By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Debbie and Mark started an unsettling pattern of separation and reconciliation. During one kiss-and-make-up sequence in December 1984, they got married. Debbie was pregnant with Christopher within a few weeks, but Mark's pending responsibilities did nothing to curb his wild ways.
Mark continued to get arrested on felony DUI and related charges. He was ordered to prison soon after Christopher was born by Caesarean section on October 2, 1985.
With Mark behind bars, it was Debbie's job to provide for herself and her baby. She did this by working and with financial help from family members, especially Mark's father, who expressed guilt over his son's criminal misadventures. "Debbie never had any of her parents," Henry Milke says. "The mother left her, the father didn't want her. So she turned to me."
Debbie and Mark got back together after he completed his six-month prison sentence in 1986. "I thought everything would be fine," she says, "but it wasn't. He got into trouble again."
The trouble Debbie is speaking of tells much about what kind of household Christopher was being raised in. It was November 30, 1986, and Christopher had recently celebrated his first birthday. The terms of Mark's parole said he wasn't supposed to be drinking, but he fell off the wagon that night at a Phoenix bar.
Mark's version of what ensued: "Debbie rode home with friends. I had to catch a cab home, cost me $25. I just had a few beers, and I went and woke her up . . . Debbie was crying and started calling the police. I took the phone out of her hand and I slammed it on the floor. And she went and called the cops, said I smacked her in the face with the phone, and there was never physical abuse at all. And I got the domestic violence."
Debbie's version: "Mark brought home this other drunk from the bar and tried to get me to go to bed with the two of them. I threw a fit and kicked the guy out. Then I went to call 911. Mark came up to me and I smacked him on the side of his face with the phone. He went out cold. I kicked him as hard as I could right in the groin. The cops came and arrested him on the domestic violence. It cost him a few months of work furlough in jail, but he deserved it."
PERSONAL TURMOIL continued to plague Debbie in the three years before Christopher was murdered. She and Mark separated again after their violent clash in November 1986.
Then she met a man who would figure prominently in the unthinkable events of December 1989. "I was living with my sister Sandy," Debbie says, "and she'd watch Chris while I worked. I'd watch her son at night. She'd always be on the front steps when I came home, talking with some guy. They were very good friends. I got to know him, too."
Debbie's new friend was Jim Styers, now on death row for murdering Christopher. Susan Stinson, a Phoenix woman Debbie and Sandy lived with for a while, says the sisters used Styers for baby-sitting, extra cash and "for anything else they could get out of him. Jim would do whatever it took to keep Debra and Sandy happy."
She also remembers what Debbie was like as a mother. She told detectives that Debbie had been a mixed-up, impatient mom who yelled constantly at Christopher. She said it seemed as if Christopher were a burden to her.
Debbie and Christopher moved to Colorado in the summer of 1988. They stayed with an old friend, Dorothy Markwell, and Debbie found work through a temporary employment agency. But her attempt at a fresh start failed.
Markwell saw the same kinds of problems with Debbie's mothering skills that Susie Stinson had seen in Phoenix. She called Christopher a "very confused, mixed-up" child who had been hungry for affection. Debbie once hurled Christopher against a wall, Markwell testified, and she had told her several times that she hated her son and wanted him dead.
Debbie's problems as a mother are documented in a Loveland, Colorado, police report dated October 19, 1988. The report indicates that Christopher had wandered into a neighbor's home unattended. The boy had just turned three. The neighbor's place was several houses down from Debbie's. The investigating cop didn't charge Debbie with child neglect, but forwarded his report to state authorities.
Two weeks later, Debbie and Christopher were back in Phoenix. Even though Debbie's divorce from Mark was official, she moved in with her ex-mother-in-law, Ilse Milke. Debbie was broke as usual, but she soon worked out a nice arrangement.
"I didn't charge her rent," Ilse Milke says. "She didn't pay utilities or telephone. I wanted her to save money, even though she was my ex-daughter-in-law."
Ilse Milke also bought Debbie a used car, on which Debbie promised to make the $253 monthly payments. The failure of this arrangement would figure in the circumstances that led up to Christopher's murder a year later.
Debbie soon got a job as a secretary for Lincoln National, an insurance company. She started to correspond with Mark, who was completing his latest stint in prison. The letters are a window into Debbie's psyche and her deep-rooted troubles with her family, with Mark, with Christopher, with almost everybody. They show her giving lip-service to the idea of turning her life around, while blaming Mark for most of her woes.