Remains of missing girl found in Arizona desert identified after 30 years

Officials determined the remains belong to 15-year-old Melody Harrison of Pheonix

Michelle Del Rey
Monday 20 November 2023 22:08 GMT
Police in Arizona have determined that decomposed remains found in August 1992 in a remote desert area outside Phoenix were those of Melody Harrison
Police in Arizona have determined that decomposed remains found in August 1992 in a remote desert area outside Phoenix were those of Melody Harrison (Family Photo/Courtesy of Apache Junction Police Department via AP)

Officials in Arizona finally identified the remains of a woman as a 15-year-old high school student from Phoenix who went missing more than 30 years ago.

Melody Harrison was reported missing in 1992. Her decomposing remains were found in a remote desert area of Apache Junction on the northwest corner of Idaho and Baseline Roads.

For years, locals only knew her as the “Apache Junction Jane Doe”. It ultimately took the work of a non-profit to uncover her identity.

The DNA Doe Project collaborated with the Apache Junction Police Department to put together a family tree using two databases. The organisation analysed the DNA of possible relatives in order to identify the teenager.

Officials were also able to conduct a comparison analysis of family members that led to a second confirmation of the girl’s identity.

Ms Harrison’s family reported her missing in June of 2022. Initial investigative efforts were undertaken to verify who the remains belonged to, but without any leads, the case went cold.

Complicating matters, multiple people reported seeing her in different locations across the area, leading her family to believe she had a new life and “did not want to go home,” officials said in a news release.

As a result, relatives had her removed from the missing person’s database in August of 1996.

In 2008, Stephanie Bourgeois, a crime scene investigator and reserve police officer with the police department took over the case. She retested evidence using new technology which has been successful in solving cold cases.

Ten years later, the investigation was sent to the Doe Project.

In 2019, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children posted two billboards in Phoenix to help assist with discovering Ms Harrison’s identity. Still, no leads were presented.

Officials said dozens of volunteer investigative genetic genealogists and Ms Bourgeois were eventually able to determine who the remains of the teenager belonged to. Authorities made the announcement on Friday.

Officials say they aren’t done investigating Ms Harrison’s case and are appealing to the public to submit any information about her disappearance, specifically knowledge regarding her friendships or relationships at the time of her death.

“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,” Ms Bourgeois said. “We are still searching to find out how she might have passed away.”

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