It’s been 15 years since Deborah Elaine Deans—a North Carolina mother of four—disappeared, but last week the missing woman’s sister-in-law was arrested and charged with Deans’ murder.
Kimberly Hancock, 49, is now facing first-degree murder charges after a tip posted to a Facebook group led authorities to a body buried in the backyard of Hancock’s Spring Hope home, local station WTVD reports.
"What we found is it appears to be the remains of one person that was in a shallow grave, wrapped in debris in the backyard here," Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone said.
Officials have not yet confirmed the identity of the body but Stone said there was “a strong possibility” the remains discovered were those of Deans, according to WRAL.
Deans disappeared in 2004 while she was briefly living with Hancock. For years, the case went cold until the woman who runs the Facebook page “Fighting Crime News and Who’s Wanted” posted Deans—who was 29 when she disappeared—as a missing person on the site and got a “very detailed” tip about where the body was and what it had been wrapped in.
“I’ve been posting [about] Deborah since probably a year after I started my website,” the woman who runs the site told WNCN.
The woman—who asked to remain anonymous—passed the tip onto authorities who took a new look at the case.
“It makes you wonder why after all these years someone finally wanted to come up and say something, but I’m glad they did,” she said, adding that she wasn’t sure how the tipster had come to know the information.
About five days later, after investigators had gathered enough information to obtain a search warrant, they began to dig up the wooded area behind Hancock’s home and discovered the body.
"Kim left, and as soon as she left, they went digging in the yard trying to find where someone was buried at,” neighbor Thomas Hamby later told WRAL.
Stone said an autopsy will be conducted to confirm the identity of the remains and to try to determine a cause of death.
It isn’t Hancock’s first brush with the law.
In 1989, Hancock, who was known as Kimberly Kay Privette at the time, was charged with manslaughter for the death of her father. She received a suspended sentence after she said there had been abuse in the relationship, the sheriff’s office said.
She also has drug convictions and a conviction for driving while impaired in 2007, according to state Department of Public Safety records obtained by WRAL.
Hancock requested a court-appointed attorney at her hearing on Friday.
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