Sister ‘praying’ 2018 will bring answers in Paulding County cold case

Cynthia Crawford-Collins never had the chance to wish her sister a happy 41st birthday.

The two women talked the day before Deborah Lee Crawford’s big day, and Cynthia told her baby sister to expect a gift and birthday serenade.

But on Aug. 20, 2013, her actual birthday, Deborah was nowhere to be found. Cynthia rang her phone all day, and each time, there was only voicemail.

“I knew something was wrong,” Cynthia said. “I told family something was wrong.”

Before the end of the day, the police in her hometown of Toledo, Ohio were at Cynthia’s door. Deborah had been reported missing by her adult son, Floyd, who was staying with her in metro Atlanta.

Four years later, what exactly happened to Deborah remains a mystery to the family and an unsolved murder for police.

On Oct. 18, 2013, almost two months after Deborah was reported missing, a hunter in northern Paulding County found a decomposing body in a shallow grave at the back of an unfinished subdivision. The near skeletal remains were identified months later as those of Deborah Lee Crawford, or “Peanut,” as the 2-pound preemie was nicknamed at birth by her mother.

Sgt. Ashley Henson, spokesman for the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office, said investigators know Deborah was the victim of foul play.

“We have the medical examiner’s report, which indicates that she had blunt force trauma to the head,” Henson said. “But that does not rule out whether or not she was shot because the organs and tissue were either nonexistent or badly decomposed.”

The Paulding County Sheriff’s Office and GBI both have investigators on the case. Last year Crime Stoppers of Greater Atlanta offered a $2,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.

“At this point, we have a few faint leads, but nothing substantial,” Henson said. He hopes new attention to the case can change that.

RELATED: Read about some of Georgia’s other cold cases and the ongoing investigations at

Evidence shows Deborah Crawford lived a “high-risk lifestyle” and was likely involved in drugs, the spokesman said, something sister Cynthia says the family finds hard to believe.

“Peanut was never into drugs,” Crawford-Collins said.

She said Deborah battled depression and moved to metro Atlanta’s Cobb County about a year and a half before her disappearance, hoping for “a fresh start.”

Deborah had grown up with two sisters in Toledo and had lost both parents by 2007. She wanted to relocate to metro Atlanta after coming here for a visit and being impressed with its friendly people, Crawford-Collins said.

Deborah had a passion for cooking and held jobs at a nursing home, restaurant and bar in Toledo. She had not been employed after the move to Atlanta with her son and lived on Social Security disability payments, her sister said.

Crawford-Collins said authorities believe that her sister and a woman she befriended after moving to Atlanta had been going from one doctor’s office to another, obtaining prescription painkillers and selling them.

That same woman, the sister said, told police she’d dropped Crawford off at a store on the day of her disappearance. Later, the woman said she’d lied and had actually driven Deborah to a motel for prostitution, Crawford-Collins said.

Investigators say, to the best of their knowledge, Deborah Crawford was last seen at a motel off I-75 in Cartersville, Henson said.

Crawford-Collins said her sister might have been led astray by unsavory characters, but gave no indication of that in their regular phone calls.

Instead, she said, her sister was “very well loved.” A memorial service in May 2014 in Toledo was attended by 450 people.

In the phone call on the day before her death, Deborah talked of moving back home to Toledo, Crawford-Collins said.

PHOTOS: A look at Georgia’s cold case files

Now, Cynthia says she’d like to see those responsible for her sister’s death brought to justice.

“I’m praying,” Crawford-Collins said. “I feel like they are going to find this person in 2018.”

In the meantime, family and friends wear some of Deborah Crawford’s ashes in pendants around their necks.

“It was devastating” to lose Deborah, her sister Cynthia said. “I cried for a year straight.”

Anyone with information about this case is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at (404) 577-TIPS or the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office at (770) 443-3015.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Dog recovers after attack by hawk in backyard
Dog recovers after attack by hawk in backyard

A dog in Massachusetts is on the mend after she was attacked in her backyard by a hawk. It's been a few days for Daisy and her owner Susan Nascimeno after the 10-year-old bichon frise was attacked by a hawk Monday afternoon while fenced in her East Freeport backyard.  "She was just covered in blood -- her chest, back, butt, everything was...
Texas man gets life in prison for beating, stomping girlfriend's baby
Texas man gets life in prison for beating, stomping girlfriend's baby

A Texas man was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday after his conviction for beating and stomping his girlfriend’s baby to death, KDFW reported. Joshua Beard and the child’s mother, Alexis Botello, are accused of burying the girl in Parker County. According to police, in 2014 Beard slammed 18-month old Tylea so hard onto a bed that...
Missing 15-year-old Kentucky girl found safe in Louisville, police say
Missing 15-year-old Kentucky girl found safe in Louisville, police say

A 15-year-old Kentucky girl who left school to leave with an unknown person has been found, WKYT reported Thursday. Amber Renae Wagers was found safe in Louisville, the Berea Police Department said in a Facebook post. Wagers, 15, walked out of Berea Community School around 10 a.m. Wednesday to leave with an unknown person, police said. Investigators...
James Shaw Jr. raises $170,000 for Waffle House shooting victims
James Shaw Jr. raises $170,000 for Waffle House shooting victims

James Shaw Jr., who disarmed a gunman who opened fire at a Waffle House in Tennessee on Sunday, has raised more than $170,000 in a fundraiser to help the victims’ families, CNN reported. Shaw, who wrestled a rifle away from the gunman and tossed it over the counter, launched a GoFundMe campaign that easily topped its $15,000 goal. Four...
Kim Jong Un steps over border, meets with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in
Kim Jong Un steps over border, meets with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in

In an electric moment, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stepped over the heavily fortified demilitarized zone to shake hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Reuters reported Friday. Smiling and holding hands, the Korean leaders met for the first summit between the two nations in more than a decade.  It’s the first time since...
More Stories