Jess Sanchez holds a candle at a vigil for his daughter,
Jeanine Sanchez Harms. The Sept. 30 vigil, which took place in
front of Harms' Los Gatos home, was attended by 50 friends and
Photograph by Paul Myers
Waiting to Exhale
The mysterious disappearance of Jeanine Harms continues
to haunt the people she left behind
By Gloria I. Wang
Photographs By Paul Myers
Forty-two years ago, Jess and Georgette Sanchez moved into
a modest house in Campbell, hoping to raise their children in a
quiet neighborhood. The house is painted a bright powder blue,
with red shutters and a tire swing out front for the grandkids.
Georgette planted Rose of Sharons and bougainvilleas near the
entrance, and they've grown into large bushes that dominate the
their daughter Jeanine held countless slumber parties as a child,
and on these streets near Castro Middle School, she rode her
bicycle and took home stray animals.
house, Jess says, was to be left to Jeanine and her brother,
Wayne, so that Jeanine would never have to worry about buying her
own home. But all that's changed since Jeanine, 42, vanished from
her Los Gatos home more than two months ago.
the Sanchezes don't know how to plan for the future, since they
don't even know what happened to their daughter. They've continued
to pay her bills, including the one for her cell phone--which
disappeared along with Jeanine on July 27--in case someone uses it
and provides a clue to Jeanine's whereabouts.
still have some hope that maybe she's being held someplace,"
long as the police don't tell us differently, she might be alive
someplace," Jess adds.
Sanchezes, however, increasingly refer to Jeanine in the past
Photograph by Paul Myers
At a Sept. 6 press conference in the Los Gatos Town Council
Chambers, Georgette Sanchez speaks with her daughter's friends,
Chigiy Binell (right) and Janice Burnham (back turned).
she dislikes large groups and avoids being the center of
attention. After Jeanine disappeared, their oldest son, Craig, the
official family spokesman, protected them from the media
spotlight. Attempts by me, a newspaper reporter, and other members
of the press to speak with Jess and Georgette were politely
however, had to go back to his home in Maryland at the end of
August, and now Jess and Georgette are making themselves slightly
more accessible--including the occasional interview and appearance
at some events in Jeanine's honor. They want to keep the case and
Jeanine in people's minds, they say.
Jess and Georgette at a Sept. 6 press conference, one of their
rare public appearances, and managed to get a brief interview with
them, along with two other journalists, after the conference.
requested to meet with Jess and Georgette the following week, and
they consented. Their home had been off-limits to the press (an
August interview with America's Most Wanted was held at someone
else's house), and I expected to meet them at a restaurant or
other neutral ground. But Jess said, "Why don't you come to the
Photograph by Paul Myers
After the disappearance of her daughter, Georgette Sanchez
says that she is just beginning to resume normal activities, but
still alternates between good days and bad days.
A Home Full of Memories
Harms' parents could be anyone's next door neighbors. Jess, 75, is
of Mexican descent, dark-skinned, with a shock of white hair. He
is close to 5 feet, 9 inches tall and wears bifocals. Georgette,
76, has a fair complexion--she is half-French and
half-Mexican--and is usually soft-spoken. Both are retired
educators. Jess was a Spanish teacher at Del Mar High School in
San Jose when it first opened, and retired as the principal of Los
Altos High School in 1985. Georgette taught English as a second
language and bilingual classes until 1985 at Cesar Chavez
Elementary in San Jose. They have been married 52 years, and she
still calls him "hon."
collects videos and audiotapes. In the family room, meticulously
labeled movies--everything from the classic "Breakfast at
Tiffany's" to action-adventure blockbusters such as "Independence
Day"--sit on the shelves that line one wall.
Georgette loves to garden, as evidenced by the blooms in
front and in back of the house. She's let it slide in the past two
months, but is just starting to weed and prune and dig once again.
"Each day we do a little more things ... I just want to be outside
because we've been inside so long," she tells me and then launches
into a discussion on the history of the Rose of Sharon.
photos adorn the walls of the Sanchez home--the grandchildren as
babies; Georgette as a young woman; the five of them in the '70s,
with one of the sons dressed like a hippie; Jeanine as a bride in
1995. Her marriage to Randy Harms would end almost five years
Adjoining the family room is a sunroom that doubles as a
playroom for the grandchildren whenever they visit. Georgette
keeps a bin in there that contains all the newspaper articles
written about Jeanine in the past two months, as well as the
letters of sympathy that they have received.
first day that I visit Jess and Georgette, we sit around the
kitchen table to talk. In the middle of the table, there's a
purple pillar candle that Georgette lights every morning and blows
out every night. The candle is Jeanine's favorite color, and it
came from an Aug. 26 prayer service for her at St. Thomas of
Canterbury Church in San Jose.
