Saltwater Portrait

Debbie Sharp: Lewes woman relishes time to reflect

Documentary airs Wednesday, Oct. 9
October 8, 2013

Debbie Sharp's life has been a journey. One that brought her to Delaware from her home state of New Jersey. One in which she ended up married to her first boyfriend, after he helped her meet her first husband. One in which she lost her first husband at the hands of a crack addict who tortured her for days before her dramatic escape.

And one that brought her to Lewes where she now lives with her husband, her former first boyfriend.

Sharp, previously known as Debbie Puglisi, continues to work once a week as a registered nurse. But speaking engagements are her passion.

“It has become my therapy,” she said. “Victims need to tell their stories.”

Sharp's oft-repeated story begins on a spring afternoon in 1998 as she tended to roses in the yard of a home she had recently purchased with her husband, Nino Puglisi.

In broad daylight, a crack addict driving through her Newark neighborhood spied her in the yard. Minutes later, he murdered Nino, who was napping in a bedroom, and bound Debbie inside the home. Neighbors never questioned why a car drove up to the front door as the crack addict loaded Sharp's bound and gagged body into the trunk.

“One neighbor said he thought it was a delivery, since we had only lived there for 10 months,” she said.

Sharp's horrific story has been told countless times since her brave escape from the Newark home where she was held prisoner.

Oprah, 20/20, A&E and most recently Investigation Discovery have featured her story. Sharp released her own story in 2003 with “Shattered: Reclaiming a Life Torn Apart by Violence,” available in paperback at Browseabout books.

Sharp fit her latest story in between speaking engagements at victims' rights conferences and for college classes studying her book.

Investigation Discovery contacted her more than a year ago about including her story in their series, Surviving Evil. The network describes the series as stories of victims who fought back against their attackers and, against all odds, survived.

Sharp said she is pleased with the latest retelling of her story; the show offers new interviews and details about Sharp's ordeal.

Her brother and sister, Robert Engel and Darlene Sillitoe were interviewed, as was the former lead detective on the case and a neighbor shared their recollections for the Investigation Discovery show.

“I was so excited that this team was able to interview my brother and sister,” she said.

But it was Sharp's personal journey through the house where she was held hostage that impacted her the most.

“My return was empowering,” she said. “I had to go from room to room and tell them what happened in each room.”

Sharp said she spent six hours walking around the Newark home that was her prison for five days. She was able to free herself and call for help after her captor, Donald Flagg, left one evening for his job at the former Chrysler plant in Newark. Flagg is now serving a life sentence in prison.

“A lot of people asked me why I did it, but I said that's how I heal,” she said.

“Bound and Determined” will premiere at 10 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9, on Investigation Discovery.

At home in Lewes

Now a resident of Bay Crossing in Lewes where she lives with husband Bill, Sharp said, she enjoys the slower pace of Sussex County.

“It's just a lovely area. I love living here and working,” she said.

Once a week, usually Wednesdays, Sharp continues work as a registered nurse at Beebe Medical Center, where she serves as a casual nurse for Beebe Home Health – a position paid on a per diem basis. She and Bill also own the Gray Hare tavern on Route 24.

Living in Lewes gives her plenty of flexibility to attend the many speaking engagements she is invited to throughout the year.

It wasn't until Sharp started dating Bill that she learned anything about the Cape Region.

The New Jersey girl grew up going down the shore. Sharp was born in Mt. Holly, N.J., and grew up in nearby Burlington.

“My family all lived on Long Beach Island,” she said, a natural destination for Burlington County, N.J., residents such as herself.

She left New Jersey for Delaware after graduating from Burlington Township High School in 1969.

After moving to New Castle County, she said the first person she met and dated was Bill.

When they broke up, Sharp said, she met her husband, Nino, with a little help from Bill.

“Nino and I met at the Anvil Inn in Kennett Square, Pa., and Nino had come up to Bill and asked if he knew a nice girl who he could bring home to his family. Bill pointed me out and that's how Nino and I met,” she said.

They married in 1973, had twins in 1978, and were just shy of their 25th anniversary when tragedy struck.

Years later, Sharp said she reconnected with Bill because she felt safe around him. They married in 2000 and moved to Lewes permanently in 2005.

“I feel safer here, but I always have my guard up. I always pay attention to my surroundings,” she said.

And when she misses her New Jersey family, it's just a ferry ride away.

“I love the ferry,” she said. “What's nice is I can get on the ferry and drive an hour and 15 minutes to where my family is.”

But visiting is fine with her, she said. She doesn't miss the hustle and bustle of communities to the north; lower Delaware suits her nicely as she moves on after her life-shattering experience.

“It's never over. You continue to heal,” she said. “It's an ongoing journey.”

  • The Cape Gazette staff has been doing Saltwater Portraits weekly (mostly) for more than 20 years. Reporters, on a rotating basis, prepare written and photographic portraits of a wide variety of characters peopling Delaware's Cape Region. Saltwater Portraits typically appear in the Cape Gazette's Tuesday edition as the lead story in the Cape Life section.

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