Michele Harris: Four year later
Michele Harris: Four year later
Police expect break in disappearance case
By WILLIAM MOYER and JIM WRIGHT/ Gannett News Service
State police investigators and relatives of Michele A. Harris agree on one thing about her disappearance four years ago today: The mother of four children was the victim of foul play.
“From day one, we knew she didn't leave on her own. We knew foul play was involved,” said Harris' brother, Greg Taylor, of Smithboro.
A state police investigator agreed. “We are convinced she is the victim of foul play,” said Capt. Mark A. Lester, of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation at Troop C headquarters in Sidney.
Beyond that, exactly what happened to Harris after she was last seen leaving her waitress job at a Waverly bar the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, remains a largely untold story.
For four years, police also have kept an eye on any credit card, telephone or bank account activity in Harris' name.
They've seen nothing, they say.
A stone next to the gravestone of her mother in the Nichols cemetery contains her name and a picture, but the space beneath the stone remains empty.
Despite the lack of an arrest in the four years since Harris' van was found on the morning of Sept. 12, 2001, near the driveway of the Town of Spencer home she shared with her estranged husband, investigators remain confident the case will be solved — eventually.
“As time moves on, I think there will be plenty of news out of this case,” said State Police Senior Investigator Sue Mulvey. “The only people we need to satisfy are Michele and her family, her father and brother. They are due an answer.”
Neither Mulvey nor Lester would speculate about when police will make an arrest. They would not name any suspects. After Harris disappeared, police searched extensively around the Harris property.
Calvin Harris cares for the couple's children, now ages 6, 7, 9 and 10. He continues to initiate his own inquiries into his wife's disappearance, said his attorney, Stanton M. Drazen of Binghamton.
“We still remain hopeful,” Drazen said. “We still pray for her return.”
The persistent waiting has been frustrating for Harris' family, which includes her father, Gary Taylor, 61, a retired IBM Corp. and Lockheed Martin employee. Through the family's ordeal, he has remained silent and wanted to keep his silence on the fourth anniversary of his daughter's disappearance.
Greg Taylor, 35, said the family maintains hope that police will solve the case, although he doubts whether his sister's body will ever be found.
“I'm not bashing the police. I know they are doing their job, but it's frustrating that it's taken so long,” said Taylor, an employee at Vulcraft of New York Inc., in Chemung, a manufacturer of steel products. “They (police) want to get a conviction. We want a conviction, too, so we want them to do it right, no matter how long it takes.”
Michele Harris was last seen the night of Sept. 11 around 9:30 p.m., leaving Lefty's bar and restaurant in Waverly, where she worked as a waitress. She had shared a 252-acre Hagadorn Hill Road estate with her husband, Calvin — a Tioga County auto dealer — and their four children. Michele Harris had filed for divorce about eight months before her disappearance.
Since the disappearance, state police have logged thousands of hours on the investigation, following at least 800 leads and interviewing at least 100 people, Lester said. Three books of paperwork and interviews related to the case sit on the window sill to the right of his desk. On the left, a “Missing Michele Harris” poster is taped to the end of a book.
“It takes time to determine which of our interviews and information are important and which aren't, and as we continually update it, we may go back and re-interview people,” Lester said.
With search dogs and helicopters, police and local volunteers have several times combed the woods, ponds and fields near the Harrises' country house for clues. Three years ago during hunting season, police plastered 100 posters with Harris' picture on them in the Owego, Waverly and Spencer areas, hoping a hunter wading through the woods might stumble across her body.
At one time, 60 law-enforcement officers worked on the case from a command post at the Owego barracks. Still, the case remains a top priority, Lester said.
Like Harris' family, Lester is optimistic police will find out what happened, although he would only speak in generalities about the investigation.
“It is a long slow process, but I think we are rounding the bend and I see this case taking off in a positive direction,” he said. “I feel very positive we are going to be able to prosecute this case.”
Mulvey, too, did not offer any clues about what police know. “I can't give any specifics regarding the case,” she said. “I won't characterize what evidence we have or answer questions about conversations we have had with witnesses.”
When the sun rises today, Greg Taylor will keep the faith that his sister's disappearance will be solved — someday.
“I don't get up and think today is going to be 'the' day they find something,” he said. “I get up every day and think that 'someday' they will find something.”
In the meantime, all he can do is wait.
“This time of year, it really brings it all back,” he said. “It's been four years; she's been gone for four years.”
Staff Writer Nancy Dooling contributed to this story.
Originally published October 1, 2005