http://www.ncwanted.com/ncwanted_home/story/4465792/Murder Suspect Caught in Internet Sex Sting
By NC WANTED Staff
Posted: Feb. 4, 2009
Updated: Feb. 4 11:09 a.m.
BUNCOMBE COUNTY — Andrew Dalzell, 32, a suspect in the 1997 disappearance of Debbie Key, was arrested in Asheville Tuesday for soliciting a child online.
According to Buncombe County authorities, Dalzell, of Gastonia, initiated a conversation in an Internet chat room with an undercover officer posing as an 11-year-old girl and began discussing sexual acts.
Dalzell traveled to Asheville to meet the young girl, but was met instead by investigators from the sheriff's office and State Bureau of Investigation.
He is being held under a $70,000 bond.
NC WANTED interviewed Dalzell last year about the disappearance of Debbie Key, a 35-year-old Chapel Hill woman, who left a bar with Dalzell 11 years ago and has never been seen or heard from since. To learn more, read the story below or browse the links in the gray sidebar at right.
From Previous Reports:
ORANGE COUNTY: Call it an act of desperation. Call it a last resort. When the Carrboro Police Department drew up a fake letter and phony arrest warrant for the man suspected of murdering 35-year-old Deborah Key, they got what they were hoping for: a killer’s confession. But their backhanded tactics got the confession thrown out of court.
Now, 10 years later, they are sitting on square one.
November 30, 1997. Deborah Key went out to one of her favorite places, a local bar and pool hall off Main Street in Carrboro called Sticks and Stones.
That night, a 19-year-old man with a ponytail and backward baseball cap caught Debbie’s attention. It wasn’t his first time at the bar, but no one knew his name. Regulars called him “The Artist.” He would sit at the bar, sip on soda and sketch pictures of nude women.
Debbie was single and lived with her mother in Chapel Hill. She loved animals and children. She earned most of her money from babysitting jobs around town, and lived a nomadic lifestyle. She often would leave home for days at a time.
Friends say Debbie liked to drink. Investigators say she often would leave whatever bar she was at with anyone promising free alcohol.
That night, The Artist bought Debbie a few drinks and the two spent most of the night chatting and flirting inside the bar.
When the bar closed around 2:30 a.m., investigators said the bar owner saw Debbie and “The Artist” hugging and kissing in the parking lot next to the bar.
Two days later, one of Debbie’s friends called Debbie’s mother to tell her that Debbie’s Pontiac Sunbird was illegally parked in the lot beside Sticks and Stones. When Debbie’s mother arrived at the car, it was unlocked and Debbie’s purse was on the front seat.
“She’d put her purse in the trunk. She’d put her key in her pocket,” Debbie's friend Joy Presslar said. “So, when we heard that her car was unlocked and purse was on the front with her coat, we knew that she’d been taken against her will or that something had happened, because it was so out of character for her to leave her things like that.”
A Frustrating Investigation
The Carrboro Police Department and the State Bureau of Investigation began to gather information, immediately suspecting foul play. They have never give up hope that Debbie is still alive, they say, but they worked the case as a homicide from the start.
They processed Debbie’s car as a crime scene. But when they received the car, investigators say, it seemed that the car had been detailed. The possibility of gathering physical evidence had been lost.
“Any possible fingerprints, any hairs and fibers inside the car that would have been left by someone else besides Debbie would have been vacuumed up (in the cleaning),” said John Hawthorne, a former SBI agent.
Pressing forward, authorities worked to retrace Debbie’s steps the last night she was seen.
Based on eyewitness accounts, they developed and distributed a composite sketch of The Artist, but they continued to explore other avenues, interviewing anyone they could find who knew Debbie or was at the bar that night.
They hone in on two men, one of whom just finished serving a lengthy sentence for kidnapping and assaulting a woman. Although both men seem to be strong suspects, they both pass polygraph tests and are eliminated.
Months pass without any sign of Debbie or The Artist.
In March, the co-owner of Sticks and Stones spotted The Artist in Chapel Hill. Authorities arrived at the bar and saw the Artist in the parking lot.
His name is Andrew Douglas Dalzell. Police asked whether he was the person seen standing with Debbie in the parking lot of Sticks and Stones in the early morning of December 1, 1997. At first he denied the allegations. But confronted with eyewitness accounts that put him with Debbie, he admitted it was him.
