Police in Arizona have determined that decomposed remains found in August 1992 in a remote desert area outside Phoenix were those of a missing 15-year-old, Melody Harrison. Authorities are now investigating how she died, including the possibility she was the victim of a serial killer.
The Apache Junction Police Department announced Thursday that advancements in DNA testing helped them make the discovery 31 years after Harrison’s disappearance in June 1992.
Police said in a news release Thursday that the case soon went cold after the remains were found, and for decades the remains were known only as “Apache Junction Jane Doe,” who they believed was between 16 and 18 at the time of her death.
The case was later entered into a database maintained by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Unidentified Persons System.
According to the entry, authorities believed the teenager had been dead between three and five weeks before her remains were found. She was wearing Levi’s denim shorts, a shirt with soccer balls on the front and back and a yellow ring on her left hand. In the front pockets of her pants, according to the database entry, police found a public transit token inscribed with the words “Valid for one student fare.”
In 1996, four years after she was reported missing by her relatives, the family removed her from the missing person’s database, believing that she was alive but “did not want to go home” after various reports of possible sightings of the teenager, authorities said.
The case was revived in 2008 after Apache Junction police investigator Stephanie Bourgeois took over, but DNA testing at that time was unsuccessful, the police department said.
Then in 2018, Bourgeois hired the DNA Doe Project, a volunteer research group that specializes in forensic genealogy analysis. Police said the researchers used DNA from the remains to build a comprehensive profile, leading them to possible relatives.
“It would take five years and countless hours of dedicated research by more than a dozen volunteer investigative genetic genealogists to find the critical breakthrough in this case,” DNA Doe Project said in a post on its website highlighting the case as one of its success stories.
A second test comparing DNA from the likely family members confirmed that “Apache Junction Jane Doe” was Harrison, police said.
“There is peace of mind having found Melody’s identity and sharing with her family, but there isn’t closure surrounding the circumstances of her death,” Bourgeois said in a statement. “We are still searching to find out how she might have passed away.”
Possible serial killer victim?
Police say they are now looking at all possible leads, including the possibility the teen was the victim of a serial killer, CBS affiliate KPHO-TV reports.
During the time of Harrison’s disappearance, two serial killers were abducting and murdering young women in the Phoenix area, the station reported. The first, Scott Lehr, was convicted of murdering three women and was also charged with several rapes and brutal attacks on women, according to the station.
Bryan Patrick Miller — dubbed the— was convicted earlier this year in the murders of 23-year-old Angela Brosso, who was murdered in 1992, and 15-year-old Melanie Bernas, who was murdered in 1993.
“We will definitely follow up on all the leads we have, including these two,” Bourgeois said.
Miller may be linked to the disappearance of 13-year-old Brandy Myers, who vanished in May of 1992, and in the murder of 16-year-old Shannon Aumock, whose body was found the same month, KPHO-TV reported.
KPHO-TV reports that Miller is also considered a person of interest in the murder of Adrienne Salinas, who disappeared in Tempe in 2013 and whose body was discovered later that year in Apache Junction.
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