COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Eight years after a Colorado Springs woman vanished without a trace, Colorado Springs police are still trying to figure out what happened to her.
In 2011, Deborah Heriford was at a crossroads in her life.
"She was estranged from her husband at that time," said Detective James Isham, a cold case investigator for the Colorado Springs Police Department. "They were living in separate residences,"
At 51 years old, she was just days away from finalizing a divorce from her husband of 32 years.
"Strained is a good way to categorize it," said Detective J.F. Somoksy, another cold case investigator for the Colorado Springs Police Department. "Some people close to the family categorized their divorce as being contentious."
But those close to her said Deborah was ready for a fresh start.
According to military records, Deborah's husband, Harold Heriford, served in the Air Force for 22 years and retired at Schriever Air Force Base on April 7, 2000. As part of the divorce, court records show he was ordered to pay Deborah spousal support each month.
"Then a couple of days before it's finalized, one party comes up missing," Isham said. "It does seem a little suspicious."
Deborah was last heard from March 31, 2011. Her family reported her missing three days later, on April 3.
Officers went to her home on Maroon Bells Avenue, near North Academy Boulevard and Vickers Drive, for a welfare check.
"The first responding officers along with family found the house secure, locked up," Isham said. "They did have to force entry, and once inside, it didn't appear that there were signs of struggle, disturbance, any burglary activity, or any theft activity of the house. The house appeared normal, other than she was just not home."
Police said the only items missing were Deborah's cell phone and her keys, and initially officers questioned if maybe she wanted to disappear.
"Mrs. Heriford wasn't engaged in criminal activity," Somosky said. "She wasn't engaged in a risky lifestyle, and if you're a person who lives in that manner, then the chances of you being affected by random violent crime is actually very, very, low."
Soon, things just weren't adding up.
Deborah's family said she always parked her car in the garage.
"This time it was parked on the street, which was out of character for her, as well as not being in contact with several very close members of her family," Somosky said.
However, investigators were most concerned about the fact that her dog was found alone in the neighborhood. It was discovered on the back deck of Fodor Billiards on Friday, April 1. Deborah's husband's phone number was on the tag. He was called but he didn't return the call until Sunday.
"Mrs. Heriford was really close with her dog and it was immediately strange to her family members that she wasn't with the dog or notified that the dog had been missing," Somosky said.
Police said it was routine for Deborah to take the dog for a walk every evening, and they started to suspect that maybe on one of those walks, she was met by foul play.
"The dog was still wearing its harness, and according to family members, that was the way the dog was dressed whenever it would go for a walk," Somosky said.
"Those pieces of evidence just kind of built up to where it just didn't seem to fit that this was a missing person's case," Isham said.
Eventually, Deborah's missing person case became a homicide case.
Her body has not been found, but detectives Isham and Somosky still believe they can find who is responsible for her disappearance.
"We start with people that are known, known to the victim, and then work our way out from there, eliminating people, because in homicides it's just as important to prove who committed the murder as it is to prove who didn't commit the murder," Somosky said.
When asked if Deborah's husband had been eliminated as a suspect, Somosky said no.
Both Somosky and Isham want to remind the public that Deborah has not been forgotten, and they said she won't be either.
"We'd just like to let them know, we're not going to quit," Isham said.
"Even though one chapter of her life was ending, she was looking forward to the next chapter of her life as many people do, and unfortunately that opportunity was taken from her," Somosky said.
Anyone with information about Deborah's case should contact the Colorado Springs Police Department at 719-444-7000 or through Crime Stoppers at 719-634-7867.
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