By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
DEBBIE MILKE WAS BORN in Berlin, West Germany, on March 10, 1964. Her father, Air Force lifer Richard "Sam" Sadeik, was stationed there for a time. Her mother was a German native named Renalda, nicknamed Alex by her American friends. The couple had two daughters, Debra Jean--the oldest by a few years--and Sandra Denise.
The family's nomadic military trail ended at Phoenix's Luke Air Force Base when Sam reached retirement age in the late 1970s. Debbie relates a relatively normal childhood, marred only by a sibling rivalry with Sandy.
"I was always close to my mom," Debbie says. "She really had me up on a pedestal. My sister was always rebellious and my mother always used to hammer her. My room was always clean, I was always home on time, I got good grades, and I never got in trouble. I'm 27 and I can still hear my parents telling Sandy, `Why can't you be just like Debbie?' They drove that into her and she hated it, just hated it."
Sam and Alex Sadeik were divorced when Debbie was fourteen. Sam moved to Florence and took a job as a guard there at the Arizona State Prison, where he still works.
Debbie stayed with her mother in Phoenix and attended Cortez High School. Though she wasn't a member of the National Honor Society as she claimed on later job applications, Debbie by all accounts was an above-average student.
Her classmates remember her as shy with strangers, but a bit of showoff with friends. "Debbie was a cute girl who liked to blab and hang out with the girls," a former friend recalls. "I mean, she wasn't any different than anyone else. If you'd told me that Debbie Sadeik would murder her own kid like this, or have it done, I'd tell you you were nuts."
Although Debbie's ex-husband, Mark, alleges she was sexually experienced before he met her, old friends say she bragged more than anything else. Debbie herself claims that in high school she was prudish to the point of earning the nickname "DD"--short for "Debbie Doesn't." But she does admit to having taken part in some mischievous teenage pranks.
"A bunch of us went out to the lake one time," she says, laughing at the memory, "and we had a few wine coolers. We went into a Circle K and I reached into the hot-dog thing and I took one bite out of each dog. I had a whole mouthful stuffed in and I turned around and there was a cop looking right at me. I about died. I had to pay for them."
Debbie was attending Glendale Community College after graduating from high school when something she describes as "traumatic" occurred.
"I was at a very vulnerable stage in my life," she says, "going to college, working part-time, depending on my mother. My sister was living in Florence with my father and his new wife. Mom came home one day, ~`I'm moving back to Europe. Bye.' It was with this guy she was seeing. She says, `Don't worry, I'll give you money.' How can you tell a nineteen-year-old girl who's never had any responsibilities to budget money? She felt I was mature enough.
"After my mom left, I met Mark."
"IT WAS FRIDAY the thirteenth when I met the bastard," Debbie Milke says of the night in March 1983 she first laid eyes on her future husband. "My roommate called me at work. `Let's go out tonight. There's thirteen-cent beers at this bar and lots of cute guys.' I got introduced to Mark and I thought he was very, very nice looking, and he was very nice to me. We started to go out. We had the same nationality, German, and I got along great with his mom. She reminded me a lot of my grandparents. I was head over heels in love with him."
Mark remembers the meeting like this: "I was shooting pool and she came in. She had just turned nineteen. Debbie didn't actually make the move. She chickened out, and this friend they were with told her that he had my phone number."
Debbie soon called Mark, he says, and the two arranged a meeting at his place. What Mark remembers about one of their first dates is significant in light of future events.
"Her roommate had a small son, about three or four," Mark says, "and Debbie brought him over, saying that he was her son. And she had very good motherly qualities with him. I liked that quality in her."
Mark was a 1979 Thunderbird High School graduate and had been a hellion since early on. Court records list Mark's first brush with the law at the age of twelve. After high school, he laid carpet or worked construction sporadically to raise cash.
Mostly, though, Mark drank himself into oblivion and did drugs. A probation officer once noted of him, "Mark has a rebellious, nonchalant attitude. He is basically immature and is going to do as he pleases."
Nothing dissuaded the infatuated Debbie. She moved in with Mark in the summer of 1983. Mark says Debbie soon got pregnant, but miscarried after her mom flew over from Germany. Debbie vehemently denies this, saying her first pregnancy was with Christopher.