The work of a detective can often be compared to that of a puzzle builder or problem-solver and involves connecting the dots and putting the pieces back together to form a bigger picture.
This became very clear for our heroine in this story when Debbie Richmond’s life was turned upside down after her father lost his life to a drug-addicted family member.
The shooter was tried and convicted as a juvenile and spent only 3 months in a mental ward before being released by authorities and to make matters worse this 17-year-old now lives in the very house where the shooting occurred.
In her grief, Debbie thought of a way to turn this injustice system to a positive event for her family and father’s death.
Praying has always played a big part and motivation in her life and each morning she picks a Bible verse, jots it on a sticky note and posts it on her desk to meditate on it all day. Monday’s three verses indicated how each person has a particular strength and ability to contribute. Looking for alternatives Debbie soon replied to an employment advert looking for a dispatcher hoping that eventually, she’d be able to move up in the department.
Not in a million years did she ever imagine herself in a law enforcement authority career but believed that God was guiding her to do this, although admitting that she was too much of a girly-girl for the job.
Believing it was a crazy idea she decided to keep it a secret, but it was worth a try. She was determined and didn’t want other people to be treated by the system as she was.
Determined to turn the shocking crime that she and her father endured into a positive, she decided to apply for a dispatcher as a 9-1-1 operator.
After working for 2 years as a dispatcher and directing emergency calls she took the next step for a test offering at the police academy, although still keeping it very much a secret from family and friends for fear of the embarrassment in case she failed.
However, she passed and moved to the criminal investigative division where she served for several years.
Now after being with the police department for 20 years, this Tennessee native has moved into the field of detective and pursuing cases of criminal child and elderly abuse.
Shortly after her promotion, on February 18, 1997, Debbie was presented with a case of a 19-year-old girl hospitalized after she tried to take her own life.
Never expecting her first case to be of such an extreme nature it turned out that it would become one of the worst ever recorded in the Bristol police state Department in Tennessee.
The investigation revolves around a Baptist preacher and his wife who adopted a girl as a small child and kept her. The girl was ill-treated and punished until she was 19-years-old. “I remember her threatening me that if I wasn’t good she was going to send me back,” Elsa says. “And how much she didn’t want me.”
Being a newly appointed and his being her very first case, Debbie was devastated at meeting Elsa in the hospital after she tried to take her own life. It was up to Debbie to try to figure out what had caused Elsa to take this drastic step but it would not be an easy task.
In an interview with Dr. Phil, Debbie said that Elsa appeared to be about 12 years old, and covered in scars from head to toe.
Joe and Evangeline the adoptive parents of Elsa were present at the hospital but Debbie noticed that whenever they entered the room Elsa would show signs of physical distress like trembling and a rise in blood pressure.
When Elsa was being examined, Mr. Combs would hide behind the curtain. Debbie started to get suspicious about warning signs that other investigators seemed to have missed. In her gut, Debbie knew that Elsa’s adoptive parents were hiding a dark secret.
On Elsa’s release Debbie set up surveillance at her house, but never ever saw her there. She started thinking that maybe they did something even more terrible to her! Several months later however Elsa contacted Debbie and told her she wanted to tell her everything that happened to her over the last 19 years.
Trying to solve this wasn’t easy and with most detective work it takes patience, intelligence and a fair bit of common sense plus a strong imagination to be a strong detective.
The Sad Reveal
Elsa finally knew that she had to save herself from her nightmare. She would have to reveal the truth about the ordeal she had been going through for the past 19 years. The detectives could only sit and listen, completely dumbfounded. “I always wanted to tell my story,” she said. “I just wasn’t strong enough and I wasn’t ready. Now that I’ve healed, and feel better about it, I need something good to come of this. “This is something I’m finally ready to do.”
The stories of tremendous physical pain and ill-treatment of which they couldn’t even begin to understand came pouring out of the young woman and it seemed never-ending.
On her appearance on the Dr. Phil show, Elsa expressed that she felt that she never thanked Debbie enough for the absolute nightmare she saved her from.
She wanted to thank her again and again for what she did but to Debbie, it was all about doing everything in her power to save Elsa and then getting her back on her feet.
For many years Elsa had been severely mistreated but she never divulged any details to anyone.
Finally, she was put in touch with this angel who had her own agenda to see through and between the two of them, they managed to sort out their problems with a seemingly light at the end of the tunnel. “I just wanted it all to stop. I wanted to stop being such a disappointment. Mostly, I just wanted to not be and she was always saying she would be so much better off if I was and after years of hearing that you believe it.”
Debbie and Elsa formed a close bond early on. Eventually, after starting her new life, Elsa was threatened with being an unstable mother due to the trauma of her past and unfit to take care of her own child.
Debbie stepped in and took care of Elsa’s child to prevent her from going to foster care until Elsa could take control again.
Detectives track and trace all possible leads to try and find out the truth and yet somehow the truth to the mystery is staring them right in the face. Tough careful investigation Debbie ferreted out some information about Elsa’s stepparents Joe and Evangeline Combs and the sudden changes in Elsa’s behavior whenever she sees them.
The case attracted national attention until eventually Joe and Evangelina were exposed. Their true colors are shown to the world as they were escorted away by the authorities and arrested for abuse.
Joe got a hundred something years sentencing and Evangelina seventy-odd years. Elsa did not feel happy about this because somehow felt she had broken up the family! Both she and the other kids were somehow scattered to the wind and she lost her entire family in one big swoop. Elsa said that she wasn’t exactly happy when the Combses were sent to prison. “I felt responsible for them going to prison,” she said. “When I lost my family, I lost everything I had ever known. It wasn’t a happy day.”
What a noble thought for someone that has endured so much pain. It says quite a lot about loving your parents but also about how truly damaged she had been over the years.
A Bright Future
Thanks to Debbie’s instincts and investigation the truth could be brought to light and she was able to free Elsa from this nightmare. It took a lot of investigation to get the stepparents behind bars and Elsa has since changed her name and started a family of her own.
But there’s a chance none of it would be happening, she said, if two people (Roger and Susan Combs) hadn’t taken action on what she said, and what they saw.
Debbie still receives letters of recommendations as a result of that case.
However, she feels not all that deserving as she had a lot of help in the case and with many decorations and certificates hanging on her wall Debbie just proves that a devastating past does not have to hinder anyone from making a difference.
Make A Difference!
People should make use of their past experiences to make a difference and not let other people go through what they already had to go through.
Debbie had surely done this going into law enforcement and saving Elsa from an absolutely unendurable life with her abusive step-parents.
At the end of it all, both women went through loss and seemingly hopeless situations in their lives, but if Debbie hadn’t have turned her terrible tragedy into something positive she never would have been in the position to save Elsa. She did more than save her life. She gave her a completely new one.
“I want to be the change that is needed for people to finally stop acting like it’s none of their business,” Elsa said. “If you see it, it is your business.”