Jane Doe identified in 30-year-old Apache Junction cold case

A 30-year-old Jane Doe case in Apache Junction was solved thanks to genetic testing technology.
Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 8:12 PM MST
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APACHE JUNCTION, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — A 30-year mystery about the identity of an Apache Junction Jane Doe case has come to a close thanks to the determined effort of investigators and DNA genetic genealogy techniques.

Fifteen-year-old Melody Harrison was reported missing from Phoenix in June of 1992. Although Harrison’s family believed it was out of character, they say she left the family home after an argument. Her remains were found in a remote desert area of Apache Junction on the northwest corner of Idaho Road and Baseline Road on Aug. 6, 1992. “There was nothing out here. These were dirt roads where we are right now. Baseline was a dirt road, Idaho was dirt, it was very, very infrequent that people would come out here,” said Apache Junction Police Chief Mike Pooley.

Police say someone walking their dog came across the human remains and called 911. “Our detectives started doing the investigation. They started looking at who it was and how they got out there. The one thing we were never able to identify is who this young individual was,” Pooley said.

The discovery sparked a thorough forensic investigation to try and identify her that lasted for three decades. At the time she went missing, Harrison’s family filed the initial missing person report through the Phoenix Police Department. However, possible sightings of her by people telling the family they had seen Melody in multiple locations led them to believe she had started a new life and did not want to go home. She was removed from the missing person’s database in August 1996. Her family thought she was still alive and had no clue her unidentified remains were located four years earlier. “When I met with the family, it was very emotional and they, in their mind, had thought she had left the house and started a new life and may have changed her name but they believed she was possibly still alive,” Apache Junction Police Investigator Stephanie Bourgeois said.

In 2008, Bourgeois picked up the case. She retested evidence using newer technology. “It was one of our oldest ones at the time,” she said. After training in 2008 in the Grand Canyon with the FBI and their Behavioral Analyst Unit, she started putting Jane Doe into multiple online databases. “Jane Doe was exhumed in 2012. I went up to Superior with Dr. Anderson, who is the forensic anthropologist in Pinal County and we exhumed her and we got a DNA sample and that was submitted to the DNA Doe Project so they could do forensic investigative genetic genealogy and that’s where we got where we are today because they identified her through her family tree,” Bourgeois said.

As they were waiting to see if they could find a match, the police department was doing what they could to get Jane Doe’s case out in the public, putting up billboards, getting a composite sketch made of what they believed she looked like and publicly talking about her. “We also did the Arizona missing conferences, and she was one of the cases we would talk about,” Bourgeois said.

Eventually, the DNA Doe Project got a hit, but it was so distant it would take months of analysis to see if they could pinpoint who Jane Doe might be. “It did not start with an immediate family member. It started with 10th and 50th cousin and the DNA doe project is the one who narrowed it down,” Bourgeois said. “They did find a tester over the years, as they narrowed down, and that tester was a first cousin.”

She was later identified as Melody, a freshman at South Mountain High School who had lived in Phoenix her whole life. One thing found at the scene was something Harrison’s mom immediately recognized. “Melody was wearing a ring. A gold nugget designed ring on her left ring finger,” Bourgeois said. It was a ring Harrison’s mom bought her.

Although there is a small sense of closure, there are still questions as to how she ended up over 40 miles away from her home. “We’re looking for insight as to when she left that house. Did she have friends she went to hang out with? Was she in a relationship at that time?” Bourgeois asked.

The Apache Junction Police Department is asking for information from anyone who can shed light on how Harrison got to Apache Junction during the time of her disappearance in 1992. Any details regarding her close friends or relationships could be instrumental in solving this case. Anyone with information regarding this case is encouraged to call Silent Witness at 480-WITNESS or 480-TESTIGO for Spanish speakers.

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