra's case was reclassified to a non-family abduction with foul play suspected after the homicide of her sister, Frances Annette Cole, in 1983. Frances disappeared from their home on October 4, 1983. She was discovered deceased along U.S. 52 north of Lebanon on October 7, three days later. She had been raped before being shot in the back; the coroner determined that she died the same day she was found. Beebout was considered a suspect in Frances's homicide and then became the prime suspect in Debra's 1981 disappearance. He died of a heart attack in April 1989, at age forty-nine.
Authorities matched semen and other fluid samples taken from Frances's remains to Beebout's DNA in early 1999. Investigators believe the evidence proves that Beebout was responsible for Frances's death; it is also theorized that he may have been involved in Debra's disappearance. Her case opened 2018 by Psychic Brian Ladd.