One-year old Deborah was initially abducted by her non-custodial father, Odell Sheppard from her home in Chicago, Illinois on September 24, 1984.
Deborah's mother, Norell Sanders told police Odell arrived at her home and proceeded to argue with her over Deborah. Odell assaulted Norell several times, grabbed Deborah and left. Norell and Odell never married and they weren't living together in 1984.
Norell notified the police, but they were reluctant to take any action because the law was unclear about her custodial rights as an unmarried mother. Norell later went to court and obtained full custody of Deborah.
Deborah was last seen two weeks after her abduction when Odell took her to a family member's funeral in Memphis, Tennessee. Odell allowed Norell to talk to Deborah over the telephone some time after he abducted her. It was the last time Deborah was heard from.
Odell called Norell again shortly after the phone call and offered to return Deborah for $2,000 in cash which Norell did not have. According to Norell, Odell told her the next time she saw Deborah, it would be in a "pine box," but Odell denies making that statement.
In late 1985, Odell was arrested in Tennessee, but he didn't have Deborah with him. He claimed that he returned Deborah to Norell's care in December of 1984, but Norell said that never happened and none of her relatives have seen Deborah since she was abducted by Odell.
In 1986, Odell was convicted of child abduction and sentenced to three years in prison, but was released in 1987 after serving less than half of his sentence.
Odell was ordered to produce his daughter in court within three days, but after he failed to do so, he spent ten 10 years and three months in jail for contempt of court for refusing to disclose where Deborah was. It's believed to be the longest recorded sentence for contempt of court in the history of the United States.
Odell repeatedly stated that he returned Deborah back to Norell and didn't know where she was, but the courts didn't believe him. Norell stated that Odell refused to disclose Deborah's whereabouts because he wanted her to suffer.
On January 24, 1998, Norell died of natural causes at the age of 45. Along with Deborah, Norell left behind three children. A few days after Norell's death, Odell was released from jail and he still continues to maintain his innocence.
Deborah remains missing and her whereabouts are unknown. She has a scar on her right ear.