Oxygen Insider Exclusive!

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive videos, breaking news, sweepstakes, and more!

Sign Up for Free to View
Crime News Cold Justice

Cold Justice Breathes New Life into 1987 Disappearance and Death of Expectant Mother

Twenty-one-year-old Deborah Farlins found herself five months pregnant and at the center of a heated love triangle. 

By Jax Miller

Fresh off the 1985 case of murdered woman Jannette Johnson, Kelly Siegler and the rest of the Cold Justice team remained in Kankakee, Illinois, to investigate the 1987 death of a Black mother-to-be.

How to Watch

Watch Cold Justice on Oxygen Saturdays at 8/7c and next day on Peacock. Catch up on the Oxygen App.

Loved ones previously criticized the Kankakee Police Department (K.P.D.) for doing too little for 21-year-old Deborah “Tina” Farlins, who mysteriously vanished in 1987. Two months after her disappearance, hunters found Farlins’ partial skeletal remains near the train tracks just north of Kankakee in Manteno, Illinois, about 50 miles south of Chicago.

At the time, the victim was five months pregnant with her unborn child.

“I had to pray to God to keep you going so that I wouldn’t be bitter,” Farlins’ sister, Evelyn Butler, told Cold Justice, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen. “I think for the Black community, you want the same justice, but you don’t hold out hope; you just learn to live with it.”

Don't miss the latest in true crime:
Missouri Reform School Students Describe Shocking Abuse
Kentucky Man Disappears, Then His Wife and Neighbor Vanish

Young Mom Gunned Down in Broad Daylight By the "Most Unlikely Suspect" in Disguise

Once again, Kelly Siegler teamed up with Homicide Investigator Steve Spingola, K.P.D. Detective Sergeant Logan Andersen, and Det. Todd Koerner to get to the bottom of a case. Joining them was K.P.D. Chief Commander Donell Austin.

Deborah Farlins at the Center of a Love Triangle

Deborah Farlins featured on Cold Justice Episode 704

Deborah Farlins’ loved ones reported the pregnant woman missing shortly after her September 23, 1987, disappearance. The woman’s Pontiac Fiero was found blocks away from her Kankakee home, where her 91-year-old mother, Emma Farlins, still lives today.

“Somebody killed her. Took her life. Took her child’s life,” said the grieving mother. “The police didn’t find nothing, couldn’t find out who did it, either. Maybe they did their best, and maybe they didn’t. But they never did come up with nothing.”

Farlins’ three sisters, Butler, Carleen Junior, and Beverly Harwell, also hoped the Cold Justice team could help the K.P.D. crack the decades-old case.

First, investigators took a hard look into Robert Price, whom Farlins reported was the father of her unborn child. At the time, the then-27-year-old man lived across the street from Farlins’ family home with his partner of 10 years, Leila Thomas.

The couple married on Sept. 5, 1987, just weeks before Farlins disappeared.

In the months leading up to Farlins’ disappearance, the mother-to-be found herself at the center of a heated love triangle, which included lots of conversations between Farlins and Thomas. When Price and Thomas married, Farlins reportedly parked outside and watched the wedding.

“Deborah and Leila had been at each other’s throats for months, taunting and harassing each other,” Kelly Siegler told Cold Justice

Investigators also reviewed reports of violence between Farlins and Price, which included an event when Price allegedly grabbed Farlins by the throat and threw her off a porch. At the time, Farlins sued Price in civil court to the tune of $15,000.

The defendant was scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 24, 1987, just one day after Farlins disappeared.

On November 28, Farlins’ body was discovered in Manteno, and just six months later, Price and Thomas divorced.

Investigators hit the ground running

Deborah Farlins' Pregnancy Revealed After Death

Siegler and the team revisited many of Farlins’ friends and loved ones, many of whom reported Farlins’ statements that Price was unhappy about the pregnancy. At least once, as supported by witnesses and police statements, Farlins and Thomas even got into physical altercations in the street.

“There’s a well-documented history here by the Kankakee Police Department of conduct by not only Deborah but also by Leila,” Spingola told Cold Justice. “Deborah filed multiple police reports that Leila was stalking her, harassing her, including throwing rocks and stones at her car. And then Leila also contacted police about Deborah’s behavior, including street fights where Deborah produced karate sticks and Leila produced a gun. All over Robert.”

Farlins’ friend, Evelyn Farmer, was the last known person to see Farlins on Sept. 22, 1987, just one day before Farlins’ disappearance. Farmer told Siegler and Andersen that they had pizza at Farmer’s home and that a “nervous” Farins left around 10 or 10:30 p.m.

Investigators then looked into letters found inside Farlins’ abandoned Pontiac. The writings, authored by Farlins, were penned for Price, though it seems Price never received the pages.

“The baby will not get aborted; it’s too late,” the letter read in part. “It’s our responsibility to see to it that it is well taken care of… No, I will not be leaving. I’ll be right here in Kankakee.”

Farlins wrote that she loved Price “dearly” but said there was “no need to further or prolong a one-way relationship.”

The Diamond Motel Theory

Police believed that Farlins — still living at home — and Price — still living with Leila — frequently had rendezvous at multiple local hotels to hide their affair.

