Jeffrey Harper was on his way from Oklahoma to California on a Greyhound bus. The bus pulled into Flagstaff on the evening of Friday, Aug. 4, 1983.
Harper, 29, was drunk, and he wasn’t allowed back on the bus. The bus left without him.
“He doesn’t know anybody here in Flagstaff,” said Chuck Jones, volunteer investigator for the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office cold case unit.
Joggers out for their morning run near A-1 Mountain at about 6 a.m. came upon a body on the road Monday morning.
It was Harper. He’d been shot four times in the head with a .22-caliber firearm.
Nearly 31 years later, his case remains unsolved and rests with the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office cold case unit. The unit, which has been working cold cases since 2005, is currently trying to solve nearly 40 cold cases in the county like Harper’s.
Harper’s body had been in the road for a short time, Jones said. Rigor mortis had not set in.
“And he’s still warm to the touch,” Jones added.
His wallet, attached to a belt loop by a chain, is missing. There are two dimes and spent .22-caliber shell casings next to the body. The indications are that Harper was killed there, where his body was found.
“Somebody went through his pockets after he was killed,” Jones said. There was no other evidence at the scene.
The investigation went into high gear at 7 a.m., and by that afternoon, investigators with the Flagstaff Police Department and the sheriff’s office were talking to a potential suspect.
Jones said that the night Harper arrived in Flagstaff, he was either very drunk or high on drugs, and the bus driver didn’t want him back on the bus. While Harper was disembarking, he fell and hit his head on a bench. He was taken to the Flagstaff hospital for treatment.
Harper was released from the hospital Sunday morning at about 10 a.m. Police detectives, who canvassed the city with photos, found out that Harper had called for a taxi and was at a downtown bar by 10:15 a.m. At the time, people were not allowed to drink alcohol until noon on Sunday, so Harper struck up a conversation with a bartender in training at the bar.
By noon, they were walking to a nearby liquor store. The liquor store staff remembered Harper and the bartender in training.
DAY OF DRINKING
Investigators tracked down the bartender in training and were talking with him Monday afternoon.
The man told investigators that he had met Harper, that they had spent the day drinking beer and whiskey and smoking marijuana. The man’s girlfriend confirmed the story. By early evening Sunday, Harper was so drunk and high, that he was stumbling into furniture at the apartment, so the man gave Harper a ride back to the bus station. Harper had told the man that he had a suitcase full of drugs in his belongings at the station.
The man told investigators that he left Harper very much alive at the bus station Sunday evening, and staff at the bus station remembered Harper being at the bus station Sunday night. He rifled through two duffel bags in search of his ticket to California, and was expected to get on the bus to California that evening, Jones said.
He never got on the bus.
The bartender in training consented to a search of his home. Police found a .22-caliber rifle and had it tested, but the tests did not match the bullets found at the scene. The man was never arrested. No physical evidence connected him to the killing, Jones said.
A short time later, the same man is stopped on suspicion of DUI. When police make contact with him, he has a .22-caliber pistol in his possession. The serial number had been destroyed on the gun. The gun was tested, but it did not match the weapon used to kill Harper.
“So the case just grinds to a halt in January 1984,” Jones said.
COLD CASE REVIEW
Jones said that when he got onto the case in 2010, he decided to have Harper’s belt loop and pants tested for suspect DNA.
The laboratory staff wanted to know who to compare the DNA to. Jones set out to find the bartender in training — and he found him.
In 1992, the man had moved to Yucca Valley in the California Mojave Desert. While there, he was out one day and was approached by a San Bernadino County deputy. When the deputy attempted to talk to him, the man pulled out a .357 magnum and started shooting. The deputy shot and killed him.
When Jones went to inquire with the coroner’s office, the office staff notified Jones that blood samples from the autopsy had been purged in 2004 according to protocols. So, there is no sample to test of the bartender in training.
“Checkmate,” Jones said. “There are no more moves.”
Then, he corrected himself. He has one more move left, he said, but he didn’t want to divulge it, but it involved a small oversight by the original investigation.
He added that he’s making plans.
If anybody has information about this case, contact the sheriff’s office cold case division at 774-4523, or visit the Facebook page.