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Victim lived next to Eugene Britt

Victim lived next to Eugene Britt

GARY - When murder victim Deborah McHenry was young, she, her brother and

three sisters used to play with Eugene Britt and his siblings.

Now, years later, family members believe that early friendship with Britt

led to Deborah's death.

"He (Britt) was a pretty good fellow," said McHenry's mother, Irene Morris,

as she sat in the living room of her Gary home Tuesday, remembering the years

her family lived next door to the Britts at 1981 Hayes. "You would never think

he was that kind of boy."

Britt, 38, has allegedly confessed to Gary and Portage police that he raped

and strangled eight Gary women, including Deborah, and that he strangled an

unidentified Gary man between May and September.

He is now being held in the Porter County Jail in Valparaiso on charges of

murder and criminal deviant conduct in the rape and strangulation death of

8-year-old Sarah Lynn Paulsen of Portage.

While city detectives are busy building their cases against Britt, who has

not been charged in any of the Gary killings, Morris and her family are

struggling to come to terms with the twist of fate that ended Deborah's life.

"She was a lovely person," Morris said of her youngest daughter, her eyes

filling with tears as she clutched a copy of the Lake County coroner's report

that details her daughter's cause of death. "She (Deborah) didn't fight. She

was just a homebody, a mother."

On the day she died, Deborah, 41, or Debbie as family members called her,

had gone to pick up her food stamps and Social Security check.

That afternoon, Deborah stopped at her aunt's house in Gary to visit and

hang out, her brother, Donald said. The group had a few drinks and talked for

awhile.

Later, Deborah decided she wanted to go shopping, so Donald took her to a

nearby store. On the way home, though, Deborah told her brother to let her off

at 25th and Broadway, so she could meet up with a friend, Donald said.

That was the last time he saw her.

"Debbie was supposed to come back to my aunt's house, but she didn't,"

Donald said, his voice breaking.

Early the next morning, July 18, a man found Deborah's partially-clothed

body lying in some weeds near a garage at 2940 W. 21st Ave.

Police were able to identify her through a Med-Alert necklace she wore

because of epilepsy.

"Debbie was like a lamb," Donald said, pain clouding his eyes. "She needed

protection. There was no one there to protect her."

Morris believes that sometime after Deborah left her brother on July 17, she

must have run into Britt and recognized him from childhood and stopped to talk

to him.

"He was the last person you would expect (to do this)," Morris said,

referring to what Britt was like as a child.

Donald McHenry, though, said while Britt seemed nice enough as a child, he

came from a troubled family and allegedly began abusing alcohol at an early age.

The McHenry family moved away from the Britts in the mid-60s, ending up in

Gary's Glen Park neighborhood.

There, Deborah completed high school, graduating in 1973 from Westside High

School.

Soon after graduation, she started working at a filling station and later at

other similar jobs.

Deborah, who never married, had a stillborn child a few years after

graduating from Westside, Donald said. Later, she had two other daughters, now

19 and 16 years old.

In 1987, Deborah was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumor and

underwent surgery to remove it. Afterward, she was never quite the same.

"It took her from 30-years-old to 10-years-old. It affected her thinking,"

Donald said, adding that the family closed ranks after Deborah's surgery to

help her and protect her.

After the surgery, Deborah wasn't able to return to work, so she

concentrated on raising her daughters, Morris said.

Now, Deborah's daughters are trying to get on with their lives and keep

their mother's memory alive, Morris said.

But the task isn't easy.

For her part, Morris is critical of Gary police, saying they haven't been

talking with the family enough. She said she learned that Britt had allegedly

confessed to killing her daughter from the media.

Gary police, though, said they have been doing everything they can to try to

solve Deborah's murder and the other 100-plus that have occurred in the city

this year.

In addition, the Cold Squad, the city's special team of detectives assigned

to investigate unsolved homicides, is now focusing its energies on the nine

people Britt allegedly killed.

While some are relieved that Britt is in jail, Morris said she gets little

comfort from that.

"I can't forgive," she said softly, shaking her head. "I can't forgive."

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