Joshua Randall Harmon went to a friend’s house one night in May 1988 to see if his friend could come outside to play. It was the last time the 8-year-old Georgia boy was seen alive.
Joshua’s 55-pound body was found two days later. He had been struck on the head, strangled to death and discarded under some loose dirt and pine straw in a wooded area a few hundred yards from the Roswell apartment where he lived with his mother and stepfather.
Logs had been placed over his body to delay detection.
The boy’s murder remains unsolved and last week, 31 years to the day after his brutal death, Roswell police officials pleaded with the public for information that could help solve the long-cold case.
Joshua vanished Sunday, May 15 while playing near his apartment complex, then known as the Roundtree Apartments. The complex still stands on Raintree Way in Roswell, but is now known as River Crossing at Roswell, according to the Roswell Police Department.
Joshua’s family had moved to the apartment complex about three weeks before he was killed, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the day his body was found. Police officials initially thought he might have run away, even unwittingly, and was trying to get back to their former home.
A newspaper clipping shows Joshua’s mother, then known as Cherie Laws, told a reporter her son, a special education student at the now-shuttered Kimball Bridge Elementary School, was not one to wander from home.
“He was easily frightened and intimidated,” Laws said of Joshua, who had a learning disability.
Douglas Laws echoed his wife’s sentiments just hours before his stepson’s body was found.
“Joshua was too frightened of everything, too dependent on his mother to be away from her long,” Douglas Laws told the newspaper. “He would not leave in any stressful situation.”
Joshua had spent the day of his disappearance playing outside, both alone and with friends, police officials said.
“Joshua regularly played outside in the area of his apartment building and the other buildings in the immediate vicinity,” a post on the department’s Facebook page read. “He searched for turtles around the lake in the complex and played in the ‘fort’ in the woods behind his building.”
Cherie Laws told the Journal-Constitution she first grew uneasy when, around 7 p.m. that evening, she heard the ice cream truck’s bell ringing outside, but her son never came running in for the dollar she had set aside for him to get himself a treat.
“I wondered then why he didn’t come in and ask for money to buy ice cream,” Laws said, according to the clipping.
Douglas Laws also could not find the boy when he went out to tell him to stay close to home because dinner would be ready soon, police officials said. The couple called police around 7:30 p.m. to report him missing.
Neighbors told Joshua’s family he had stopped by their apartment around 7 p.m. to see if their son, a friend of his, could come outside to play, according to police. Because the boy’s family was having their own dinner, he could not.
Joshua told his friend he would wait for him at the fort, where they often played together.
“This is the last reported sighting of Joshua alive,” the police’s Facebook post read.
Roswell police officers spent the next 48 hours searching the 60 acres of woods surrounding the apartment complex but did not find Joshua’s body in the first search, the Journal-Constitution reported at the time. His body was eventually discovered the afternoon of May 17, 1988, in a gully in the woods where the boy, described as a “nature nut,” loved to play.
See images of newspaper clippings covering the 1988 death of Joshua Harmon below.
A police lieutenant involved in the search stumbled upon Joshua’s body by accident, authorities said.
Cherie Laws was so devastated when her son’s body was found that she was hospitalized. She and her husband later moved to Woodstock, too overcome by grief to stay in the apartment from which Joshua vanished.
“I keep hoping it will all turn out to have been a mistake that the body they found wasn’t really his and I’ll wake up one morning and find him back at home,” Laws told the Journal-Constitution a year after Joshua died. “I know that’s not going to happen, but I can’t help wishing.”
Cherie Laws, who now goes by Cherie Harmon, wrote in an online memorial to her son that she and his father, Larry Harmon, later got back together.
“I see a lot of you in him, and he sees a lot of you in me,” she wrote to her son. “It helps us keep you with us.”
She described her son as the “most incredible and amazing child in the world.”
“He had a truly unconditional love for all people, and more so for all of God's creatures,” she wrote on the memorial page, which she created in 2007. “It was as if he was one with them, and would spend hours with any creature, however, his favorite were rabbits.
‘We are looking for anything’
There were plenty of potential suspects in the early days of the investigation. Authorities told the Journal-Constitution a convicted child molester had escaped from the North Fulton County Jail in Alpharetta the day he disappeared. Joshua had also had a run-in earlier in the day with some teenage boys who his family said “roughed him up” after he’d thrown a rock at the apartment where one of the boys lived.
All the potential suspects were ruled out.
“Evidence was collected during the investigation that is still available,” police officials said last week. “There have been incredible advancements in forensic technology since 1988 but science is not all that can be used to catch this killer.”
Cold case detectives are reaching out to witnesses interviewed in the initial investigation. They are also looking for new witnesses who may have obtained knowledge about Joshua’s death, either from the time frame of his killing or information obtained in the intervening years.
“In the last 31 years, we believe that the killer may have spoken to someone about this incident and disclosed their involvement,” authorities said.
Roswell police spokeswoman Sgt. Britney Rodgers told the Journal-Constitution Friday that nothing has specifically triggered a reexamination of the case.
“We are looking for anything,” Rodgers told the newspaper. “Maybe this will help jog somebody’s memory.”
Anyone with information on Joshua’s murder is asked to call Roswell police Detective Jennifer Bennett at 770-640-4380 or contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information can also be submitted anonymously to the Crime Stoppers Atlanta tip line at 404-577-TIPS (8477) or online at StopCrimeATL.com.
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