- Jan 17:
- Woman who introduced Harms to Nasmeh haunted by that moment
- Herhold: No closure in the Jeanine Harms case
- Family: Harms' brother believed suspect had 'gotten away with murder'
- Jan 16:
- Photo slide show: The Jeanine Harms murder case through the years
- Jeanine Harms' brother kills chief suspect, then himself
- Jul 25:
- 9 years later, Jeanine Harms case still a mystery
It had been gnawing at Wayne Sanchez for years: The chief suspect in his sister Jeanine Harms' disappearance almost a decade ago was living as a free man and authorities had not brought him to justice.
"He always said, 'I hope I never run into that guy,' " Wayne Sanchez's uncle, Dan Sanchez, said Monday.
But according to relatives, that's exactly what happened Saturday night -- a chance encounter at a Red Robin restaurant at the El Paseo de Saratoga Shopping Center that ended nearby with Sanchez shooting longtime suspect Maurice Nasmeh to death inside a Peet's Coffee & Tea. As police arrived, he shot himself to death in the parking lot.
Family and friends gathered Monday at the little blue house off Hamilton Avenue, about a half a mile from the Red Robin, that Sanchez shared with his parents. Jess and Georgette Sanchez, who are both in their 80s, raised their three children there. With two of them now gone, they waited Monday for their eldest child, Craig Sanchez, to arrive from the East Coast to grieve together.
Some of his friends painted a picture of an otherwise easygoing man, an unemployed 52-year-old who adored his two grown daughters and toddler grandson. He loved to fish and play guitar. He was a student of world history.
It appeared, however, that Sanchez had problems. He was divorced at least once and filed for bankruptcy twice, according to friends and public records. And in an interview with police shortly after
Those interviewed Monday said they didn't even know he owned a gun.
But the mystery of his sister's disappearance in July 2001 and possible murder were a constant frustration, they said.
"He always felt that this guy got away with murder," said Lucy Sanchez Crumpton, Sanchez's aunt. "Wayne just happened to run into him. There was nothing premeditated."
Police are trying to determine whether it was a chance encounter or whether Sanchez had been stalking Nasmeh, San Jose police Officer Jose Garcia said Monday. They are also investigating whether Sanchez was armed at the Red Robin or retrieved the gun from his car, his home or somewhere else.
Garcia did say, however, that Nasmeh was with a friend at the Red Robin at the time of the initial confrontation. That person -- police wouldn't say whether it was a man or woman -- accompanied Nasmeh to Peet's, where he was shot.
"Investigators are being very, very cautious in not releasing too many details now," Garcia said.
Nasmeh, 46, had long professed his innocence. Although he had been arrested and spent two years in jail while awaiting trial, charges were dropped in 2007. A judge threw out fiber evidence found in Nasmeh's trunk that prosecutors say linked him to a rug missing from Harms' apartment.
A crime lab technician who had tested the fibers was deemed unqualified, but prosecutors say they are retesting the evidence and are waiting for results.
Harms' body has never been found. No charges were ever filed against a second man, Alex Wilson, whom Harms had stood up before and had reluctantly agreed to meet for a date that night in July. Both Nasmeh and Wilson had cocktails with Harms at the Rock Bottom Brewery at Campbell's Pruneyard the night she disappeared. Although Harms invited both men back to her Los Gatos apartment that night, only Nasmeh told police he had joined her. He left after midnight, he had said, after he listened to Harms play her guitar, then doze off on the couch.
With police keeping quiet about the status of the investigation, however, Wayne Sanchez continued to believe Nasmeh was guilty and was the one person who knew where to find the remains of his sister.
"He was angry, really, really frustrated that they couldn't catch the real killer," said Ray Monahan, a close friend of Sanchez's who gathered with the family Monday. "He was very upset with her missing and was very upset that the authorities couldn't get closure on it."
Still, he said, for the most part Sanchez was a "great guy" with a "wonderful sense of humor. He was gracious, conscientious, just a helpful, nice guy."
Monahan and Sanchez had been friends since they met nearly a decade ago while enrolled at a medical billing school -- a career that proved fruitless for both of them. The last job Monahan remembers Sanchez having, he said, was as a heavy-equipment operator about a year ago.
His sister's disappearance was devastating to him, Monahan said: "His life became sidetracked after that."
Sanchez was apparently a regular at the Red Robin, a casual restaurant not far from his home that shares a parking lot with the AMC Saratoga theaters.
Police said Sanchez confronted Nasmeh at the restaurant Saturday night and accused him of killing his sister. Sanchez left briefly and returned, then followed Nasmeh to the Peet's across the parking lot and killed him, police said. As police arrived on the scene, they heard a gunshot in the parking lot and found Sanchez dead.
Peet's was closed for the day Sunday but reopened Monday morning. The murder-suicide was a big topic of conversation among the patrons.
"It takes a toll on people when they get no closure, a constant wound of someone turning the knife in," said Sandy Chase of Los Gatos, who was sitting at an outside table with her husband. "It's too bad they never figured out what happened."
Mercury News staff writers Linda Goldston and Sean Webby contributed to this report. Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at 408-278-3409.