When television news shows recently devoted coverage to last month’s recent arrest of the man dubbed the Golden State Killer, who is accused of a string of 40-year-old unsolved rapes and murders in California, many in Texoma probably thought of Jennifer Harris and her death 16 years ago.
Now, Fannin County’s most notable unsolved murder case will get its national audience on May 19 when “48 Hours” examines it. The show will air on CBS at 9 p.m. Central time.
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones credits a recently released book “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” by Michelle McNamera for helping to generate new tips in the Golden State Killer case but said nothing in the book directly led to the arrest of former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo.
Generating new leads is still something that most cold case investigators want and would appreciate. Fannin County Sheriff Mark Johnson said he has worked on the Jennifer Harris case for about a year now. And, this week, he said he can’t look forward to a DNA test to solve the case.
“We don’t have any good DNA in the Harris case,” Johnson said in a phone interview Friday.
Harris, the owner of a Massage and Wellness Center in Frisco, had graduated from Stephen F. Austin University with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition, Counseling and Health Science. She had temporarily moved back to Bonham to live with her grandmother, but on May 12, 2002, she left a family friend saying she was going to meet someone. Harris got in her green, 2000 Jeep Wrangler and drove away, never to be seen alive again, at least by anyone who will talk about it.
When Harris didn’t return home on May 13, her grandmother became concerned and reported her missing to the Bonham Police Department.
That same day, her Jeep was found near Lake Bonham Hoe Down Hall on County Road 2680 in the unincorporated part of Fannin County. Five days later, on May 18, fishermen found her nude body floating in the muddy water of the Red River.
16 years later
News about arrests in any cold case catches the attention of Jennifer Harris’ father.
Jerry Harris said the news about the Gold State Killer “gives me hope that the something might happen here.” Then he was quiet and added, “of course they might have sharper tools in the tool shed out in California,” in a voice tinged with folksy sarcasm.
Over the years, Jerry Harris has both criticized and praised efforts of local law enforcement who dealt with his daughter’s case. He would often offer praise when law enforcement first took office promising that they would be the one who would solve the case and then criticize when they failed to do so.
Jerry Harris said it is one thing to not be able to solve a case but it is another to not leave it better condition than one found it. He accused each of the first three sheriffs to work the case, Talmadge Moore, Kenneth Moore and Donnie Foster, of bumbling the investigation. In interviews last year, each of those men said they did the best they could do with what they had.
Jerry Harris said, he is happy with the way Johnson has handled the case and he is hoping the piece by “48 Hours” will help focus national attention on the case and cause someone to come forward with information. Jerry Harris, his daughter — and Jennifer’s sister — Alyssa Wernick, and her husband, have worked to keep the case in the news over the years.
Johnson said he also hopes the national exposure brings in new information about the case.
“The only way I can describe it is we are on a football field and I am on my own 40-yard line and we are not getting anywhere with it,” Johnson said of the case. “Everything is just deadlocked.”
Johnson said his opinion of the case has changed since he took office.
“When I first started hearing about that case, I didn’t know anything about it,” Johnson said. “I heard a lot of stuff, but I didn’t believe a lot it because, you know, you hear rumors. But the way that Donny (Foster) responded to it made me wonder if they were covering something up. Made me wonder if they were hiding something, but that’s not it.”
He said nothing he has seen in the case indicates that anyone was being protected by law enforcement.
“I have picked up a couple of new leads and I followed them but it went right back to the old stuff that was stirred up at the very beginning,” Johnson said. “I feel like I know who did it, I just can’t prove it.”
For years, law enforcement identified the key suspects in the case as Jennifer Harris’ ex-husband and ex-business partner. Last year Mark Johnson put names to those people. The ex-husband’s name is Rob Holman and the ex-business partner is James Hamilton. Former Fannin County Sheriff Talmadge Moore said Hamilton took a lie detector test and passed it “with flying colors.” Johnson agreed that he has ruled out Hamilton as well.
The Herald Democrat’s attempts to reach Holman for a comment on the case were unsuccessful.
“It all makes sense,” Johnson said, but added evidence would help.
Johnson said he is sure he could get an indictment, but he is not sure that the case is strong enough for a conviction.
“And that’s a person that gets away with murder,” he said. “It is better to leave it open and hopefully something will surface that we can tie that person to and he will get arrested and will get convicted.”
Someone, both Johnson and Jerry Harris said, knows something. A person, they said, doesn’t just do something like this and never tell a soul or show any signs of having done something wrong.
So for now, everyone just keeps waiting. Jerry Harris waits for the phone to ring telling him that they have caught a break in the case. Johnson waits for his phone to ring with a call from someone who can point him in the direction of good old fashioned evidence about who killed Jennifer Harris and why.