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Memorial service planned for Debra Fielder

July 25, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Her voice was husky and deep, like that of American blues singer Bonnie Raitt.

Music was Debra Ann Fielder's passion, too, according to an Inwood, W.Va., couple who are planning an Aug. 18 memorial service to celebrate the life of their close friend and former band mate.

"We loved her," said Dennis Johnson, who described the 47-year-old Berkeley County woman as "a wire, a free-flying spirit."

The public service, to be held at 4 p.m. in Ridgeway Church Hall off Specks Run Road in southern Berkeley County, was intentionally planned about the time of Fielder's homicide one year ago, according to Johnson's wife, Linda.

"We're going to be playing one of her songs," said Linda Johnson, a local educator who owns a small business with her husband. "We want to celebrate her life."

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On Aug. 20, 2006, Fielder's body was found dismembered in suitcases in Back Creek near the community of Shanghai in western Berkeley County. Weeks later, Fielder's ex-husband, Stephen R. Fielder of Bunker Hill, W.Va., was charged in her murder. His trial is set for November.

Since Fielder's reported death, Johnson confirmed that the couple volunteered to file the necessary paperwork to become administrators of Fielder's estate, an act that the Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney's office described on Tuesday as "very generous."

"She didn't get an obituary," said Linda Johnson, who said she first met Fielder in 1999.

Raised by adoptive parents in Winchester, Va., Debra Fielder did not have any known surviving family members, Johnson said.

Before their divorce in 2002, Debra and Stephen Fielder, the Johnsons and another couple were members of the Free Radicals, a country, classic rock band, she said.

"She was a great singer," Johnson said. The couple said they had good reason to believe Fielder had done some studio recording in her earlier years and also performed in Las Vegas in backup work. Fielder was always the lead singer in their band and a perfectionist with her music, Johnson said.

"(Her voice) was sultry and clear and had a lot of depth to it," Johnson said.

When he first met Fielder about 10 years ago, Dennis Johnson said it was like "instant meld."

"She had good energy, real good energy," he said.

Though the Johnsons were able to organize the service, Fielder's remains will be kept at the West Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Charleston, W.Va., until the pending legal allegations are resolved. The couple plans to eventually have Fielder's remains interred next to her adoptive father's grave site at Shenandoah Memorial Park in Winchester.

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