The Unsolved 1998 Murder of Debra Sue Murray

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Debra Sue Murray, 38, was the type of person who put everyone else’s needs before her own. Born on Jan. 23, 1960, in Ionia, Missouri, to Leonard and Ella Howery, she was one of several children born to the couple. 

In 1998, Debra lived in the 700 block of West Shawnee Drive in Chandler, Arizona with her husband, Jack Murray, 43, and their 12-year-old son, Timothy. 

She worked as a manager at the Jack in the Box restaurant on McClintock Drive and Southern Avenue.

Debra has been described as “friendly, outgoing, and not a mean bone in her body.” She liked to bake cookies for her employees on their birthdays despite her hectic schedule. She treated her coworkers and customers well.

Debra got along fine with her neighbors, who often saw her and Timmy walking together in the neighborhood. She did not have any known enemies, but she was having marital problems.

At 4:40 a.m. on June 26, 1998, Debra was gunned down outside her home as she was preparing to head to work.

The Murray’s nanny, Cathy Peterson, called the Chandler police when she heard shots fired. She had lived with the Murray family for 10 years and had multiple sclerosis.

Timmy was inside the home but did not witness the shooting. It is unclear where Jack Murray was at the time of his wife’s murder.

Debra was shot multiple times in her upper body and pronounced dead at the scene by Chandler Fire Department paramedics. 

According to the Arizona Republic, “Investigators found evidence of forced entry in the attached garage and items taken from the garage left on the driveway.” The crime initially looked like an interrupted burglary, but police believe it was staged to look that way and that Debra knew her killer; it was not a random attack.

Chandler police said burglars often work the same MO as other criminals and would have no reason to shoot Debra.

Whoever killed Debra knew what time she left for work each day.

Police found a foot impression at the scene in Debra’s yard, which led investigators to suspect her husband Jack, but the evidence was inconclusive. 

Chandler detectives questioned him and considered Jack an “investigative lead” but never made an arrest. They said he was cooperative, and there was no record of domestic violence calls to the Murray home.

Police received a tip that a newspaper carrier, who was in the vicinity during Debra’s murder, had heard what they thought were fireworks or gunshots and saw a vehicle make a U-turn. However, investigators set up surveillance and learned the carrier did not see anything. 

Neighbors said the neighborhood was safe, with no violent crime before Debra’s murder. 

A couple of months later, investigators suggested that Debra’s family in Missouri establish a reward fun because it might bring helpful information. The family offered $5,000, but nothing came from it.

Chandler had a record of 12 killings in 1995, two in 1996, and three in 1997. Debra’s killing was the first in Chandler since Luis Parra was shot to death on May 17, 1997.

Debra Murray: newspaper photo of Luis Parra and Vincenio Cortez Miramontes
Arizona Republic, 1997
Debra Murray: Miramontes 2019
Miramontes, 2019/Chandler PD

On that day, Parra, 15, and friends were playing with a semiautomatic handgun, loading, unloading, cocking, uncocking it, when the gun discharged.

Parra was on the telephone with his girlfriend, and two of his friends were trying to hurry him along when the gun went off.

One friend said, “Get off the phone or I’ll shoot you.” It was not a real threat, but the friend, Venancio Miramontes, 21, pointed the gun directly at Parra and pulled the trigger, and to Miramontes’s surprise, the gun went off.

Parra, Miramontes, Raul Olivo, 18, and Ariana Rivera, 14, were at Rivera’s home in the 400 block of North Delaware Street when the shooting occurred. 

Police initially said the incident appeared to be “inadvertent,” but they were unwilling to call it an accident. 

Parra’s family did not believe it was an accident because Miramontes pointed the gun directly at Parra.

Miramontes fled the scene and eluded police for 22 years. 

In early 2019, a Chandler Police Detective assigned to the United States Marshals Service task force developed information on Miramontes’s possible whereabouts. This data placed Miramontes residence in Fauquier County, Virginia. Acting on this break, marshals in Warrenton, Virginia, conducted surveillance on this possible location for Miramontes. Twenty-two years to the day of Parra’s death, Miramontes was arrested without incident.  

Detective Seth Tyler, Chandler Police Department, May 30, 2019

There is no current update on Parra’s case. At Miramontes’s arrest, Virginia authorities held him in the Fauquier County Jail on the 1997 arrest warrant until Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office eventually extradited him to Arizona and booked him on one count of manslaughter.

After 18 months, Debra Murray’s case went cold and remains unsolved today. However, there is a cash reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for her murder.

You may submit a tip by calling (480) 782-4440 or submit online.

True Crime Diva’s Thoughts

Yes, this is another short article, but the short ones are easier and quicker to research and write. I am rather enjoying writing them at the moment.

I think Debra’s killer was either Jack Murray or Cathy Peterson. I’m guessing Jack because the two were having marital problems, plus there is the foot impression, which led the police to suspect him. 

Whoever killed Debra knew what time she left for work each day. We do not know where Jack was at the time. Was he sleeping? Had Jack moved out because of marital problems? Why didn’t he call the police?

Debra doesn’t strike me as the type of boss who would have pissed off an employee to the point where said employee killed her. Instead, her coworkers were devasted over her murder.

She was shot multiple times, so I feel like this was more personal and probably close to home. 

It stands to reason that Jack had more of a motive than anyone else. However, we do not know much about Cathy. How old was she? Did she have an affair with Jack? 

Could a hired killer have shot Debra? But, again, that would lead back to Jack or someone close to Debra who could afford to make the payment.

Who benefited from the killing? What about life insurance money?

What about the gun used to kill Debra? Did the police find it at the scene? I have no idea. Unfortunately, there isn’t much info on her killing, and nothing I found mentions the murder weapon, as far as what type of bullet and gun were used.

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True Crime Diva

True Crime Diva

I've blogged true crime since 2010, happily taking up only a tiny corner of the internet. I'm not here for attention; I'm here to tell you their stories.

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