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Case File: The Murder Of Debra Sue Vine 1980

Debra Sue Vine was just 19 when she was murdered in the small town of Genoa.
Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 4:57 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - It is a cold case murder that has all the intrigue of a vintage murder mystery including kidnapping, cryptic ransom demands, the involvement of a former law enforcement suspect, and then the tragic murder of a beautiful young teenager.

And it all happened in the 1980 murder of 19-year old Debra Sue Vine in the small town of Genoa.

At the time, her cousin Kim Tobias describes the town as very safe. “Small town everybody knew each everybody..everybody looked out for everybody,” Tobias says she remembers that she used to love hanging out with her cousin Debra who at 19 was four years older than her. “We were very close. She was like a big sister to me because I didn’t have any sisters. She was fun and we used to ride our bikes all over Genoa picking lilacs, having a good time.”

But on February 19th, a cold winter day everything changed. Kim remembers that Debra went for a walk with her friend. “She left. I can still see her standing there, what she was wearing. How happy she was.”

Debra would never come back alive.

Gary Truman is now an Ottawa County Sheriff’s Deputy. But in 1980 he was the Genoa Police Chief who got the call from Debra’s parents the morning after she went missing. He says Debra’s parents started to get calls demanding a ransom within hours of her disappearance, which elevated the case right away. “We all got together and decided to call BCI and the FBI.”

Debra’s father was the Vice President of Genoa Bank at the time, so it’s theorized that the kidnapper thought they had money. The ransom demand was for $80,000.00 Truman says, “He left notes all over half of NW Ohio in different locations for Dennis to drop off the money and every time he went to one spot, he’d say go to another spot.” Until the final demand was made. “There was a rope tied to an I-bolt..and he was supposed to attach the case to that and he would drag it across the river.” The man never showed up to get the money because he detected that law enforcement was involved in all of it.

The FBI tracked the ransom calls to a phone booth outside of an old Hill’s Department Store. Truman says they were able to catch the then 33-year old Former Sandusky Sheriff’s Deputy Jack Gall making the calls. Instead of immediately arresting him, he was put under surveillance with the hope he would lead them to Debra. Truman says “He was making all kinds of moves changing license plates on his cars. On his mom’s cars, his sister’s car.” But ultimately, police say it led nowhere. Truman says “Our problem was that we didn’t actually have enough evidence to link him with the kidnapping itself....it wasn’t just that last little detail to charge him with that.” Gall is still in prison serving time for extortion in the case and also for prison escape.

Tragically, Debra’s body was found on May 15th of that year in the woods behind Woodville Cemetery. The cause of death could never be determined because her body was so badly decomposed. But police say her wrists and feet were bound and she was wrapped in bedding.

The case has been cold ever since. But while police didn’t have DNA technology back in 1980, they can use it now. However, the case hasn’t been reopened. The 13ABC is asking Sandusky and Ottawa County Sheriff’s offices to reopen the case to see if DNA can be used in tracking down Debra’s murderer.

Debra’s family still wants answers. Kim Tobias says “She deserves justice. She deserves justice. It’s been 41 years that someone has gotten away with this and that’s 41 years too long. I would really like to see someone pay for what they’ve done.”

If you have any information that could help in this case you are asked to call the Sandusky County Sheriff at (419) 332-2613 or Ottawa County Sheriff at (419) 734-4404.

If you have a case that needs solving, contact our I-Team at 419-534-3838.

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