October 29, 1981: The Murder of 12-Year-Old Tina Harmon


WHAT HAPPENED?


On October 29, 1981, 12-year-old Tina Marie Harmon was abducted, raped, and murdered in Lodi, Ohio.


A conviction was made in her case based on circumstantial evidence, but the conviction was overturned and the men were let go. Her case was finally solved in 2010 by a DNA match, nearly 30 years after she was killed.

THE MURDER AND ERRONEOUS LEGAL PROCEEDINGS


Tina was last seen after her father's girlfriend dropped her off in Lodi, Ohio. She was seen last with an unidentified man in his 20s.


Tina's body was found 5 days after her abduction near an oil well site in Navarre, Ohio. She had been raped and strangled to death.


Three months later, two men, Ernest Holbrook, age 19, and Herman Ray Rucker, age 26, were charged in her rape and murder. There was no physical evidence tying either man to the case, and they both passed polygraph tests.


Ernest was at his sister's wedding during the weekend of the abduction, with a rock solid alibi. But, because police were desperate to catch the person who killed Tina, they were willing to overlook this obvious alibi and instead trust the testimony of 2 witnesses.


Ernest's cousin, Curtis Maynard, and his friend, Susan Sigler, claimed that after a night of drinking together, Herman confessed that he and Ernest had killed a little girl who resisted their sexual advances. This was enough for police to zero in one the 2 men who had nothing to do with the case.


After a trial, focused entirely on circumstantial evidence and the questionable testimony of 2 people, Herman was convicted and sentenced to life in prison on June 9, 1982 for the rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl he had never met. 2 months later, the same happened to Ernest. He was led away by a guard, crying, as he said goodbye to his wife and infant son for a crime he did not commit.


Thankfully, it was fairly quickly after the trial that Siger's credibility and reliability came into question. In the months after the conviction, she was convicted of filing a false rape claim, and it was discovered that she had lied on her marriage license, claiming that she had 1 dead husband when in reality, she had 4 living ex-husbands. These shots to her credibility made authorities believe perhaps she was lying about other things.


Once the first witness was found to be unreliable, the case began to fall apart. The other "witness", Maynard, was a mentally impaired man. He claimed he had been pressured by detectives who used his past felony record as leverage. He recanted his testimony, claiming that Ernest nor Herman had ever told him such a thing.


Herman was granted a new trial. He was acquitted of any involvement in the case on June 16, 1983, and freed. In the wake of the new information, Ernest sought a new trial, but his requests were repeatedly denied. He remained in prison until May 4, 1984, when he was released after another young girl was murdered in a nearby town in a case that closely resembled Tina's murder.

THE MURDER OF KRISTA HARRISON


On July 17, 1982, 11-year-old Krista Harrison was murdered in Marshalville, Ohio. She had been picking up aluminum cans in the park with one of her friends, barely 100 yards away from her home. Witnesses claim that a man between 25-35 drove up to Krista and forced her into his van and drove away.


Krista's friend described the van as dark brown or red with round windows.


6 days later, Krista's body was found in an advanced state of decomposition. Her body was thrown into the weeds off of a scarcely traveled road in Holmes County, Ohio. Krista had been sexually assaulted with a vibrator and strangled to death. Her father had to identify his decomposing 11-year-old to confirm it was Krista.


During the investigation, the items left near her body at the scene were examined under a microscope. During that investigation, they found carpet fibers that were a dead ringer from carpet fibers in another unsolved murder case: The murder of Tina Harmon. Authorities began to believe the children were murdered by the same person, given the fibers, as well as the proximity and the matter of death.

FINDING THE KILLER


After Krista's body was found, a $10,000 reward was offered for anyone who could provide information on the abductor. But it wasn't until 2 years later that someone would be arrested.


In 1984, 44-year-old Robert Anthony Buell kidnapped a 28-year-old woman while working at a gas station in Ohio. He shaved her head and shocked her with a severed electrical cord, beat her, bound her to his bed, and raped her. She was able to escape 12 hours later.


When police arrested Buell, they found that the carpet fibers matched Krista's and Tina's cases from back in 1981 and 1982. Though fingerprints on the plastic that Buell had used to wrap Krista's body up didn't match, a variety of other physical elements matched Krista's case.


Once arrested, Buell pleaded no contest to the abduction and rape of the adult woman, but denied any involvement in Krista's murder. However, he was found guilty and sentenced to death in 1982. He was executed in 2002 for the murder of Krista and the abduction and rape of the unnamed adult victim.


The dog hairs that were found on Tina's body were a match to the ones found on a dug buried in Buell's yard, once DNA testing became more widespread. He was connected to Tina's murder even further when his DNA was matched to DNA found on her clothing. Because he was already on death row when this connection was made, Buell was never tried or convicted of Tina's murder, but it is believed he did it.


It is believed that Buell may have also been involved in the 1989 murder of 1-year-old Amy Mihaljevic, who was killed in Ohio after being kidnapped. Amy had been kidnapped form a Shopping Center near Cleveland, Ohio. He had contacted her by phone and arranged to meet with her so they could buy a gift for her mother who recently got promoted. Amy's body was found months later in February in a field in Ashland County, Ohio.


Though Buell was already in prison at the time of Amy's death, Cleveland Scene journalists James Renner believes, due to the similarities of the cases, that someone close to Buell may have been involved. He proposed Buell's nephew, Ralph Ross Jr. His DNA was eliminated as the source of DNA from Tina's case in 2010, but some still believe all 3 cases were connected.


Buell argued his innocence until his dying breath. "Jerry and Shirley, I didn't kill your daughter. The prosecutor knows that and they left the real killer out there on the streets to kill again and again and again," he said as his final words.


Do I think he did it? Yes, probably. A lot of physical evidence points to him, and even if he didn't, he did admit to kidnapping a woman, electrocuting her, and tying her to his bed while he assaulted her for 12 hours. So I am not super torn up that the world now doesn't have Robert Anthony Buell in it.


But this is one of the cases were I second guess the death penalty. Though he wasn't being executed for Tina's murder, all of these crimes were in the same conversation. A few years earlier, police were sure they had the right 2 guys with Ernest and Herman. And, oops! They didn't have the right guy! So it seems a little precarious to sentence the next guy to death when you just had the wrong guys incarcerated for just about the same crime.


I read about Herman Rucker and Ernest Holbrook Jr. on The National Registry of Exonerations. An entire registry of people who were convicted of a crime they didn't commit, spent anywhere between a few months and most of their life behind bars, only for it to be proven they had nothing to do with it. To me, that seems like a good enough reason to throw the whole justice system out and try again... but if not that, at least the death penalty. You have to have a 0% error rate to take someone's life, in my opinion. And we don't.


Tina Harmon technically never got justice, but I hope her parents and loved ones were able to have peace knowing that her killer was probably eradicated. It is so terrible that another child had to die and a woman had to be assaulted and traumatized to find the right killer.


RIP to Tina and Krista, and my condolences to the 2 men who sat behind bars for over a year for a crime they had nothing to do with.

REFERENCES:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Tina_Harmon

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Amy_Mihaljevic

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Krista_Harrison

https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/casedetailpre1989.aspx?caseid=282

https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/pages/casedetailpre1989.aspx?caseid=150


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