Arizona police have identified the decomposed remains discovered in a remote desert area outside Phoenix in August 1992 as those of Melody Harrison, a 15-year-old who went missing in June of the same year.
The Apache Junction Police Department revealed on Thursday that advancements in DNA testing played a crucial role in solving the case, bringing closure 31 years after Harrison’s disappearance.
Following the discovery of the remains, the case quickly went cold, and for decades, the unidentified individual was referred to as “Apache Junction Jane Doe,” with an estimated age between 16 and 18 at the time of death, according to a police news release.
Over thirty years of mystery have shrouded the identity of the Apache Junction Jane Doe case. The unidentified female has been identified as 15-year-old Melody Harrison, who was reported missing from Phoenix, Arizona, in June of 1992. #AJPDhttps://t.co/uENfb4hpIu pic.twitter.com/TW9Kj4ISbA— AJ Police Department (@AJPoliceDept) November 17, 2023
Subsequently, the case was logged into a database overseen by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Unidentified Persons System. According to the database entry, law enforcement suspected that the teenager had been deceased for a period ranging from three to five weeks before the discovery of her remains.
She was identified as wearing Levi’s denim shorts, a shirt adorned with soccer balls on both the front and back, and a yellow ring on her left hand. Notably, within the front pockets of her pants, investigators uncovered a public transit token inscribed with the words “Valid for one student fare,” as detailed in the database records.
In 1996, four years after Melody Harrison was initially reported missing by her family, they decided to remove her from the missing person’s database. The family held the belief that she might be alive but had chosen not to return home. This decision was made amidst a backdrop of multiple reported sightings of the teenager, as mentioned by authorities.
The case saw a resurgence in 2008 when Apache Junction police investigator Stephanie Bourgeois assumed control. However, despite her efforts, DNA testing at that time proved to be unsuccessful, according to the police department.
In 2018, Bourgeois enlisted the assistance of the DNA Doe Project, a volunteer research group with expertise in forensic genealogy analysis. Subsequently, researchers from the project utilized DNA extracted from the remains to construct a comprehensive profile. This approach enabled them to identify potential relatives, marking a significant breakthrough in the investigation.
A subsequent DNA test, comparing the genetic material from the identified potential family members, unequivocally confirmed that the individual known as “Apache Junction Jane Doe” was indeed Melody Harrison, as announced by the police.
“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.”