Real Name: Deborah Jean Selvey Race
Location: Lake Superior, Minnesota
Date: May 12, 1982
Case[edit | edit source]
Details: Thirty-three-year-old Debbie Race was the wife of Larry Race who lived with their daughters and son in Hoyts Lake, Minnesota, 75 miles from Lake Superior. Their marriage was troubled by his extramarital affairs, but by 1982, he vowed to try again with their relationship. On May 11, 1982, their 14th wedding anniversary, they went out to celebrate, had dinner at a lake view restaurant, and took their boat, the Jenny Lee, out onto Lake Superior. After it became dark, they drifted it offshore, looking at the city lights.
According to Larry, at around 9pm, Debbie noticed that the boat was taking on water and began to panic because it had nearly sunk the previous summer. When Larry took off the engine cover, he noticed water spraying from it, and they shut it off. The leaking eventually stopped, and everything seemed to be working fine again.
When Debbie tried to start the engine again, it would not do so. Larry also tried to start it, but with no success. They also noticed that the boat was starting to sink again, and Debbie told Larry that she wanted to get off. They then tried to blow up the first life raft, but Debbie noticed that there were holes in it so they tossed it off to the side. They filled the second one, and it was successful. Debbie put her purse and other valuables in a bag, which she placed in the raft along with a scuba tank. Larry had his scuba gear on board, and he told Debbie that he would drag her and the boat to shore with him because he was a strong swimmer, and he had done so before with their daughters.
However, Larry said that he was cold and needed to get on the raft; Debbie would not let him do so because she thought he would sink it. He then noticed lights from a nearby boat and went towards it to try and get help. However, it actually was his own. This time, the engine started, and he went to search for Debbie, but was unsuccessful. He returned to shore and notified the Coast Guard, who also searched for her unsuccessfully. The next afternoon, a teenager discovered her body on the shore. She had died from hypothermia. Larry was then charged with her murder.
John DeSanto prosecuted Larry in Debbie's murder. DeSanto produced circumstantial evidence at the trial that showed that Larry had the opportunity, means, and motive to kill her. He claimed that Larry had apparently wanted out of his unhappy marriage and that he also had a $108,000 life insurance policy on her that was purchased just months prior to her death. His attorneys, however, claim that she had insisted on the insurance policy.
The prosecution claimed that Larry had concocted the engine trouble on the boat as a way to get her off it. After the trial, it was sold and an independent mechanic examined the starter in 1984, stating that it was worn and that the problem would have caused an intermittent starting failure. However, the prosecution noted that he could not prove that it had this problem back in 1982.
Larry claimed that there were two rafts on board the boat that night. However, DeSanto states that there was, in reality, only one. Larry's diving companions and friends testified at the trial that they had never seen him with more than one on it. The search and rescue also stated that they would have found the other one during their search. However, a deputy sheriff testified that Larry specifically told him that there were two. The prosecution pointed out that the deputy sheriff's testimony was inconsistent. At first, he had stated that he had known nothing about two, but for unknown reasons had changed his story.
The prosecution insists that on the night of Debbie's death, Larry purposely pushed her and her raft away from the boat. He then put on his scuba gear, swam under the raft, and slashed it with a knife, in order for her to freeze to death. DeSanto states that there were five punctures or cuts in the bottom of it, and that they occurred while it was inflated because there were none on the top and they were strategically placed so that they cut both air chambers. The prosecution failed to produce the knife that allegedly created them. The only knife on board the boat did not match them.
The prosecution claims that Larry dragged the raft back to the boat. Jean Aubineau, an underwater expert, however, reported that he would have been unable to complete all of the tasks that the prosecution claims he did that night. Aubineau also states that Debbie's body would not have been able to float as far as it did without a raft. DeSanto, however, also states that it is impossible to say where she got off the boat, so Aubineau's theory can't be corroborated.
According to Larry's attorneys, Debbie's skin lividity also proves that she came to shore in a life raft. However, DeSanto states that its levels show that she was actually floating on her back, which would support the prosecution theory. After hearing all of the evidence, the jury found Larry guilty of murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Larry's daughters could not believe that he was responsible. Surprisingly, Debbie's parents support him as well. His attorneys are currently trying to put together a search for the valuables that Debbie allegedly took on the raft. Larry continues to maintain his innocence in the case.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the December 18, 1991 episode.
Results: Unresolved. After all possible appeals were exhausted unsuccessfully, Larry was eventually released on parole after serving twenty-two years of his life sentence, pursuant to statute allowing him to be considered for parole after seventeen years. He continues to maintain his innocence. No one has yet come out to prove his claims. Sadly, Debbie's parents passed away in 2010.
- Body found along Lake Superior shore
- A man was convicted of murder Thursday for setting his wife adrift
- St. Louis County jury deliberated 12 hours before finding Larry Race guilty of murdering his wife
- Husband faces life for setting wife adrift
- Claims he's lifesaver, convicted for murder
- Man convicted of killing wife on cruise
- Jury declares murder verdict in lifeboat case
- Judge to review requests to free killer
- State vs. Race: Larry's 1986 Appeal
- State v. Race: Larry's 1993 Appeal
- Man Convicted of Killing Wife in Lake Superior to Be Released
- Man convicted in wife's death set to be released
- Debbie Race on Find a Grave