- Jan 18:
- Santa Clara DA says Harms investigation continues, despite murder of chief suspect
- Timeline: The Jeanine Harms case
- Jan 17:
- Harms' brother was upset there was 'no closure' to case
- Woman who introduced Harms to Nasmeh haunted by that moment
- Herhold: No closure in the Jeanine Harms case
- 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
The victim is still missing, the prime suspect is now dead, but the burning question in one of Silicon Valley's most troubling and captivating mysteries over the past decade looms larger than ever: What happened to Jeanine Harms?
Did San Jose architect Maurice Nasmeh kill and dispose of the 42-year-old Los Gatos woman after a chance meeting at a Campbell bar, as police and prosecutors have claimed for 9 ½ years?
Or was somebody else responsible when she vanished in 2001? Could her brother, Wayne Sanchez, have killed an innocent man a week ago in a startling vigilante-style attack at a San Jose coffee shop before turning the gun on himself?
Now, with two families racked by grief and the case still unsolved, more questions have surfaced about the investigation into what happened to Harms.
One thing is certain: If Nasmeh killed Harms, authorities have never been able to make the case.
The two met by chance at the Rock Bottom Brewery in the Pruneyard shopping center on July 27, 2001. Nasmeh had gone for drinks after work that Friday night with friends. Harms was waiting to meet a man she had stood up just weeks before, when one of Nasmeh's female friends asked her to join their table. Later that night, she had invited both Nasmeh and her date, Alex Wilson, former owner of a popular Santa Clara bakery, to her home.
Nasmeh accepted. Wilson did not. Harms was never seen again.
Three years later, Nasmeh was arrested
But the evidence was challenged and the charges dismissed, freeing Nasmeh from jail, over what seemed at the time like a correctable problem: The crime lab technician was not certified for his job. Prosecutors vowed to retest the fibers at a top national lab.
That was 31/2 years ago -- and, even now, prosecutors say it will be six more months before new tests are completed.
What's taking so long? Prosecutors won't say. But the amount of time makes no sense to one prominent criminal defense attorney.
"If you're actually testing them, it doesn't take long at all," said Oakland attorney Cliff Gardner, who has handled numerous high-profile cases and argued three times before the U.S. Supreme Court. "It could be they're looking for someone to get a better result. You either clear him (Nasmeh), in which case he doesn't get shot, or you implicate him and he gets arrested. It's a tragedy for all."
The case has dragged on so long it has passed through three district attorneys, and newly elected District Attorney Jeff Rosen said he will keep pursuing the truth.
"Maurice Nasmeh is the one who murdered her, I have no doubt," said Mike Schembri, who was asked to work on the Harms case while he was an investigator with the District Attorney's Office. He now works for the Santa Clara Police Department.
Last week, after Harms' brother killed Nasmeh, Schembri said, "I have nothing to say." But in earlier interviews with the Mercury News, he said, "within several months, it was pretty apparent to me the person we wanted to concentrate on was Nasmeh. He got bigger and bigger and bigger."
Still, despite Nasmeh's death, neither Schembri nor Los Gatos Police Chief Scott Seaman nor prosecutors have been willing to reveal what -- besides the discredited fiber evidence -- convinced them Nasmeh was their man.
Over the past year, the Mercury News obtained and reviewed hundreds of documents connected to the case, and a reporter repeatedly visited Nasmeh, who was unwilling to speak for publication. The records show:
Investigators believed Nasmeh had wrapped Harms' body in the rug and placed it in his jeep. Ever since, they have sought the fiber evidence to prove it.
But the stacks of police reports, court documents and affidavits obtained by the Mercury News provide an abundance of material -- most of it never publicized before -- that also raise doubts about the case against Nasmeh.
The documents show that from the beginning, it was a troubled investigation. Los Gatos police named an officer who had never handled a murder case as the chief investigator. Initially, there were two main suspects -- Nasmeh, who would have turned 47 next month, and Wilson, son of Bill Wilson, former mayor of Santa Clara.
Harms had first met Wilson weeks before at another bar, when he grabbed one of her business cards as she tried to hand it to someone else. In the weeks after, she told friends he had called and called. She tried to talk her friends into going with her to meet him that night at the Rock Bottom Brewery, but they all had plans.
As the night progressed, Harms, Nasmeh and Wilson piled into Harms' Mustang to go to another bar, with Wilson in the front passenger seat, Nasmeh in the back. Later, Harms invited both men to her home to party.
Nasmeh told police he followed Harms home and had expected to see Wilson show up as well, but he never did. They each drank one Heineken and shared a marijuana joint, Nasmeh told investigators. She was napping on the couch when he left about 12:30 a.m., he said.
When Harms failed to call her best friend the next morning and missed a family barbecue on Sunday, the mystery began.
On Monday, police found her car in the driveway. Missing from the home were her purse, car keys, the Persian rug, a slip cover and two couch pillows. Within days, police served search warrants at the homes of both Nasmeh and Wilson. Those warrants and other affidavits show:
Chuck Wall, a former San Jose police sergeant who was head of the department's K-9 unit, remembers the bloodhounds zeroing in on Wilson's car. "They both jumped into the rear seat of the car and they both jumped into the trunk of the car and started howling," Wall, who now runs a San Jose security company, told the Mercury News.
'Really not a killer'
Wilson was never arrested or charged in the case, and both investigators and Wilson's attorney, Joe Wall, have insisted he played no part in the Harms' mystery.
"I have no doubt in my mind that Wilson did not do this," said Dale Sanderson, the Deputy District Attorney in charge of the case. He has declined to elaborate.
Schembri, the lead investigator, said "If you talk to Wilson and get to know the guy, he's really not a killer."
Dan Jensen, Nasmeh's attorney, who believes his now-slain client was innocent, said "the pain never stops for the families."
But even as they wait for test results, Harms' family knows they may never be able to do the one thing her parents pray for every day -- bring their daughter home for burial.
Georgette and Jess Sanchez have been through so much, they no longer have the strength to face the questions.
As Jess Sanchez told a reporter last week. "I just want to be left alone."
Contact Linda Goldston at 408-920-5862.
The Harms mystery
1 -- Missing woman, Jeanine Harms.
2 -- Men dead from last week's murder suicide when Harms' brother killed the chief suspect Nasmeh, then turned the gun on himself.
3 -- Number of district attorneys who have overseen the case.
4 -- Number of years authorities will have waited for test results on key fiber evidence.
91/2 -- Number of years since Harms disappeared.
30 -- Months that Nasmeh spent in jail before being released.
A look at the case
The disappearance: Jeanine
Harms, a 42-year-old woman from Los Gatos, vanished 9 1/2
The suspect: Three years after Harms' disappearance, San Jose architect Maurice Nasmeh was arrested. He spent 30 months in jail. Charges against him were
dismissed after evidence was challenged.
The prosecution: Three district attorneys have overseen the case against Nasmeh. Authorities will have waited four years for test results on key fiber evidence.
Last week: Harms' brother killed Nasmeh, then he turned the gun on himself.