Jeanine Sanchez Harms
has been difficult and even frustrating at times since Jeanine was
reported missing on July 30. At first, the family tried to talk to
people in Los Gatos and Campbell--people who worked at the
restaurants and bars that Jeanine frequented--to see if they had
seen Jeanine after July 27. Police eventually asked them to stop
so that they could proceed with their investigation.
"There's nothing we can do right now but wait," Jess says.
"Just be patient."
Georgette says it's hard being patient. "I want to run up
and down the street and look in the houses and see what's there,"
say they hope that each phone call they receive brings some news,
but at the same time, they're reluctant to hear what might prove
to be bad news.
they realized that Jeanine was missing, "we thought it was a
mistake," Georgette says. "We're not stupid, but we're a very
hopeful kind." The Sanchezes say they never thought something like
this could happen to them. "We always expect everything to be all
right," Georgette says.
Initially, the family experienced shock and disbelief, but
now Jess says "it's just a matter of adjusting to the fact that
she's not here." Both keep their composure during the interview.
It's still hard, however, for them to see the posted fliers with
Jeanine's photograph and to attend events on her behalf. "That's
our daughter," Jess says. "It's just painful."
Georgette if she ever thinks that Jeanine is still around, and she
says yes, that she occasionally has dreams about Jeanine. In one
of those dreams, all the family is gathered and Georgette receives
a phone call from Jeanine. "She said, 'Mom,' and I looked up and I
was going to yell at everybody, and then I woke up," Georgette
says. "It was her voice."
wake up and say, 'Is this real, is this happening?'" Jess says.
days I feel strong; some days I crumble at anything," Georgette
says. A good day, Georgette says, is "when the family comes over
and we talk about things that make me forget [about the case]."
Jess has eight surviving siblings, most of whom stop by the house
every day. Or, Georgette says, it's when "the girls"--Jeanine's
closest friends Chigiy Binell and Janice Burnham--visit, and they
all go into the garden and talk. A bad day for Georgette is one
that begins with something that upsets her and she can't shake the
Photograph by Paul Myers
Jess Sanchez stares out the kitchen window of the house
that Jeanine Sanchez Harms grew up in.
Returning to a Routine
are a close-knit family. Craig moved to Maryland with his wife and
two sons about a year ago but flies back every six to eight weeks
for business and to see his parents. Wayne, a divorced father of
two, lives with Georgette and Jess.
Georgette if there's a role that each person in the family plays.
She says that Craig, who was the family spokesman for the case
when it first broke, is the leader. "We depend on him a lot,"
Georgette says. Wayne is the cook and barbecuer, and Jeanine was
the social organizer, the one who planned the holidays and family
events. "And me, I guess I'm the follower," Georgette says.
other weekend, Jess and Georgette pick up Wayne's two daughters,
ages 9 and 11. Jess and Georgette recently resumed these visits
after a brief hiatus while they were trying to cope with their
daughter's disappearance. During the visits, they don't talk about
Jeanine. The girls "adored her," Georgette says, and know what
happened, but act as if everything is normal.
granddaughters sleep in Jeanine's old room when they're over. When
Jess and Georgette show me the room--still pink, as Jeanine had
decorated it when she was a teenager--there's a cat sleeping on
the bed. His name is Willy, and he is extremely affectionate. The
other three cats, Corn Nuts, Smokey and Spooky, remain outside.
All four were adopted by Jeanine and given to her parents when she
moved to places that didn't accept pets. Jeanine gave money to
different animal causes and sponsored a child from a poor country.
"She was an extremely compassionate person," Jess says.
Photograph by Paul Myers
Georgette Sanchez holds on to a tire swing as she walks
around the front yard of her Campbell home.
Another Sad Day
One day I call
the Sanchezes to see how they're doing. Georgette tells me that
it's her birthday, but she doesn't much feel like celebrating.