He refused to come in for questioning but said he would take a polygraph in the near future. By the next day, Dalzell got an attorney who advised that he not take a polygraph or submit to any interviews.
A month after identifying Dalzell, authorities obtained a warrant to search his car. They took the car to the SBI lab and their suspicions were immediately riled.
A huge blood stain on the backseat. A woman’s bra and underwear.
But it all comes back negative. The blood stain is from Dalzell’s injured dog and the hair and fibers they find don’t match Debbie.
All signs point to Dalzell, but with no physical evidence and no body, the case languishes – this time for years.
September 2004. Dalzell contacted Carrboro Police seeking security assistance as he moves out of his apartment, because he feels threatened by a man who stole more than $1,000 worth of property from him.
While providing security protection for Dalzell, the investigator noticed some items around the house from a hobby store called Hungate’s where Dalzell used to work – some still with price tags on.
Authorities drew up an arrest warrant for obtaining property by false pretenses and identity theft. By this time, Dalzell and his girlfriend were living in Stanly with his girlfriend’s parents. Lt. John Lau devises a plan to get Dalzell to make a statement about Debbie’s disappearance and presumed murder.
Neither Lau nor former district attorney, now-judge Carl Fox, would go on the record about what happened behind closed doors, but according to media reports and official court documents, Lau and Fox came up with a plan to get information out of Dalzell.
Lau told investigators to wait to serve the arrest warrants. In the meantime, police drew up a fake arrest warrant and fake letter from the district attorney’s office in hopes of getting Dalzell to make a statement.
Lau said Fox gave him a piece of his letterhead, wished him good luck and said, “You have nothing to lose.” But Carl Fox told the media that he had few details of the plan and did not realize that Lau was going to use fake arrest warrants to try to get Dalzell to confess. Fox also said he did not authorize police to sign his name to the document. According to these media reports, Fox also said he had no recollection of a conversation about a fake arrest warrant.
According to court documents, four investigators set out for Stanly, North Carolina. A Lincoln County deputy pulled Dalzell over, handcuffed him and placed him in the back of a Carrboro Police car along with the phony arrest warrant charging him with first degree murder. Lau read him a manufactured letter that was supposedly from Fox’s office saying Fox would seek the death penalty and there would be absolutely no plea deals unless Dalzell told them where he disposed of Debbie’s body
When Cpl. Everett walked in to the interview room to talk to Dalzell, the suspect broke down in tears, said he snapped and didn’t mean to do it; it just happened. At that point, the investigator told Dalzell to stop talking and presented Dalzell with a Miranda rights form. For the next five hours, police questioned Dalzell, who gave different versions of what happened.
During the interrogation, Dalzell hand-wrote two statements and typed one out on a computer. Dalzell was formally charged with second-degree murder.
January 10, 2005. Orange County Superior Court Judge Wade Barber dropped Dalzell’s murder charges, claiming Dalzell’s statements were not made voluntarily. Barber also said officers “fabricated official court documents,” used deception and trickery and should have immediately informed Dalzell why he was being arrested, because the actual basis for the arrest was not clear.
Without a confession, the state did not have a case. Dalzell was released on $25,000 bail and his murder charges were suppressed.
In July, Dalzell was back in court to face child exploitation sex charges after allegedly trying to lure a child from Virginia over the Internet. Later that month, Carrboro charged Dalzell with six counts of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor after investigators found pornographic images of teenagers on Dalzell’s computer. He was also charged with fraud after allegedly using a stolen credit card to buy a mail-order Russian bride.
Dalzell's attorney once again said the evidence was illegally obtained and that Carrboro police did not have probable cause when they took out a search warrant and seized items in his home. Once again, all charges were dropped.
It wasn’t at all the outcome law enforcement planned. Now they are left with a very strong suspect, but no body and the distinct possibility that the case will remain unsolved. Family and friends of Debbie have an endless list of unanswered questions.
What really happened to Deborah Key? Was she taken against her will or did she simply vanish? And where did law enforcement go wrong? Did a simple technicality cost them the arrest that could have solved this case?If you have any information about the disappearance on Debbie Key, call NC WANTED toll free at 1.866.43.WANTED (1.866.439.2683) or click on "Report a Tip" Your identity can be kept confidential.