SPRING HOPE, N.C. (WNCN) — For almost 16 years, Debbie Deans’ family has waited and wondered.

Did their mother abandon them or was she murdered? A break in the case came last week when remains were found and her sister-in-law was arrested. 

Deans was last seen leaving her sister-in-law’s home off Wiley Road in Spring Hope. Kimberly Hancock told investigators they got into a fight and a friend picked Deans up. 

“The last time I saw her was in January, but I had a feeling all along that she was missing but I knew she was missing when she didn’t call for Jessica’s birthday in April,” Elaine Blevins, Debbie’s mother said.

She reported her then 29-year-old daughter missing back in April 2004. 

“I remember when me and Robbie used to go to a day care… We had a lady who would come in there who I swear looked so much like my mom it was crazy,” said Jessica Blevins, Deans’ oldest child. “It would always make me think of her and I remember asking her one day, I asked her what her name was because you look so much like my mom.”

Blevins was one of four children Deans had.

Elaine Blevins said from the very beginning Rocky Mount Police didn’t take the case seriously. 

“I couldn’t convince them she’s missing. She would not have done it. She would have contacted her children,” Elaine Blevins said.

Elaine also didn’t buy Hancock’s story, she believed she knew more than she was saying. 

In 2005 Hancock was caught cashing child support checks mailed to Deans. Years later, Elaine Blevins’s suspicions came to a head at the funeral for Deans’ husband. 

“She came up and wanted to put her arms around me and hug me and I leaned in and told her very quietly I said ‘I know you killed her.’ And she backed up from me like I was a snake and yes, I always knew that she was involved. Always,” Elaine said. 

Then last week, a tip came in to a local crime-fighting Facebook page.

Investigators said that detailed tip led them to what they believe are Deans’ remains. They were found in a shallow grave near Hancock’s trailer. 
Within hours of the discovery, Hancock was arrested and charged with murder. 

“It was nice to finally know that okay, she’s not out there walking around somewhere,” Jessica Blevins said.
Jessica Blevins said she learned of the development from Hancock’s daughter. 

“I really hated that she had to be the one to tell me but I was kinda glad you know that, I appreciated her reaching out,” Jessica said.

“I don’t guess the reason really is that important in the scheme of things. That we’re gonna know where she’s going to be at. That we’re going to have her back,” Elaine Blevins said.