On the evening of Halloween 2014, Tim Noble called 911 dispatch in Jacksonville, North Carolina to report that he had come home from work and found his fiancée dead from a gunshot wound to the head.
When investigators arrived at the scene, they discovered the body of 58-year-old Debbie Holden on the living room couch. A .38 caliber revolver was on the floor next to her.
While Holden was lying on her right side, the blood flow on her face appeared “to be going in two separate directions,” Onslow County Sheriff’s Department Detective Sergeant Ben Foy told Oxygen’s “Accident, Suicide or Murder.”
“We were sorta puzzled by that,” Foy said.
Another perplexing aspect of the crime scene was that investigators could not locate the bullet that had gone through Holden’s skull, even though she had “an obvious exit wound in her right side of her head,” Onslow County CSI Unit Lieutenant David Evans told producers.
Speaking with authorities, Noble said he had been in a relationship with Holden for more than 10 years, and that because of two prior car accidents, she suffered from chronic pain and other health issues, which kept her confined to the home most of the time.
Despite her medical problems, Holden did not seem to be depressed, and her suicide came as a complete shock, Noble said. Noble told investigators that he called his fiancée around 10 a.m. that day from work, and everything seemed normal.
But the couple was not without their problems.
Noble told Foy that he had been unfaithful in the past, and that about a month before Holden’s death, he had come clean about his affair. Noble said he ended the relationship and that he and Holden had made up.
While examining Noble’s cell phone, however, Foy found a handful of text messages from the woman he was having an affair with. When confronted about why he had lied about ending the relationship, Noble “didn’t really have an explanation,” other than that he did not want his fiancée’s family to find out.
Holden’s siblings echoed Noble’s account that Holden was usually in good spirits, adding that she would not have taken her own life because of her religious beliefs, according to “Accident, Suicide or Murder.”
Although the medical examiner also failed to locate the bullet during Holden’s autopsy, her manner of death was ruled a suicide, but the investigation took a startling turn days later when Noble showed up at a nearby Morehead City hospital.
Noble entered the emergency room to be treated for a bullet in his left thigh, and hospital staff quickly contacted authorities. He told the responding officer that he had attended a bonfire, and someone threw ammo into the pit, causing an explosion that damaged his thigh.
When the officer stepped out to speak with the staff, Noble gathered his belongings and left the hospital without getting treated.
“It sort of was like a lightbulb moment. Things started to make sense. It was like, this is where the projectile is, that’s why we couldn’t find it at the house,” Foy said.
Authorities ordered a second, more in-depth autopsy, during which the medical examiner examined the entry wound. The autopsy showed that the gun was held to Holden’s head with a great deal of force and that the firearm was possibly upside down during the shooting.
“Based on the trajectory of the bullet, with the medical examiner knowing that the projectile exited the head cleanly and the possibility of a bullet being in Tim Noble’s leg, that was the tipping point that changed the manner of death from suicide to homicide,” Evans told producers.
Investigators brought in Noble for additional questioning, and when asked about the bullet wound, he repeated the bonfire story, claiming he could not remember any of the names of the people who were in attendance.
Noble then started sweating, became pale, and asked for a doctor, subsequently passing out in the interview room and urinating all over himself. When he came to, Noble insisted he would never hurt Holden, and without any evidence tying him to the murder, Noble was free to go.
In hopes of tracking down Noble’s whereabouts on the day of the murder, investigators reviewed surveillance footage from a convenience store near his home. The video showed what appeared to be Noble’s truck returning to the house in the middle of the day, when he claimed to have been at work.
Authorities also spoke with the woman Noble was having an affair with, and they learned he was also engaged to her. The woman said they were scheduled to be married on Oct. 25, 2014, which was just a week before Holden’s death. They had to postpone the wedding, however, because Holden did not want to leave the relationship.
The woman had an alibi for the day Holden was killed, leaving Noble as the primary suspect.
A search warrant was soon served on Noble’s electronic devices, revealing he had done extensive searches on various poisons.
While the bullet in his thigh was too dangerous to remove due to its proximity to the femoral artery, investigators were able to compare Noble’s X-ray with the bullet to an X-ray of the same type of projectile. They were a perfect match.
Noble was charged with first-degree murder and held without bail.
During his trial, the defense argued that Holden took her own life because she was depressed after dealing with chronic pain for close to 30 years.
Prosecutors contended that Noble was motivated by lust to kill Holden, presenting a mountain of circumstantial evidence against him, including the fact that Holden did not have gunshot residue on her hands at the time of her death.
On June 22, 2017, the jury found him guilty of first-degree murder, and he was sentenced to life without parole.
To hear more from Holden’s family and the investigators that cracked the case, watch “Accident, Suicide or Murder,” airing Saturdays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
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