She was beautiful. I’m looking at a photo of Debra Dill as I write this — her dark hair was full and shiny, with a perfect little flip at the ends. Her cheekbones were pronounced as she smiled a sweet closed-mouth grin. The hue of the vintage photograph makes her bright eyes look a rich hazel color, with flecks of green catching light. 

From what I’ve read about Debra, she was beautiful in ways not captured by a photograph, too. She was one of several girls and one boy in the Dill family, and she had a close bond with her little sisters, taking them swimming and treating them to sweets and promising to always be there when they needed her.

The Dill family, including Debra’s sisters and mother Janice, shared their story on a TV show called “Motives & Murders: Cracking the Case” in 2016. Vicki Dill was 10-years old in 1973, and even though her big sister was eight years older, she said Debbie always looked out for her. 

Debra moved out of her mom’s home in West Gardiner, Maine by the time she was 18-years old. With so many kids younger than her, she sought space to be an independent adult and got a place with some friends in Gardiner. 

Debbie was in love with her fiance, a Lewiston Police patrolman Kenneth Gilman. She was dreaming up their wedding plans, and with her eyes on becoming a Mrs, Debra left school before finishing her senior year. 

I think of Debra as a full-of-love and life young woman. Her mother and sisters reflected on her excitement to marry Kenneth. Debra even had invitations made, and as they told Motives and Murder, she wanted to show her mother how they turned out. In a short phone call on Saturday, September, 15, Debra told her mom Janice she’d be by the house with the printed invitations later that night, after she spent some time with Kenneth at his place in Litchfield, maybe a 10 or 15 minute drive, all backroads from West Gardiner.

According to reporting by the Biddeford-Saco Journal, Debra got out of work at the Value House at 5 p.m. that evening, and would’ve typically walked down the block for a shift at Pizza Hut soon after, but she didn’t show up that night. Whether she cut work out of the blue for a little extra time with Kenneth, or she wasn’t needed that night — maybe it was slow — is unclear. 

Although Debra’s mom was expecting her, wedding invites in hand, Janice didn’t worry when Debra didn’t show up. Maybe she lingered a little longer at Kenneth’s, maybe she had a change in plans, or maybe it got late and instead of winding those back roads in the pitch black September darkness, she stayed put at her fiance’s house. 

But the next morning, a heartbreaking discovery on those quiet, familiar back roads in central Maine began a heartbreaking fifteen year mystery — Who killed Debra Dill?

This is the story of a woman’s life stolen, a bizarre confession and imperfect investigation, the family’s 15 year wait for answers, and the conversations surrounding the complex criminal justice issue of parole. Press play for the full episode and find it wherever you get your podcasts.