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Posted on Fri, Dec. 17, 2004
  R E L A T E D   C O N T E N T 
Chigiy Binell, left, and Janice Burnham hug before the start of a news conference in Los Gatos on Thursday concerning their good friend Jeanine Harms.
Pauline Lubens / Mercury News
Chigiy Binell, left, and Janice Burnham hug before the start of a news conference in Los Gatos on Thursday concerning their good friend Jeanine Harms.
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S.J. man arrested in '01 disappearance


Mercury News

Nearly 3 1/2 years after 42-year-old Jeanine Harms of Los Gatos disappeared after a late-night date, authorities Thursday arrested the man they'd always suspected was responsible.

Maurice Xavier Nasmeh, 40, of San Jose, a well-liked and respected architect with a prominent Silicon Valley firm, was arrested about 8:45 a.m. on a no-bail warrant charging him with murder.

Nasmeh was the last person to see Harms alive the night of July 27, 2001, police said, and has been the focus of their intensive 41-month investigation. He was linked to Harms' disappearance when a rug missing from her home was recovered, and fibers found in it matched those from Harms' home and the inside of his vehicle, which he was driving when he was arrested Thursday.

Police almost from the beginning called the case a homicide investigation. And while no remains have been found, the charge on the warrant for Nasmeh's arrest was murder. He is expected to be arraigned and formally charged Monday afternoon.

Nasmeh's arrest wraps up one of the most intensive and high-profile missing persons investigations in the Bay Area. It was welcome news to Harms' friends and relatives who over the months have held vigils and other events to keep the spotlight on the case.

Harms' mother, Georgette Sanchez, 79, said she was relieved that the man she suspected all along was responsible for her daughter's disappearance has been taken off the streets. But the other -- bigger -- question remains: Where is she?

``We feel now that justice will be done, but what we really want to know is what happened to our daughter. We pray we will find out now.''

She described her emotions as up and down.

``I'm up because he's been arrested, but I'm down because of what I'm scared to find out about what happened to her.''

Lengthy testing

The investigation leading to Thursday's arrest took months because of the extensive testing and double-checking of evidence by two forensic labs: the Santa Clara County District Attorney's, and the combined lab of the California Department of Justice and the Sacramento Police Department, according to Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police.

``We've never given up,'' said Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department Chief Scott Seaman at a news conference Thursday at Los Gatos Town Hall. ``It's deeply affected all of us in the department and touched the Los Gatos community.''

Those close to the suspect were stunned.

One longtime associate of Nasmeh, who works with Sugimura & Associates in Campbell, described him as a dedicated and creative architect who volunteered countless hours to produce a monthly newsletter and a 50th anniversary yearbook for the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

``He's very creative, he's very articulate and he's very good at editing and writing,'' said Edwin Bruce, who has known Nasmeh for a half-dozen years.

Bruce said he doesn't believe that Nasmeh is capable of murder. ``He's just a really nice guy,'' Bruce said. ``He's very humble, sort of quiet spoken. He's the kind of guy who would just make people feel comfortable. Sometime in this profession you get some people with very big egos, but he was not like that.''

Bruce said that several years ago, after the news of Harms' disappearance broke, he and Nasmeh talked in general terms about the suspicion surrounding Nasmeh.

``I told him things like this happen sometimes and you just have to weather the storm,'' Bruce said. ``He was very appreciative that I was supportive. He made a comment at one point through e-mail that it's times like these that really show you who your friends are.''

The key break in the case came last year when a rug that disappeared from Harms' home the night she vanished suddenly turned up. Police said trace fibers from yarns used by Harms in a hobby project were apparently found in the rug and also found in the suspect's Jeep Grand Cherokee. The Jeep was searched shortly after her disappearance.

Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney Karyn Sinunu said authorities believe the rug was used to help dispose of her body.

``Like on TV, it really does happen in real life -- you use a rug to roll up a body and then transport it,'' she said. ``After that, we don't really know what happened.''

Found in trash bin

The police got lucky in finding the rug. After putting out word through the media in spring 2003 that they were looking for the rug or one like it to test fibers, San Jose resident Charlotte Massey came forward saying she'd found it just weeks after Harms disappeared. She found it in a trash bin behind a shopping center at Hillsdale and Leigh avenues that was being remodeled. The center is about a half-mile from Nasmeh's home.

Massey took the rug home after finding it and used it until the summer of 2003, when she called police after seeing news stories. Despite the time that had passed, and cleaning the rug had undergone, crime lab investigators were able to find fibers on it that came from yarn Harms used.

Nasmeh was arrested without incident as he left his San Jose home for work, according to Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police.

Harms, a divorcee who worked as a purchasing processor at Fujitsu in Sunnyvale and enjoyed dating and going to clubs, first met Nasmeh early on the night she disappeared. She had gone to meet another man for a date at Campbell's Rock Bottom Brewery that Friday, but when he was late she began a conversation with Nasmeh.

Harms' original date eventually arrived at the brewery and the two men and Harms hung out together. They later went to another Campbell bar and continued drinking. Harms later invited both to her home, but police said only Nasmeh followed her.

Both men were questioned early in the investigation, but when they were approached for further questioning and asked to take a lie detector test, they refused to talk with police and retained lawyers. The other man has been cleared.

Nasmeh told police that the two talked and drank beer for a couple of hours, then he left between 12:30 and 1 a.m. on July 28 as she lay half-asleep on her living room sofa. She has not been seen since. Her car remained in her driveway, but her purse, keys, watch and other personal items were gone.

In the South San Jose neighborhood where Nasmeh lived, neighbors didn't know what to think Thursday. They describe Nasmeh as quiet and meticulous about gardening, but also friendly. He even made an appearance at a neighborhood barbecue the day after Harms disappeared.

Mercury News Staff Writers Mike Zapler, Linda Goldston and Crystal Carreon contributed to this report. Contact Connie Skipitares at or (408) 920-5647.

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