In 1981, the body of 12-year-old Tina Marie Harmon was found dumped near an oil well in Bethlehem Township.
The Creston girl had been raped and strangled and then neatly laid near the side of the road where anyone could see.
Harmon was the first of four area girls to be found dead in the early 1980s. In July 1982, Krista Harrison, of Marshallville, was abducted from a baseball field. Turtle trappers discovered her body in a field in Holmes County six days later. That September, 7-year-old Dawn Marie Hendershot, of Massillon, was abducted on her way home from Gorrell Elementary.
Another year passed, and it happened again. This time to Deborah Kaye Smith, a 10-year-old Massillon girl who vanished from the city streets. Her body was found more than a month later along the banks of the Tuscarawas River.
Robert Buell, of Clinton, was later convicted of Harrison’s death. He died by lethal injection in 2002.
Police believed Buell to also be responsible for both Harmon and Smith’s deaths, but he was never charged with the crime.
Today, Harmon’s family is still haunted by the murder. They say the case is unresolved and that authorities have failed to bring them closure.
“I want to know who killed my sister,” Randy Harmon, Tina’s oldest brother, said Tuesday to a room of reporters.
Randy, who believes new technology might finally resolve his kid sister’s death, plans to ask the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office to continue its investigation.
Tina was a sixth-grader who loved cats and scored well in school. She was a good singer, her family said, and had potential to make a career of it.
“She was a very tough little girl,” said aunt Ruth Hatfield. “She used to fight with her brothers all the time.”
On Oct. 29, 1981, Tina got a ride from Creston to Lodi from family members. Several witnesses remember seeing her there.
It was the last time, however, that she would be seen alive. Five days later she was found dead.
The investigation eventually turned to two men – Ernest Holbrook Jr. and Herman Ray Rucker, who ran in similar circles as Tina.
Holbrook and Rucker were convicted in 1982 for the rape and murder of Tina Marie Harmon. The jury convicted the men based on the testimonies of two witnesses, but with little physical evidence.
The witnesses, Curtis Maynard and Susan Sigler, claimed that Holbrook and Rucker admitted to them that they killed Harmon after she denied them sex.
But not long after the conviction, Maynard recanted his testimony. Sigler was also found to be a poor witness. She had filed a false rape report in a nearby county.
Rucker received a new trial and was acquitted in 1983. And when new evidence surfaced in the case a year later, prosecutor’s dropped their charges against Holbrook.
Enter Robert Buell, a city of Akron employee.
Two months after Deborah Smith’s body was found on the river banks, police received a call from a neighbor of Buell’s. A 28-year-old Damascus woman, the neighbor reported, had escaped Buell’s home after being abducted, raped and held captive there.
Police eventually linked carpet fibers from Buell’s van to those found on Harrison’s and Harmon’s bodies. Buell was charged with Harrison’s rape and murder, but always denied harming her. He also denied harming Smith and Harmon.
Because the fibers from Buell’s van matched those on Harmon’s body and because candles found in his home were identical to those found near Smith’s body, police believed that he was responsible for all three murders.
Buell, however, was only charged with Harrison’s death.