Kidnap Survivor Mourns Husband Relatives Of Debra Puglisi Called Her `Our Hero.' The Man Accused In Her Ordeal Is A Possible Suspect In Other Crimes.

Posted: April 27, 1998

CHRISTIANA, Del. — Her kidnapper hog-tied her with rope and tortured her. He raped her and stuffed her in a car trunk. He killed her husband.

But Debra Puglisi was still nice to him. And that, a family member said, may have saved her life.

Now, Delaware police say the Newark nurse's alleged abductor, Donald Flagg, who is an autoworker for Chrysler Corp., is a potential suspect in other serious crimes.

``There's no doubt in my mind that Debbie's life was probably lengthened . . . by treating that animal nicely,'' Robert Engel, her younger brother, told reporters yesterday. ``She told me she thanked him for certain things . . . because of that she kept herself alive.''

``She's our hero,'' he said. ``She saved herself.''

Yesterday, though, was a sad day for Debra Puglisi, 46, and her family. Scores of friends and relatives filed into Beeson Memorial Service of Christiana-Elkton to view the body of her husband, Anthony Puglisi Jr., the 50-year-old funeral director whom neighbors found shot to death in his bedroom last Monday.

According to the arrest warrant, Flagg, 40, confessed to killing Puglisi and abducting his wife. Delaware police described the murder and kidnapping as a random incident and said that Flagg's motive may have been a desire for her.

Now, they have named Flagg, who police say has been a model employee at Chrysler for 20 years, as a possible suspect in several unsolved crimes in New Castle County. State police plan to execute a search warrant at his home this week.

``We consider him to be a viable suspect in several pending investigations,'' Lt. Rick Chamberlin, a Delaware State Police spokesman, said yesterday.

In an interview Saturday night, Chamberlin said Flagg made statements to New Castle County police detectives shortly after his arrest that led them to believe Flagg may have committed other crimes in the area. He did not provide details, but said the crimes were serious.

Yesterday, Chamberlin downplayed media reports quoting unnamed sources as saying that authorities are trying to determine if Flagg was involved in the October killing of Virginia Jillson, of Glasgow. She was found dead in a clump of trees off Stanton-Christiana Road.

``I don't know who that source is, but it is not coming from us,'' Chamberlin said.

Last Monday afternoon, police say Flagg spotted Debra Puglisi working in the garden on his way to work and ``wanted'' her.

He was high on cocaine, police allege, when he sneaked into the house and shot Anthony Puglisi to death.

Police said that when Debra Puglisi came into the house he punched her, raped her, bound her, and dumped her in the trunk of his green Plymouth Duster and drove to his house in Bear, less than five miles away. There, he continued to assault her for four days, said police.

On Friday night, Puglisi, who was bound with rope and handcuffed inside Flagg's house, managed to loosen her ropes enough to call 911. Police soon came and rescued her. Two hours later, they arrested Flagg, who was working the second shift at the Chrysler plant.

Puglisi suffered minor bruises and was treated for dehydration at Christiana Hospital where she was reunited with family members.

``Debbie is OK, She really appreciates everybody's prayers,'' said Engel.

After his arrest, Flagg told police it was a random act and that he went to the house ``looking to kidnap someone,'' according to the warrant.

Flagg was charged with first-degree murder and other crimes. He's in Gander Hill Prison in Wilmington without bail.

Yesterday, Debra Puglisi left the hospital to attend her husband's wake, which was not open to reporters. Engel said she felt her survival was in part bittersweet because her husband, known as ``Nino,'' was dead.

``She told me today is for Nino,'' Engel said. ``Not for her.''

Symbols of Anthony Puglisi's life were everywhere at the wake, held at the funeral home where he once worked. He was a part-time musician, so a bass guitar was placed on his casket, said people who attended the viewing. He loved the Chesapeake Bay, so his boat was in the parking lot.

Family members and friends said Debra Puglisi was coping remarkably well. But her ordeal is not over.

``Physically she had minor injuries,'' said Engel. ``But the mental part is going to take time to heal.''

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