Siegler and the others visited the now-defunct Diamond Motel in Manteno, one of the places the couple had possibly visited in the past. During the initial investigation, a motel clerk — no longer living — stated that in late September 1987, Farlins booked a room at the all-night rate instead of a shorter four-hour rate. The clerk reported seeing a Black male waiting in the car.

However, despite the longer-term booking, the clerk said the car drove away only a few hours later. Investigator Spingola said he believed that Farlins didn’t leave the motel alive.

“So, my theory, what happened with Deborah, this was a crime of passion; it wasn’t well planned out,” Spingola said. “She went to that motel, she’s murdered there, and then placed in the car, and just driven a short distance from that motel and carried out and dropped along the side of the railroad tracks.”

The site where Farlins’ partial remains were found was less than one mile from the Diamond Motel. The unborn child’s remains were never recovered, and a cause of death could not be determined. Furthermore, there was seemingly no attempt to conceal the body.

RELATED: Killer Located in Nudist Camp After Missing Bookie Found Buried in Las Vegas Desert

A lack of trauma to the skull, led investigators to theorize that someone strangled Farlins to death.

Shortly after Farlins’ disappearance, her Pontiac was discovered just one block from Price’s mother’s house, which was only a few blocks from Farlins’ home. However, someone had tossed the car keys into a flower bed at Farlins’ family residence.

Investigators didn’t think it was likely that a random person would have parked the car at the familiar location and then left the keys in the flower bed.

Since the victim’s purse was still inside the vehicle, investigators didn’t believe Farlins parked it near Price’s home. It also led to the theory that there might have been two people involved in covering up the murder.

Investigators pay Robert Price a visit in Kentucky

Spingola and Andersen headed 300 miles south toward Lexington, Kentucky, where Robert Price now lives. At first, the suspect didn’t recognize the name “Debbie” until investigators clarified that they were there to speak about the disappearance and presumed murder of Deborah Farlins, as recorded and published on Cold Justice.

“We, uh, kinda had a little off-and-on relationship,” said Price. “Her and Leila had an incident that had jumped off when I wasn’t around.”

Price denied the documented event in which he allegedly threw Farlins from a porch, and further denied knowing about any pending lawsuit against him. Moreso, he denied ever knowing that Farlins was pregnant, reportedly with his child.

“It wasn’t that way,” Price maintained. “It’s like y’all are trying to make more out of it than what it was.”

Price said he hadn’t gone to the Diamond Motel with Farlins. However, it might have been the same motel where Price alleged he brought another girl on Sept. 5, 1987, the night he married Leila Thomas.

For investigators, the new woman’s name — omitted from Cold Justice — was a new lead. Still, Price denied knowing anything about Farlins' disappearance.

“When you are basically a side chick, you already know what you’re already getting involved in,” Price said of Farlins.

Leila Thomas speaks with investigators

Siegler and Det. Koerner opted to pay a visit to Leila Thomas across state lines. They hoped she could shed light on any of Price’s key claims, which included Price denying friction in their marriage and his being unaware of Farlins’ pregnancy and disappearance.

When confronted with Price’s claims that they never fought over Farlins, Thomas claimed, “That’s not true,” as published by Cold Justice.

“She [Farlins] could have dealt with [Price] and not bother me, and I would not have cared because I was not in love with him,” Thomas told Siegler and Koerner. “And she just didn’t know that.”

Tragedy and Hope in Deborah "Tina" Farlins' Family

Supporting investigators’ beliefs that Farlins was strangled to death, Thomas also claimed that Price strangled her at some point during their short-lived marriage.

“He did strangle me,” Thomas said. “I was a little terrified. I just couldn’t continue with him.”

Next, Siegler and Koerner visited the woman Price claimed he was with on the night of the wedding. The unnamed woman told them she gave birth to Price’s son in 1984 and that a year or two later, she had to fight to prove the child’s paternity before getting the courts to approve child support, resulting in a garnishment of Price’s wages.

The woman denied ever being with Price in 1987, as Price previously claimed.

The woman’s statements led Siegler and the team to question whether Price killed Farlins to avoid paying more child support.

“That’s tough to explain to your girlfriend of several years, that ‘Whoops, I did it again,’” Det. Koerner told Siegler.

Was there enough evidence to charge Robert Price with murder?

Cold Justice reviewed the evidence before them, which included the love triangle, the unnamed woman’s new statements, Farlins’ letters, and Price’s alleged history of violence, among other items.

“He’s got everything to lose by [Farlins] being alive and everything to gain by her being gone,” Det. Koerner concluded.

Police collected their case findings and presented them to Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe. They then sat with Farlins’ relatives, including her mother and sisters, to say that police urged Jim Rose to file charges against Robert Price for the death of Deborah Farlins.

Investigators said they didn’t find anything sufficient to deduce that Leila Thomas had anything to do with Farlins’ disappearance.

“All these years, I wanted to be mad at that man and really hate him, but I wasn’t sure whether he was the one who did it or not,” said Farlins’ sister, Beverly Harwell. “I know tonight she is happy, and she gets to rest in peace.”

Robert Price has not been charged in connection to Deborah Farlins’ death.

Watch all-new episodes of Cold Justice, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.