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Deborah Houchin: How Did She Die? Who Killed Her?

December 24, 2020
5 min read
Image Credit: Find A Grave

Investigation Discovery’s ‘Your Worst Nightmare’ uncovers horrifying true stories behind murders that are bone-chilling and spine-gripping. The show uses evidence and accounts narrated by the people involved or related to the victim, along with exclusive archival footage. The episode titled ‘Midlife Crisis’ discusses the murder of a woman named Deborah Houchin, who was a marriage counselor in Texas. How did she die? Who killed her? Let’s find out.

How Did Deborah Houchin Die?

Deborah Houchin was a 56-year-old woman from Arlington, Texas. She ran a personal clinic along with a group of other therapists. Having been separated from her husband for several years, she pulled herself back into the game by joining dating sites. One of them was reported to be “match.com”. Soon, the odds turned in her favor when she met Lester Winningham, a psychologist who seemed to want to get married to her. Deborah, being well-off, was advised by her sister Marlene Wallem to initiate a prenup for security purposes. But when the same was conveyed to him, he got all riled up, which scared Deborah.

Image Credit: Find A Grave

On July 22, 2005, around 6:30 am, a man named Craig Bayer spotted a swirl of smoke rising from the backside of his shop in Muenster, where he worked as a mechanic. On inching closer, he caught sight of fire, which he naturally assumed was trash getting incinerated. But once he entered a radius of 10 to 15 ft from the fire, which at that point had slightly decreased, he had a horrific realization that it was a person instead. He instantly called 911, and by the time the fire chief arrived, the flames were completely out.

During the investigation, it was observed that the body was wrapped in a blue tarp and had suffered gunshot wounds. It belonged to a white female beyond which it was unrecognizable. The medical examiner Dr. Jill Ervin mentioned that her body was almost entirely burnt with bits of charred clothing and accessories clinging to it. A total of three gunshot wounds were observed, one out of which fatally caused Deborah’s death. Texas Ranger Tracy Murphree, the assigned investigator, mentioned that he found a receipt from a sports item store listing a poly tarp and a rope.

On July 26, 2005, the body was positively identified as Deborah Houchin, with parallels established through dental records. Murphree investigated Deborah’s house, where he found traces of blood smeared in different areas and a spent bullet. He also found bleach stains on the stairs and an eyeglass chain lying on the foot of the staircase. He concluded that the perpetrator was trying to clean something using bleach and the dog food lying open also gave away the fact that he was someone acquainted with the victim. The last act of savagely tying up the body and burning it further reinforced his conclusion that the attack was personal.

Who Killed Deborah Houchin?

Deborah Houchin’s co-workers at the clinic were the first ones to be interrogated. She was reported to be alive at 11 pm on July 21, 2005, after which there was so sign of her. She did not show up the following day as she did not work on Fridays. But her absence concerned her co-workers the next week, and they filed a missing person’s report. They also informed Murphree about her romantic relationship with Winningham, who was then investigated.

The investigators ran a thorough search on Winningham’s car, which was unusually distorted in some areas, like a few scratches on the license plate with traces of blue material and a disheveled interior of the passenger compartment. They also found a hefty sum of cash wrapped in paper, Houchin’s blood imprints, and dog hair. His banking and credit card transactions were checked, which revealed that he was planning to leave the country. They also investigated his apartment, where they found bags with the logo Academy on them, which, according to Murphree, must be where the tarp was kept.

The reports eventually declared that Lester shot Deborah before dragging her body to the field, wrapping her up, and setting the body on fire. Lester Winningham, however, resisted these allegations with arguments of his own. He associated his hefty cash withdrawal to a need to acquire a lawyer and other menial jobs like paying electricity bills, membership fees for a fitness club, credit union fees, etc. He said he took a trip to New Mexico to decompress and returned to attend Houchin’s funeral on July 26, 2005.

Lester also denied Murphree and his partner, Kish’s observations, including the scratches on his car bumper and the presence of a tarp. He was, however, convicted of the murder of Deborah Houchin and sentenced to life imprisonment in October 2007. Winningham pleaded in his defense, stating that he is innocent. In 2010, the verdict was overturned on an appeal due to a lack of substantial evidence, and a retrial was decided upon. He is currently serving his time in Telford Prison, Texas.

Read More: Where is Lester Winningham Now?

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