Army Reservist & Drexel University Security Guard David Dickson Murdered Deborah Wilson on Campus; Sentenced to Life in Prison (November 30, 1984)

Deborah Wilson

Deborah Wilson, Pennsylvania

On November 30, 1984, student Deborah Wilson was found strangled to death in a stairwell outside a computer lab at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There was no sign of rape and her purse wasn’t taken but her socks and shoes were missing. For eight years Philadelphia police detectives were stumped because no circumstantial or forensic evidence matched any of the prime suspects including a campus security guard who had done a stint in prison for robbery. The convicted felon conveniently left that important detail off his university employment application but apparently the university didn’t do a background check. Eight years later, Philadelphia cold case investigators began looking at the case. They reinterviewed campus employees and recognized a discrepancy in testimony. In the first homicide investigation, campus security guard David Dickson told detectives that he heard the printer working in the computer lab at 1:30 a.m. so he decided not to disturb the busy student. When he came back a couple hours later, she was gone. But in the second investigation they learned from a university employee that the printers stop working at 10 p.m.

Detectives zeroed in on Sgt. David Dickson, who was a Army Reserves Sergeant heading up a recruiting station. According to investigators, Dickson left his campus security guard position shortly after the crime and entered the active duty Army again. When they dug into his military record, they learned that his first active duty stint ended with a courts martial and a discharge from the Army in 1979 for burglary. He was accused of breaking into a female Army soldier’s home in Korea and stealing her sneakers. He was also suspected of a string of shoe thefts at the Philadelphia Naval Base where he lived. Multiple spouses reported that their white sneakers and gym socks where stolen from their homes but it was revealed that military leadership disregarded them. Apparently, the military thought the spouses were ‘crazy’ and ‘acting up’ while their husbands were away. In addition, a local newspaper noted that Dickson was fired from a pharmaceutical company for sending a co-worker a sexually explicit letter and whispering over the phone that he was going to rape her.


David Dickson, U.S. Army Reserve

When police searched Dickson’s home, they found multiple videotapes containing ‘foot pornography’ and more then twenty pairs of individually wrapped white sneakers in a storage unit. Cold case investigators theorized that Deborah Wilson stayed late in a computer room in Randell Hall to work on a project due the next day. Dickson worked the midnight to 8 a.m. shift at Randell Hall. One of the outgoing security guards asked Dickson to escort Deborah to her car but instead Dickson’s ego was bruised and he decided that he was going to take Deborah’s sneakers. He used a few karate chops on her head and neck area, lunged at her, and then hit her on the forehead with a security clock. After he realized what he did, he decided he had to kill her to cover up his actions so he strangled her to death, dragged her body to the stairwell, and took her socks and sneakers. In September 1993, Dickson was arrested for killing Deborah Wilson but he remained stubbornly silent. Dickson’s first trial ended in a deadlocked hung jury but the second trial’s outcome would be the result of Dickson’s own actions. Dickson proclaimed his innocence throughout the entire first trial but prosecutors learned from a snitch that he bragged about killing the ‘rich bitch’ while he was in jail. The investigators also learned more about the details of the crime and the information provided corroborated the evidence found at the autopsy including the bruises on her feet.

David Dickson was found guilty of second degree murder in December 1995 and was sentenced to life in prison. A psychiatrist testified that Dickson’s obsession with white sneakers ‘crossed a sick sociopathic line.’ It’s important to note that Dickson’s criminal behavior is what prompted him to move between the active duty Army and the Army Reserves. Dickson was able to escape each location without detection but the behavior followed him from base to base. This case is an excellent argument for the use of the FBI national database in the use of documenting crime in the U.S. military that can be easily accessed by military law enforcement officials in the world. Burglary is considered a felony therefore it would be an appropriate action to enter the crime into the world wide system whether you know who did it or not. The FBI national database would help us track the clues to solve the crimes perpetrated by transient military personnel.

Investigation Discovery:

After an all-night study session in a university lab, math student Deborah Wilson is found strangled, missing her shoes and socks. Years later, Philadelphia investigators unearth the shocking obsession that drove a killer to take her life. -Barefoot Homicide, Unusual Suspects (S7,E13)

Editor’s note: With a cable subscription, you can download the free ID Go app and watch Investigation Discovery programming at your convenience. And for those who do not have cable, you can watch “unlocked” episodes on the ID Go app including the latest premieres. For those who prefer commercial free programming during your binge session, Prime Video has an ID channel: ‘True Crime Files by Investigation Discovery” available for $3.99 a month. It’s a compilation of older seasons but totally worth the cost if you are a true crime addict. Download the ID Go app or purchase ID True Crime Files & binge away.

Related Links:
Find a Grave: Deborah Lynn Wilson (1963-1984)
Fetish Murder? Killed By Foot Fetishist? Drexel Student Was Slain In ’84
Slowly Making A Case A Lengthy Hearing On 1984 Homicide
Witness: Suspect Told Of Killing Skill
Murder Suspect’s Wife Tells Court Of His Sexual Fascination With Feet
Love Letter, Sneaker Fetish Linked At Murder Hearing
Accused Coed-killer Tries To Hang Self In Jail
Woman Who Lived Above Murder Suspect Tells Of Shoe Thefts 
’84 Drexel Security Called Lax By Witness Slaying Trial Told Guards Drunk, Stoned
Inmate: He Killed Her, Then Played With Her Feet Claims Shoe Fetishist Told Story In Prison
Defense Lawyer: Foot Fetish Doesn’t Make Him A Killer
Self-confessed shoe fetishist retried in student’s murder
Cold Case Squad: Modern-Day ‘Sherlock Holmes’ Team Takes on Oregon Slaying
Snitch Work: Death Penalty Information Center
Unusual Suspects Premiered ‘Barefoot Homicide’ on ID: Drexel University Student Deborah Wilson Found Murdered on Campus (April 5, 2015)
Barefoot Homicide | Unusual Suspects | Investigation Discovery (S7,E13)
Barefoot Homicide | Unusual Suspects | Investigation Discovery (website)
Barefoot Homicide | Unusual Suspects | Investigation Discovery (Prime Video)

1 thought on “Army Reservist & Drexel University Security Guard David Dickson Murdered Deborah Wilson on Campus; Sentenced to Life in Prison (November 30, 1984)

  1. I always wonder how a person who strangles someone to death could not be charged and convicted of first degree murder. It is the one type of murder which takes absolute intention to commit. It takes several minutes to choke a person to death. There is no accident there. It is incredibly purposeful. You can accidentally kill someone in every other way, but not choking someone to death.

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