Police show mystery man's photo
Casting for leads in missing-woman case

Alan Gathright, Chronicle Staff Writer

Saturday, August 25, 2001


Police turned up the heat yesterday on the last person known to have seen a missing Los Gatos woman alive, publicizing his name and photograph and asking for information about the man, who has stopped talking to investigators.

Police decline to call Maurice Xavier Nasmeh a suspect in Jeanine Harms' disappearance. But investigators have searched the homes and the cars of Nasmeh and a second man who also had drinks with Harms at a Campbell brewery on July 27, the night she vanished. Police also used search warrants to obtain DNA samples from both men.

Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police said they publicly identified Nasmeh, 42, a San Jose architect, after he stopped cooperating with investigators and hired an attorney. They also issued a flyer, bearing photographs of Nasmeh and Harms,

asking the public for information about Nasmeh, who accompanied Harms home.

"We really don't know why he all of sudden stonewalled us," police Sgt. Tam McCarty said yesterday. "Nasmeh is the last person reportedly to have seen her alive. Now, he's refusing to help us find Miss Harms.

"Based on that, . . . we have to go out to the public and ask for their help in case anyone else saw them together," McCarty said.

Nasmeh's attorney, John H. Hinkle, disagreed with the portrayal of his client as uncooperative. "When the police took an aggressive posture toward Mr.

Nasmeh," Hinkle said, he told his client to let his lawyer deal with investigators.

Hinkle said investigators are using his client to attract fresh leads, because their case is stalled.

"If my daughter were missing, I would hope the police would put out anything they had to try to get (the public's help)," Hinkle said. "I just hope they get the word out fairly."

The harsh scrutiny, Hinkle said, "is very difficult for Mr. Nasmeh."

"He's a well-respected man in his field and an affable guy," Hinkle said. "He feels bad that this woman is missing." The architect is editor of "Tracings," the newsletter of the American Institute of Architects Santa Clara Valley chapter.

Early in the probe, police publicly focused attention on an acquaintance of Harms, William Alex Wilson III, 42, the co-owner of the 80-year-old Wilson's Jewel Bakery, a family-owned Santa Clara institution for three generations. Wilson did not reply to requests for comment.

Harms had met Wilson for a drink at the Rock Bottom Brewery in Campbell the night she vanished, but she left with Nasmeh after 10 p.m.

Harms, 42, and Nasmeh went to The Courts Lounge in Campbell before grabbing a six-pack of beer at Jiffy Market in Los Gatos on the way to the woman's Chirco Ave. home. Harms drove her black 2000 Ford Mustang with silver racing stripes, and Nasmeh followed her in his green 1993 Jeep Cherokee.

Nasmeh told police he and Harms "had a couple beers at her place," McCarty said. "She got sleepy and fell asleep on the couch and he left." Nasmeh said he met Harms only that night and she was dozing peacefully when he left between 12:30 a.m. and 1 a.m.

Police are hoping that witnesses will come forward who can shed new light on the couple's movements and demeanor that night.

"Nasmeh says he went straight home that night," said police Sgt. Tim Morgan.

"What happens if we put this photograph out and somebody in Gilroy says, 'Hey,

I saw him in here that morning. He didn't go home.' That's significant information."

This weekend, friends who desperately cling to hope that the vivacious, funny woman might still be found alive, will post the police flyers about Nasmeh around the South Bay, said Chigiy Binell, a friend since childhood.

"You lose a little bit of hope every day," said Binell, whose husband helped create two billboards publicizing the search for Harms in San Francisco and San Jose. "I get by just really keeping very busy (with search efforts). . . . Because when you slow down, that's when its really gets you."

E-mail Alan Gathright at agathright@sfchronicle.com.

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