She's not planning to go out to dinner because it's Jeanine who
usually makes the reservations and comes up with the ideas. "I
don't think we'll ever have happy times again," Georgette says,
beginning to sob. "I'm sorry, I have to go," she says and gently
hangs up the phone.
on in the day, I stop by the house with roses for Georgette. She
greets me at the door with a hug. Inside, Wayne and Jess are
sitting on the couch and watching TV news reports about the
terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that
had happened earlier that day. Janice and Chigiy are also there,
and they help Georgette with arranging the many bouquets of
flowers that she has received. That night, there is no mention of
Jeanine, except when Wayne asks me who I am. "I'm a reporter with
the Los Gatos Weekly-Times," I reply. "Oh," he says. "I thought
you worked with my sister."
Sanchez Crumpton, Jess's sister and a Los Gatos resident, also
drops by to give Georgette a birthday gift. As we leave, she tells
me that it's hard on Jess and Georgette, but they are holding up
has known Jeanine since they were children. "Life is just going to
go on, but it's going to be a sadder and lonelier place," she
says. "There's just a void and a hole ... and you can't move on
from that stop."
owns the duplex on Chirco Drive that Jeanine moved into in April.
When I talk to Chigiy, she is gardening in the back yard of the
duplex. She says she usually doesn't refer to Jeanine in the past
tense. "I don't even do that with my mom, and I know that she's
dead," Chigiy says.
don't want to be complacent. I want to find out who did this. I
want to bring him to justice," Chigiy says. "I want him to know
that I'm never going to rest until he's behind bars. I hope he
never sleeps because of this. I hope he's tortured by this."
who met Jeanine when they were students at Prospect High School,
says that the recent tragedies on the East Coast bring up new
emotions. "After what happened," Janice says, "I just hope that
this hasn't become unimportant in people's minds." At the same
time, Janice grieves for all the people on television who are
missing a loved one in one of the collapsed towers. "It's so
upsetting because I can so much relate to what the people are
Georgette, Janice has dreams about Jeanine. One night, she thought
that Jeanine had come back. "She said to me, 'I've just been with
one of my ex-boyfriends for a few weeks. I just needed to get
away.' And I was so mad at her," Janice says.
just need to find out who's responsible and convict them," Janice
says. "Someone needs to be held responsible."
Photograph by Paul Myers
Kim Petersen (left), executive director of the Carole
Sund/Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation, speaks with Georgette
Sanchez on Sept. 6, after Petersen announced that the foundation
would contribute $5,000 to Jeanine Sanchez Harms' reward
Plans for a Barbecue
In July, Craig
and his family visited Jess and Georgette. On Tuesday, July 24,
they all went to Original Joe's in San Jose for dinner. There, the
family made plans to hold a barbecue for Craig the following
way back from the restaurant, Jeanine told her parents about an
upcoming date on Friday. She was planning to meet a man named Alex
at the Pruneyard in Campbell. "She didn't want to, but he was
insistent," Georgette recalls.
never contacted her parents after Friday. Georgette called her
twice, wondering when she was planning to come to the barbecue.
Janice also called her several times to ask her how the date went.
But Jeanine never called back, and she never showed up.
Alex--William Alex Wilson III--was one of the last people
to see Jeanine. According to police reports, he met Jeanine at the
Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery in Campbell on the night of
July 27. Sometime during the night they went their separate ways,
and Jeanine ended up with San Jose resident Maurice Nasmeh. The
two eventually went to Jeanine's house. Nasmeh, who has since
stopped cooperating with the investigation, reportedly told police
that when he left Jeanine, she was sleeping on her couch.
police discovered that Wilson was from the Santa Clara family that
founded Wilson's Jewel Bakery. His father, William Wilson, had
been mayor of Santa Clara for several years. "I do remember this,"
Georgette says. "Someone said, 'Oh my, he's from an extremely
and Georgette didn't learn of Nasmeh's identity until they saw the
police-issued flier with his name and photograph, along with a
picture of Jeanine. The Sanchezes say that they wonder why
Nasmeh's photograph was released, but Wilson's was not.
Georgette did not expect to see Nasmeh's face side-by-side
with Jeanine's. "It's a horrific flier. It just shocked me,"
contacted Wilson at the bakery. "I have been unfairly tried and
prosecuted by the press," he says. "I have no comment."
attempts to reach Nasmeh were unsuccessful.
ask Jess what he would say to the person who is responsible for
Jeanine's disappearance, his response is different from that of
Chigiy and Janice. "I don't care about him," he says fiercely.
"The only thing I care about is getting Jeanine back. I don't give
a damn about him."