Authorities with the Hazard Police Department now say they hope to change that fact as they have begun a fresh look into the case, which was first opened after Eckles died from multiple stab wounds inside her Turner Avenue home on October 24, 1983.
It was around 5:30 p.m. that evening when Eckles’ fiancé, Jamie Walker, found her body inside their mobile home after returning from work. Hazard Police Officer Bill Morgan was the first to respond to the scene, finding Eckles lying face down upon a bed in the back bedroom of the home. She had suffered multiple stab wounds in her back, many of which penetrated her chest, noted Major Minor Allen with the Hazard Police Department. He said there were no signs of forced entry, which leads him to believe the doors on the trailer were unlocked or Eckles knew the person who murdered her.
At the time, Allen noted, the Hazard Police Department turned the case over to Kentucky State Police and Det. Clyde Caudill, who has since retired.
“He came in and worked this case, and they developed some suspects over the course of time,” Allen said, adding that one of those suspects was eventually charged but later acquitted.
Since then, though, the case has remained cold and Debbie Eckles’ murderer remains free from prosecution.
Allen began a review of the case this past spring after Debbie’s sister, Carolyn Miniard, spoke with Hazard Police Chief Ronnie Bryant, requesting that police look into her sister’s murder again.
“They’re (the police) just working on it,” Miniard recently told the Herald. “They need somebody to come forward ... if they’ve got any kind of information about the case.”
Carolyn Miniard said she told police about her younger sister, that she was easygoing, but also quick to defend herself if necessary.
“She was all the time laughing and going on,” she said. “She was a happy girl, and she was full of life and she’d give you the shirt right off her back.”
Debbie’s father, Chester Burton, passed away just last year at the age of 69. He died not knowing who was responsible for the murder of his daughter, and that’s a question that continues to gnaw at both Miniard and her mother, Eva Eckles Burton, as they continue to hope for some sort of closure.
“I miss her every day since it happened,” Miniard said. “I just want it for my mom, too. We just want to find out who killed her.”
Miniard said no one had a reason to murder Debbie, who she described as a “beautiful girl” that stood out from the crowd.
“If someone would come forward and we can catch her killer, it would please me and my mother to know that they had caught that person,” she continued. “It would give me closure, because it’s been 28 years.”
The case remains in the Kentucky State Police cold case files, and Major Allen noted that detectives with KSP continue to review those cases in hopes of bringing them to a conclusion. In the meantime, he added, he is hopeful any further review of the case can bring about that conclusion even quicker.
Allen said he has already been able to talk to former officers or others mentioned in the case file, but admits that after so long, reaching that conclusion will be an uphill battle. At the same time, though, he hopes any further attention to the case will convince people who may knowing something to come forward.
“You’ve got to think that somebody’s been sitting out there for 28 years, and this has been on their mind every day of their life, they’ve had to think about this,” he said. “Or somebody knows something about this case and they have to sit and think about that too, that that girl’s deceased now, that her family is still living in terrible anguish over this.”
Allen added that he believes Debbie Eckles’ murder is the the only unsolved murder case in the City of Hazard, and he hopes that as long as there is a police department in Hazard, her case won’t be forgotten.
“If anybody has any knowledge, just please contact myself or Det. Clayton Stamper with Kentucky State Police to just try to help this family out if we can, and try to put this case to rest after 28 years,” he said.
Anyone with any information about the murder of Debbie Eckles is asked to call Kentucky State Police at 606-435-6069, or the Hazard Police Department at 606-436-2222.