It is one of the most perplexing disappearances in Silicon Valley.
Forty-two-year-old Jeanine Harms vanished after meeting two men in a Campbell bar on a hot July night.
Police said she was murdered and buried somewhere, but few clues were left behind to guide them. No body. No blood. No DNA linked to either man she saw that night.
Now, nine years later, dozens of lives remain on hold or forever altered by what happened that night, July 27, 2001. Her parents, Jess and Georgette Sanchez of Campbell, think of her every day and dream of the day they can bring her home, dead or alive. Her family and friends shed anniversary tears on her birthday, her favorite holidays, on that dreaded day when she vanished from their lives.
Many of the officers involved with the case have moved on to other jobs or retired. And San Jose architect Maurice Nasmeh, the last person known to have seen Harms alive and the man authorities say is the key suspect, has lived with the unknown, wondering if charges against him will be refiled. He was arrested in December 2004 and held in custody for 21/2 years until the charges against him were dismissed in June 2007 after questions were raised about findings on evidence in the case.
Police and prosecutors insist the investigation is active, that Jeanine Harms has not been reduced to a cold case file, but they refuse to discuss it. The district
"The leading expert on fibers in the country, if not the world" is working on the case, said Santa Clara County Chief Assistant District Attorney Marc Buller.
"We have an investigation that is ongoing," he said. "We believe when it's finished, we will have the ability to go forward with the case." He refused to say if that will involve refiling charges against Nasmeh or someone new.
When news broke that a pretty, single Los Gatos woman was missing and feared dead, the case quickly became one of the most high-profile crimes in decades. Billboards asked, "Have you seen Jeanine Harms?" Vigils and prayer services drew huge crowds. Scott Seaman, who took over as Los Gatos police chief in 2002, vowed to make the case a top priority.
"Many people in the community would like the same answer: What happened to Jeanine?" Seaman said.
Harms began that July day with trepidation. She had agreed to meet a man for drinks she'd stood up for a date two weeks before. Alex Wilson, a former owner of Wilson's Bakery, a Santa Clara landmark, had pestered her with calls and she was nervous, she told her friends and family.
After having dinner with her best friend at the nearby Buca di Beppo, Harms walked across to Rock Bottom Brewery at 7 p.m., arriving before Wilson. She ordered a glass of wine while she waited and was invited to join a group, which included Nasmeh.
When Nasmeh's friends left, Harms continued drinking with Nasmeh and Wilson. They moved to another bar, and then Harms drove the two back to their cars. She had invited them both to meet her at her Los Gatos duplex.
Nasmeh told police he followed Harms home in his Grand Jeep Cherokee about 10:30 p.m. He said he was surprised when Wilson failed to show. Harms played her guitar, and they listened to music after driving together to the corner market to buy a six pack of Heineken, he told police.
Harms became sleepy and stretched out on the couch, saying Nasmeh could go or stay awhile to sober up, he said. He said when he left about 12:30 a.m., Harms was dozing on the couch.
Harms failed to call her friend Janice Burnham the next morning, as she'd said she would. Her close friend and landlord Chigiy Edson-Binell saw Harms' car in her driveway late in the morning and noticed the curtains were still closed. Her parents were surprised when she failed to show for a family barbecue.
A police appeal in 2003 for anyone who might have information about a Persian rug missing from her apartment led to a San Jose woman contacting police. She said she had found a similar rug in a dumpster sometime in the summer of 2001. The county crime lab said not only was the rug the same one as the missing rug from Harms' home, but it matched fibers found in the cargo area of Nasmeh's Jeep Cherokee. So did a crafts rug Harms had been making, the lab said.
Nasmeh was arrested in December 2004. During his preliminary hearing, however, it was revealed that the technician who tested the fibers had failed proficiency tests in fiber analysis.
Charges against Nasmeh were dismissed in June 2007. At a news conference, he accused police of wrongly identifying him as a suspect and then working to make the evidence fit.
Approached several times by the Mercury News to talk about his life since then, Nasmeh said the toll on his family and friends had been too great, and he preferred to remain silent.
Harms would have turned 51 in June. Tuesday will mark the ninth year she's been missing.
"It almost seems like it's not real anymore," Burnham said. Then she remembers the sinking feeling when she happens to drive by places they had been together.
So do her parents.
"Before we die, we want to find out what happened and where her remains are," her father said. "It won't bring her back, but at least we'll know."
Contact Linda Goldston at 408-920-5862.
TIPS? If you have information about the case, call Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police at 408-827-3209 or CrimeStoppers at 408-947-STOP.