Posted on Thu, Feb. 08, 2007

Family on edge over bones

Mercury News

Not a day goes by that Jess and Georgette Sanchez don't think about their daughter, Jeanine Harms, the 42-year-old Los Gatos woman who disappeared nearly six years ago.

``We talk about her every day, about all kinds of things we remember about her,'' said Jess Sanchez, 79, of Campbell.

But this week, as news surfaced that a collection of human bones was discovered in the Santa Cruz Mountains, their conversations turned into anxiety. The nervous parents once again face the possibility that the remains could be those of Harms.

The anxious waiting isn't new. Several times over the years, the remote woods of the Santa Cruz Mountains have yielded human remains. Each time, the tormented parents steel themselves. Each time, they hope it is Harms so they can have closure. But they also are terrified about facing her death.

``Every time we hear about remains being found we don't know if we should be glad or sad,'' Jess Sanchez said. ``We have always hoped that before we die that her remains are found so we can bury her.''

Harms, an employee at Sunnyvale's Fujitsu, disappeared in July 2001 after a late-night date with Campbell architect Maurice Xavier Nasmeh, whom she had just met that night. Police say he was the last person to see her alive at her Los Gatos duplex. Nasmeh was arrested more than three years later and charged with her murder, despite the absence of a body.

The 6th District Court of Appeal will hear arguments this month over whether police overstepped a warrant to search Nasmeh's car, which yielded critical evidence. Nasmeh has been in Santa Clara County Jail without bail since his December 2004 arrest.

ID to take time

The Sanchezes' phone has been ringing constantly this week with calls from family and friends asking about the discovery of several dozen bones -- part of an adult torso along a steep, wooded ravine near Bear Creek Road. The Santa Clara County coroner's office and sheriff's department says it's far too soon to make a positive identification. That could take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, according to sheriff's Sgt. Ed Wise.

``Every time the phone rings now I jump a little,'' Georgette Sanchez said. ``I don't know what kind of news it's going to be.''

Sanchez said she had a hard time sleeping Tuesday night. ``Everything was running through my head. We went to bed with the 11 o'clock news, then we got up at 5 a.m. on Wednesday to see if there was anything new.''

So far the only description of the bones is that they are of a small-framed person, although not a child. Age and gender are not known. Harms was 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed about 120 pounds.

Other missing woman

Deborah Modafferi, the mother of 18-year-old Kristen Modafferi, who disappeared almost 10 years ago in San Francisco, says she tries not to get worked up over news of remains found in the Bay Area.

``This has happened a number of times,'' said Modafferi, who lives in Charlotte, N.C. ``We don't overreact. We don't allow ourselves to overreact, not until we hear some real news.''

Kristen Modafferi, a student at the University of California-Berkeley, vanished one afternoon in 1997 after leaving her summer job at a San Francisco coffee shop.

The Sanchezes say that as difficult as it is, they have no choice but to wait for the results of DNA tests that authorities hope will identify the bones. They are trying to prepare for the idea that their wait could finally end.

``We've lived with this so long now,'' said Jess Sanchez, a quiet former high school principal. ``We just have to cope. We have no choice.''

Contact Connie Skipitares at cskipitares@mercurynews. com or (408) 920-5647.

2007 and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.