Police are investigating whether the teen was the victim of a serial killer who stalked young women in Arizona in the early 1990s
For 31 years, she was known as Apache Jane Doe.
Now authorities have identified the teen whose remains were found in the Arizona desert in 1992 as Melody Harrison, 15, of Phoenix.
On Thursday, the Apache Junction Police Department announced in a press release that “persistent” investigator Stephanie Bourgeois, advances in DNA technology and the use of genetic genealogy enabled them to identify the remains as Harrison’s after all these years.
“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 the release. “We are still searching to find out how she might have passed away.”
Identifying her “was only the beginning,” the department added. “We will continue to work to bring Melody's family resolution as to how she died.”
Harrison’s family reported the teen missing from Phoenix in June 1992.
“However, due to individuals coming forth to the family saying they had seen Melody in multiple locations, the family believed she started a new life and did not want to go home,” the department said in the release.
“She was removed from the missing person’s database in August 1996. Her family thought she was still alive,” the release adds.
Unbeknownst to Harrison’s family and police, two months later, on Aug. 6, 1992, her decomposed remains were found in a remote desert area of Apache Junction on the northwest corner of Idaho and Baseline Roads, outside of Phoenix.
Unable to identify the remains, the case remained cold for years. However, all that began to change in 2008 when Bourgeois began looking into the case.
Despite retesting evidence with the most advanced technology available at the time, authorities were still unable to identify the remains.
In 2018, the department hired the DNA Doe Project, a volunteer organization, to conduct forensic investigative genetic genealogy to further develop the unidentified teenager’s DNA profile, according to the release.
In 2019, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children posted two billboards in the Phoenix area of a composite sketch to help assist with her identification, which didn’t generate any leads.
In 2023, authorities used the DNA Doe Project’s investigative genetic genealogy process to try to identify the remains. They analyzed the DNA of possible relatives and built a family tree.
This allowed investigators to make branches through genealogical records and the databases GEDmatch Pro and FamilyTreeDNA.com.
“Besides genetic DNA, a second confirmation of DNA was done by comparing family members, confirming the identity,” the release reads.
Authorities are still working to determine how her remains ended up "more than 40 miles away from her residence," according to the release.
Was She the Victim of a Serial Killer?
While police investigate how Harrison was killed, they are looking into whether she was a victim of one of two serial killers who were terrorizing the area in the early 1990s, KPHO reports.
One of the serial killers was Scott Lehr, who was convicted of murdering three women between 1991 and 1992, KPHO reports.
Known as the “Babyseat Rapist,” he drove around with a baby seat in his car, surviving victims said, KPHO reports.
Bryan Patrick Miller was another serial killer who was active in the area at that time, KPHO reports.
Known as the “Zombie Hunter,” he was convicted of murdering two women, 23 and 15, in 1992 and 1993, the outlet reports.
“We will definitely follow up on all the leads we have, including these two,” Bourgeois told KPHO.
In the meantime, police are seeking information from anyone “who can shed light on Melody’s presence in Apache Junction during the time of her disappearance in 1992,” the department said.
“Any details regarding her close friends or relationships could be instrumental in solving this case,” it said.
If anyone has information regarding this case, we encourage them to contact Silent Witness at 480-W-I-T-N-E-S-S, 480-948-6377, or 480-T-E-S-T-I-G-O for Spanish speaking. They can also leave an anonymous tip on their website at silentwitness.org. Responses can be completely anonymous and could earn a cash reward for information leading to the arrest and/or indictment of the suspect(s) of this crime.
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