In 1988 Harold Whitlock returned to his home in North Modesto and found his wife, Debi Whitlock, lying dead on the hallway floor. The 32-year-old had been stabbed repeatedly and raped. Their 3-year-old daughter had slept through the attack unharmed just a few feet away.
There were no signs of forced entry into the home and no indication of a struggle. This often suggests that the victim knew their attacker. However, the police found themselves at an impasse.
There were mistakes made by officers at the time. Unfortunately, several key pieces of evidence were never collected, and others were never tested. Years later, an officer associated with the case said that the investigators were mentally affected by the savagery of the incident, and while they had good intentions, their judgments may have been clouded.
The police were struck by the levels of strife and infidelity found on both sides of the Whitman marriage, and her husband, Harold, remained a prime suspect for years. The fact he lied to the police about being at a bachelor party when he was actually at his girlfriend’s house did not help matters for him.
The case remained cold for nearly a decade. Debi’s mother, Jacque MacDonald, kept fighting for answers. Her constant demands that her daughter’s killer should not go unpunished kept the case prevalent in the minds of authorities, the media, and the public.
A massive break came in 1996 when an anonymous tipster came forward. They told police they had been acquainted with the murderer and forwarded them a name. Scott Avery Fizzell was arrested near Little Rock, Arkansas, the following January.
At the time of the murder, he’d been 18-years-old and living in Modesto with his mother and stepfather.
In 1999 he pleaded guilty to murdering Debi Whitlock and was convicted of first-degree murder and burglary. He was sentenced to 31 years in prison.
Follow the details of the case on People Magazine Investigates at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery.