BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — With their maternal grandmothers being sisters, Scott Burnham and Ann Louise Harmeier were second cousins who didn’t see each other often. He was 10 years younger, and they grew up in Indiana cities 230 miles apart.
The cousins were last together in Bloomington. It was 1976, and Burnham and his parents visited his older sister when she was a freshman at Indiana University, where Harmeier was a sophomore.
It was a year later when the family’s world turned dark. “My parents sat me down and told me Ann had gone missing. I remember the entire family was so concerned, and then devastated,” Burnham said.
Forty-two years ago, Harmeier’s 1971 Pontiac LeMans overheated on Ind. 37 a few miles north of Martinsville. She had left her home in Cambridge City early that morning to get to Bloomington in time for a 10:30 class at IU.
Harmeier never arrived at class, and her disappearance made national news.
Thirty-seven days later, a farmer harvesting corn discovered the 20-year-old woman’s body hidden by tall dried stalks in his field.
This murder remains unsolved. Although police assured Harmeier’s mother, a widow who died from cancer five years after her only child was murdered, that serial killer Steven Judy likely was responsible.
Burnham says it wasn’t Judy. Records from the Marion County Jail indicate Judy was incarcerated there the day Harmeier was abducted and killed. Judy, executed in 1981 for his crimes, confessed to killing multiple women. He was adamant Harmeier was not among them.
Burnham spoke to retired Morgan County judge Tom Gray, who was the prosecutor in the 1979 case where Judy killed a 21-year-old Indianapolis woman named Terry Lee Chasteen and her three children. Gray assured Burnham that Judy was in jail on Sept. 12, 1977.
“Given the opportunity after admitting killing a woman and her children, he confessed to murders he was not suspected of having any involvement with,” Burnham said. “There was no reason for Steven Judy to not be forthcoming.”
In the mid-1990s, Bloomington resident Jim Allison wrote a book, never published, about the Harmeier case. He said that after talking to state police investigators, he was convinced Judy was jailed in Indianapolis when the IU student was murdered.
He spoke to Judy’s foster mother as part of his research, and she told him Judy had confessed to her that he killed more women than he could recall, across five states.
But not Ann Harmeier.
Allison concedes that jail records can be mistaken, and that it’s possible Judy could have killed Harmeier. “Police records are not perfect, and there is a possibility he was not in jail. In a case in Illinois, they released him early by mistake.”
He said there are facts and evidence police never revealed. “When I talked to the detective, he alluded to things they had been keeping back that only the murderer would know.”
More years passed. Then last year’s California arrest of a man linked to the murders of several women by new genealogy and DNA technology got Burnham’s attention.
The break came 42 years after the first murder.
“It was the arrest of the Golden State Killer last year that renewed my family’s interest in solving Ann’s case,” said Burnham, who now lives in Chicago. “He was apprehended through DNA evidence collected in a case in 1978, about the same time Ann was killed.”
He contacted the Indiana State Police, the agency that investigated his cousin’s murder, for help.
“I reached out to them to retrieve any records from the case and to get an update, and to ask specifically about DNA evidence preserved from the crime scene,” Burnham said. The state police agreed to assist him and suggested he file a Freedom of Information Act request.
“Then they denied it,” he said, “not releasing a single item I requested. They said that since no arrest was ever made, it is officially an active case and they cannot release records, not even to her closest family members.
“Not even after four decades.”
And they didn’t answer the DNA question.
Since so much time has passed, Allison said Burnham should continue his search for the truth. “I would encourage him to make every effort he can to get those records. It seems he is kind of entitled to it as her surviving relative. I think the stonewalling he has encountered has been unreasonable, and unfair.”
Burnham was a 10-year-old fourth grader when Harmeier was killed. At family gatherings, she had been among the oldest cousins and he was one of the younger kids in the family.
“I probably was with her about 10 times in my life, but I remember her vividly,” he said. “Ann had a sparkle that you don’t find a lot. She had looks and talent and smarts. But her kindness and generosity are qualities not forgotten, and a big reason why so many people searched to find her, and who to this day want to solve her murder.”
So to that end, Burnham has launched a social media campaign — on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It’s called “Who Killed Ann.”
His cousin was a theater major at IU, so Burnham has incorporated drama, and Harmeier’s personality, into from-the-grave dialogue. The site features her words challenging police to catch her killer.
A post from July 31 shows a newspaper photo of Harmeier’s car stalled along the highway under the headline “Search for girl presses on.”
The text Burnham includes, from his cousin’s perspective, begins her story.
“My car was overheating on the way back to Indiana University, forcing me to make several stops around Indianapolis. It finally died on Route 37, just two miles north of Martinsville and 30 minutes from campus, around 9:45 a.m. on Sept. 12, 1977. Not my best day.”
Burnham’s unconventional method is intended to get people’s attention. After 42 years, he said, someone has to take action.
The goals: “to raise awareness, generate new leads and ultimately solve her murder,” Burnham said. “This is Ann’s voice, her platform, updating people with memories of her life, her murder, and the highlights of her case. Her humor and charm — her wit — are part of this. It keeps her memory and spirit alive as we try to find her killer.”
A post showing the sentiment she wrote in Brown County resident Cindy Steele’s high school yearbook, in impeccable cursive, has this message attached.
“I died young but it appears I scored the family handwriting gene.”
And along with an Indianapolis Star newspaper article discounting a theory that Harmeier ran off and joined the Unification Church, whose members were called Moonies, is this post:
“Weeks following my abduction, rumors swirled that the Moonies kidnapped me. Listen, that’s understandable: 1) I look great in white; and 2) I appreciate a well-scrubbed man with manners and an affinity to flowers. The other stuff, not so much. IndyStar obviously, this wasn’t the answer. Who killed me?”
Two Facebook posts have photos of Harmeier when she was crowned Cambridge City Canal Days Queen in 1974.
“So yes,” one says, “you are free to call me Her Majesty.” and this accompanies the other: “I’m hoping new information will come forward that will lead to the arrest of my killer. Let’s get this guy.”
Burnham and another cousin set up a booth at the Canal Days Festival earlier this month calling attention to the social media campaign and reminding people of Harmeier’s unsolved murder.
Burnham said no one who lived in town back then had forgotten. “So many people remember Ann. It’s a small community with about 2,000 residents, and many of them knew and cared deeply for her.”
Another challenge, from a Who Killed Ann Facebook post beneath her high school senior picture, in which she is wearing a pale green turtleneck with a cross on a chain around her neck:
“At least two people know who killed me. I haven’t told anyone, but I have a feeling the other guy has … Start talking.”
The picture topping the homepage shows pallbearers carrying Harmeier’s casket. The boy on the right side with his hand on his hip and wearing plaid pants? That’s Burnham, the kid who four decades later would take up the murder case.
One he intends to see through to the end.
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Source: The Herald-Times
Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com