Convicted child molester arrested in 1988 cold case murder of 8-year-old Roswell boy

ROSWELL, Ga. — Roswell police have arrested a Woodstock man in the 1988 murder of an 8-year-old boy.

James Michael Coates, 56, was taken into custody on July 21 and booked on multiple charges, including murder, after DNA evidence linked him to the death of Joshua Harmon.

Joshua was reported missing by his parents on May 15, 1988. His body was discovered 48 hours later near the Raintree Way apartment where he lived.

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Roswell detectives and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation conducted extensive investigations, but the case went cold.

“Investigators regularly revisited the case over the intervening years in pursuit of justice for Joshua and his family, and evidence was consistently re-examined to keep pace with evolving leads and advancing technology,” Roswell police said.

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With the Harmon family’s permission, Joshua’s body was exhumed in February 2021. Further evidence was collected from the remains.

Recent tests conducted by an independent laboratory linked Coates to the crime. Police said Coates and the Harmon family lived at the complex but the family did not know Coates.

He was taken into custody without incident during a traffic stop.

Coates has been charged with murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation, enticing a child for indecent purposes, false imprisonment, cruelty to children, concealing the death of another and tampering with evidence.

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“This was a tragedy that no family should endure,” Roswell Police Chief James Conroy said. “The death of Josh and the fact that his killer remained free for such a long time is unimaginable. I hope this arrest brings the Harmon family a sense of closure.”

Channel 2′s Kristen Holloway talked to Joshua’s family about the arrest, which they waited for for over three decades. Joshua’s aunt, Marlene Carlisle, held back tears after finally getting answers.

“Our family has been through this for 33 years, and to be able to be relieved of this, it’s bittersweet for us,” Carlisle said.

Carlisle said she never gave up hope and she has been waiting and praying for years to find Joshua’s killer.

“Josh was an amazing young boy who had an uncanny relationship with nature and God,” Carlisle said. “So I know where he is and I know he’s at peace.”

Channel 2 Action News learned that Coates had been arrested previously for child molestation in 1990. In that case, he was also charged with false imprisonment. He was in prison from 1993 to 2013.

While an arrest has been made, the investigation remains active. Anyone with information about this case is asked to contact the Roswell Police Department at 770-640-4100, or provide anonymous information through Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404-577-TIPS(8477).