Joshua Harmon loved nature. The eight-year-old spent every free moment outside, usually looking for ducks and other animals around the lake behind his apartment complex in Roswell, Georgia. The one thing guaranteed to bring him inside was the sound of the ice cream truck nearby. Without fail, he would run to ask his mother for money so he could get a sweet treat. When his mother, Cherie Laws, heard the sound of the ice cream truck drawing closer on May 15, 1988, she smiled to herself and set out a one-dollar bill for her son. She expected him to come flying through the door at any second, but grew worried when there was no sign of him. When she couldn’t find him anywhere outside the apartment, she called police.
Roswell Police responded quickly to the call about a missing child, but they weren’t initially worried. It was a warm Sunday night, with lots of kids playing outside. They assumed Joshua would soon be located. Once it was clear that he wasn’t in the immediate area, they wondered if he had tried to make the one-mile trek across town to his old apartment. The family had moved only three weeks before; perhaps the boy had gotten confused and was looking for his old home. His mother and stepfather were adamant that this was not the case. Joshua, a special needs student, was a somewhat timid child and never wandered far from home. He preferred to stick close to his mother, as he was easily frightened and intimidated. His grandfather, Ray Carlisle, was staying with the family at the time, and he told police that Joshua had been upset earlier in the day after getting into an altercation with three teenaged boys. According to Ray, Joshua had thrown a rock at the apartment of one of the teenagers, and the three teens had “roughed him up” for it. Police looked into the matter but determined it was not related to the disappearance.
A search was launched almost immediately, with more than 50 fire and police personnel as well as numerous neighbors scouring the area near the Roundtree Apartments where Joshua was last seen. The initial search was contained to a 60-acre wooded area, and the search effort was suspended once darkness descended and it was too hard to see.
Joshua was still missing the next morning, and the search was expanded to include the area around the Holcomb Crossing Apartments where his family had previously lived. Joshua’s father, Larry Harmon, lived an hour and a half away in Douglasville but drove to Roswell to assist in the search. Police went door-to-door throughout the day, but were unsuccessful at locating anyone who had seen the little boy. As Monday dragged on with no sign of Joshua, his parents began to fear the worst. Even police began to question their initial assessment that he wandered away, and detectives began extensively questioning those close to the boy.
The last confirmed sighting of Joshua had been a little before 7:00pm Sunday night when the little boy knocked on the door of a neighboring apartment to see if his friend who lived there could come out to play. The family had been eating dinner at the time, so the boy was not allowed out at that time. Joshua said that he would be playing in the wooded area near the apartment if the boy was able to come out later, then he skipped off. The boy did not see him again after that.
Tuesday morning at daybreak, the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office joined Roswell Police in the search for Joshua. Everyone was aware that time was their enemy at this point; Joshua had been missing for more than 36 hours without a single reported sighting. Things took an ominous turn around 1:00pm that afternoon, when Cherie received a phone call from an anonymous person claiming to have Joshua. Police traced the number but determined it had been a hoax.
Late Tuesday afternoon, a police officer searching in dense brush located Joshua’s body. He had been hidden, partially clothed, in a heavily wooded area about two hundred yards from the apartment complex where he was last seen. Investigators believed he had been ki*lled in the spot where his body was found, most likely on Sunday night, then covered in pine straw and other debris. The small boy had been beaten and then strangled to de*ath. It was a heartbreaking end to the search.
As word reached Larry Harmon that his son had been found, he fell to his knees and wailed. Cherie and Douglas Laws both fainted and had to be transported to the hospital by ambulance. Cherie would remain there, inconsolable, until Thursday. Neighbors in the apartment complex were too frightened to let their children play outside anymore, worried that there was a child-k*iller on the loose.
With the lives of other children potentially at risk, police were under a lot of pressure to solve the case. Initially, they named Norman Lewis Glenn as their prime suspect; a convicted child molester, Glenn had escaped from the Fulton County Correctional Institute — just eight miles north of Joshua’s apartment — around 1:00pm on the day that Joshua went missing. Just a day later, however, investigators announced that they were looking at five different suspects — and they no longer considered Glenn to be one.
Though police were working hard behind the scenes to come up with the identity of Joshua’s ki*ller, the community grew more agitated. At a meeting held Wednesday night at the Roundtree Apartments, people made it clear that until someone was arrested and charged with the crime, they were not going to feel safe. They were somewhat distrustful of their own neighbors, and completely suspicious of any outsiders. Children were only allowed outside if they had adult supervision, and many parents were too fearful to even let their kids ride the school bus.
The funeral for Joshua was held on Friday, three days after his body was found. Counselors were sent into the area elementary schools so children could discuss how the situation made them feel, but many of them were too young to grasp the finality of d*eath. Teachers rode the school buses with students and made sure each had a parent or buddy waiting for them at the bus stop, cautioning them to never go anywhere alone.
After three weeks passed with no word from police, the community was on edge, with many residents of the Roundtree Apartments complaining that they were so fearful they were no longer able to sleep. They accused police of keeping them in the dark about the investigation into Joshua’s mur*der, and demanded to know what kind of progress had been made in getting the unknown ki*ller off the street.
For their part, police would say little except that they had increased undercover security in several areas near the apartment complex, and had unmarked patrol cars driving around the area throughout each night. They gave no updates on the progress of their investigation, likely because little progress had been made. All the evidence found at the scene of the crime had been sent to the State Crime lab for analysis but had not yet yielded any information they could use to close in on the kil*ler.
With little to go on, Roswell Police asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to construct an offender profile of Joshua’s k*iller. This could help identify likely character traits of the mur*derer. It took a couple months, but by August investigators were able to release some profile information about the suspect they were looking for, though most of it was quite general and could apply to many members of the population. The profile indicated they were looking for a man, likely white, 25 to 35 years old, of average to above average intelligence, who likely lived near the scene of the crime and was married for the second or third time. His relationship with his wife was likely strained, and he probably experienced financial problems. He would have an explosive temper and become very argumentative or defensive if he was confronted in any way. GBI also determined that the man likely had what he believed was a reason to k*ill Joshua — he was not a serial offender and would not ki*ll randomly.
Whether or not the information in the profile was accurate, it didn’t help police hone in on the ki*ller, and the case went cold. Joshua’s mother and stepfather moved away from Roswell, unable to handle being in the place where Joshua had once had so much fun. The community remained frightened for a while, but eventually the horror of the mur*der faded and was no longer something they thought about all the time. Kids once again filled the lake area, playing around the water and feeding ducks like Joshua once did.
The Roswell Police Department never forgot about Joshua, and the detectives who worked the case kept it in the back of their minds. They would periodically pick it back up to see if they could find any new information, but for the most part the case files languished on the shelves with other cold cases. Last year, however, the department decided to make another push to find the k*iller of Joshua. All of the forensic evidence collected from the crime scene has been retained, and investigators are hopeful that advances in technology will be able to provide them with new information from this old evidence.
It’s been more than three decades since the crime took place, and detectives believe the perpetrator has likely mentioned his role in the mur*der to at least one person over the years. They hope that their renewed effort to solve the case will jog the memory of someone who has the information they need to finally bring the k*iller to justice.
If you think you have any information regarding the 1988 mur*der of Joshua Harmon, please call Roswell Police Detective Jennifer Bennett at 770–640–4380. If you would prefer to remain anonymous, you can submit tips anonymously to the Crime Stoppers Atlanta tip line at 404–577–8477.