Left: Deborah circa, 1984
Right: Age Progressed to age 16
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: September 24, 1984
Missing From: Chicago, Cook County, Illinois
Classification: Endangered Missing
Date Of Birth: October 15, 1982
Age: 1 year old
Height and Weight: 3’0″ and 50 pounds
Distinguishing Characteristics: African American Female, Black hair, Brown eyes, Deborah has a scar on her right ear, her name might be spelled as “Debra” and her middle name as “Lynn”
Details of Disappearance
Deborah was allegedly abducted by her non-custodial father, Odell Sheppard, from her home in Chicago, Illinois on September 24th 1984. He allegedly called her mother, Norell Sanders, and told her he was going to take the child and that she would never see her again. He then proceeded to go to her home where he fought with her over Deborah. He was able to subdue her by striking her several times, he grabbed Deborah and took her from the home.
Sheppard allowed Deborah to talk to Norell over the phone a few days after her abduction. He called her again on October 1st and threatened to kill her and Deborah because the police were questioning his family. The child was last seen alive approximately 2 weeks after her abduction, she and her father were present at a relatives funeral in Memphis Tennessee. This is the last confirmed sighting of Deborah. She was never seen or heard from again afterwards.
In November, Sheppard called Norell again and said he would give her Deborah for $2,000 in cash. Norell did not have this money. He also told her at one point that the next time she saw Deborah, she would be “in a pine box”. Sheppard denied ever making such a statement.
Sheppard and Norell were never married as a couple and they weren’t living together at the time of Deborahs 1984 abduction. Norell states she immediately called police to report her daughters abduction but they were slow to take any sort of action in the case since the law was unclear about her custodial rights as an unmarried mother. She went to court and eventually gained full custody of Deborah.
Police arrested Sheppard in Tennessee in late 1985, he did not have Deborah with him and claimed he didn’t know where she was. He originally claimed that he gave the child back to her mother in December of 1984 but Norell denies this, she hadn’t seen her daughter since her abduction in September and none of her relatives had seen her either. Sheppard was convicted of child abduction in 1986 and sentenced to 3 years in prison. He was released from prison in October of 1987.
He was ordered to produce Deborah within 3 days of his release to the court. He showed up to the court alone and was jailed again. He served 10 years and 3 months in prison for contempt of court since he refused to tell where his daughter was located. He continued to claim he left the child with her mother but the court did not believe him. Norell believes he refused to deny her whereabouts to cause her suffering.
It’s believed that Sheppards jail time for contempt of court was the longest recorded sentence for such in United States history. By this time, Norell had gained custody of her 3 other children. She searched endlessly for her baby. She went on talk shows, called police various times to ask about her daughters case, talked with missing children’s organizations, and even contacted politicians and never took no as an answer.
Sadly, Norell passed away on January 24th 1998 from kidney failure. Her health had been deteriorating for years and it’s believed her anxiety of not knowing where her daughter is contributed to it all. Sheppard was released from jail a few days later and maintains his innocence in the case.
Investigators believe that Sheppard might have sold Deborah after her abduction or even abandoned her. Deborahs current whereabouts remain unknown and her disappearance is considered unsolved. Her missing persons case was closed following her mother’s death.
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Illinois State Police 847-294-4400