A Murder Mystery Unfolds -- Michele Harris

In this Blog you will find Local and possibly Nationwide news clippings from variuos news sources. As the story of the disappearance of Michele Harris picks up pace, I will strive to add news as I find it. Please feel free to comment. Owego-DJ

Saturday, October 01, 2005

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.”

Agonizing wait

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.”

The disappearance

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

A 'bittersweet' day for Michele Harris' family

A 'bittersweet' day for Michele Harris' family
October 1, 2005
Gannett News Service


Greg Taylor didn't go to work Friday.

He had a hunch police might make an arrest in connection with the four-year investigation into the disappearance of his sister, Michele A. Harris, who was last seen on Sept. 11, 2001.

After his children got on the school bus and his wife headed to work, Taylor sat and waited to see whether Friday would be the day that ended his persistent waiting for a break in the case of his missing sibling.

The telephone rang around 10 a.m. at his Smithboro home.

State Police Senior Investigator Susan Mulvey was on the line. She called to say police had arrested Taylor's brother-in-law and Michele's husband, Calvin Harris, and charged him with second-degree murder in connection with the Spencer woman's death.

"We've been sitting and waiting for this for four years," said Taylor, who wasn't totally surprised by Mulvey's call. He and his wife, Shannon Taylor, had both testified Thursday before a Tioga County grand jury that indicted Calvin Harris.

"It's kind of bittersweet," said Greg Taylor, 35, who works at Vulcraft of New York Inc. in Chemung, a manufacturer of steel products. "One minute, you're excited that this has happened. The next, you look at what's ahead. It's not going to be a good time."

After getting the news, Taylor called his wife, who works at a wholesale sports supply company in Vestal.

The call rekindled the emotions that Shannon Taylor felt on the day four years ago when she first heard Michele had disappeared.

"It was really almost like hearing she was missing," said Shannon, 33. "All those feelings - your stomach in knots, the difficulty breathing. We have wanted this to happen."

Though the couple want to see justice served, they wonder how the pending legal proceedings - and the media and public scrutiny of the case - will affect the Harris' four children, who are 11, 10, 8 and 6.

Their own daughters - 13, 11 and 7 - have frequently played together and celebrated birthdays and holidays with their cousins in the four years since Michele Harris disappeared, the couple said Friday as they sat around their dining room table.

"As far as I can tell, the (Harris) kids are doing well," Shannon Taylor said. "They're pretty good."

Linda Hyatt of Owego, who was a friend of Michele Harris' mother, Marsha, until she died seven years ago, also was worried Friday about the Harris children after hearing the news of Calvin Harris' arrest.

"I'm concerned about the children," Hyatt said. "I just don't know how they're going to handle it. "

At the Waverly bar and restaurant where Michele Harris was last seen leaving a waitress shift, a framed tribute with a photograph of Harris sat next to the cash register Friday.

The owner said employees miss their friend and co-worker, but were relieved to learn that police had made an arrest.

Tommy D'Aloisio said it has been a difficult four years since she disappeared.

"Michele was a dear friend and a great employee," he said. "She was close to all of us. It's been very personal for all of us."

At Last ?


Calvin Harris charged in slaying of estranged wife.

Police say the Spencer car dealer murdered Michele Harris, who was last seen on Sept. 11, 2001.

October 1, 2005 By SCOTT ROCKEFELLER

Gannett News Service

Tioga County, N.Y., car dealer Calvin L. Harris leaves the Tioga County Courthouse in Owego on Friday after being arraigned on a second-degree murder charge in the death of his estranged wife.

OWEGO - A Tioga County, N.Y., car dealer was charged Friday with second-degree murder in the death of his estranged wife, who has been missing since Sept. 11, 2001.

Calvin L. Harris, 44, pleaded innocent before Tioga County Judge Vincent Sgueglia in connection with the disappearance of his wife, Michele. She was last seen leaving her workplace in Waverly on Sept. 11, 2001.

Police have yet to recover Michele Harris' body, but Tioga County District Attorney Gerald A. Keene said there was enough evidence to secure a grand jury indictment. Keene, however, would offer few details about the case against Calvin Harris.

State police, who have investigated the disappearance for the past four years, were equally tight-lipped Friday.

"I really can't go into a lot of discussion about the facts or circumstances of the case," said New York State Police Capt. Mark A. Lester. "All our leads and evidence have led to this point today."

Calvin Harris, wearing a baseball cap, sunglasses and handcuffs, was escorted into the Tioga County Courthouse at 1:20 p.m. by state police. He was represented by Binghamton attorney Joseph F. Cawley Jr.

Stanton M. Drazen, who has been Calvin Harris' lawyer, also was present during the arraignment.

Harris was arrested about 10:05 a.m. Friday at his automobile dealership, Royal Ford Kia Motors, on state Route 17C in Owego.

After hearing bail arguments, Sgueglia ordered Harris held in lieu of $1 million cash or bond. He remained in the Tioga County Jail late Friday, jail officials said.

During the arraignment, Cawley called the case against his client circumstantial. He also argued that Harris has been the police's prime suspect for four years and has never fled.

Cawley said Harris is actively involved in the lives of his four children at home and in school, and cited the several area automobile dealerships in which he is a principal.

Records on file with the New York State Department of State, said to be current through Thursday, list Harris as chairman or chief executive officer of Royal Ford & Mercury Motors of Owego, Royal Chevrolet/Cortland and Royal Nissan of Cortland.

Cawley declined comment outside the courtroom.

Keene acknowledged that the case was circumstantial, but did not comment on the difficulty of getting a murder conviction without a body, if the case goes to trial.

Sgueglia set a Nov. 14 deadline for defense motions to be filed, Keene said.

"There are cases in New York state and other states where convictions have been obtained without a body," he said.

Michele Harris was last seen around 9:30 p.m. Sept. 11, 2001, leaving Lefty's bar and restaurant in Waverly, where she worked as a waitress. Her van was found the next morning near the driveway of the town of Spencer home she shared with her husband and four children - now 6, 8, 10 and 11. She had filed for divorce from her husband about eight months before her disappearance.

She would have turned 40 Thursday.

The search for Michele Harris and the investigation into what police are now calling her death has been a long one. Investigators have spent thousands of hours chasing leads and interviewing more than 100 people.

Police and volunteers, with the help of search dogs, sonar and helicopters, have searched woods, ponds and fields near the Harris' 252-acre country estate, as well as other areas in Tioga County.

And even though police have made an arrest in her death, the search for Michele Harris remains a top priority, Lester said.

"We've searched a tremendous amount of territory in Tioga County for the past four years," Lester said. "But the search for Michele will remain open."

Police refused comment on whether Calvin Harris was the only suspect police have looked at over the past four years. Neither Lester nor Keene would comment on recent developments that may have led to the arrest. In a Gannett News Service report earlier this month on the fourth anniversary of Michele Harris' disappearance, state police said they were optimistic that a break in the case would be made.

The one-page grand jury indictment shed little light on the case. The indictment stated that Calvin Harris intended to cause the death of Michele Harris and caused the death of Michele Harris on or about Sept. 11, 2001, in the town of Spencer.

And though police offered few insights into their case, Lester said it is solid.

"We wouldn't be sitting here today if what we've discovered didn't lead us to believe Michele was murdered," he said. "To use a corny analogy, it's been like photography. It's been a picture that's been developing for four years."