Corruption or Inexperienced? – The Jennifer Harris Cold Case

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Small town America might be a great place to raise a family, but sometimes it isn’t the best place to die. Many rural communities lack the resources and experience to solve major homicide cases. When you add in the rumor mill of small-town gossip and the loss of major evidence, some people wonder if the case is solvable. Such is the case of Jennifer Harris from Bonham, Texas.



Jennifer Harris was a vivacious 28-yr-old with fiery red curly hair. Everyone around the community loved her including two men; Rob Holman and James Hamilton.


Holman was Jennifer’s childhood sweetheart. They were married shortly after high school and it looked like a happily ever after situation. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the case. The couple had a rocky relationship and some even claim Rob had abused Jennifer. It hasn’t been confirmed whether this was physical or verbal abuse and no police reports were ever filed.


As time passed and Jennifer went to college the couple began to grow apart. Rob enjoyed the laid-back pace of Bonham, Texas while Jennifer was enjoying living in the city. Things began to fall apart even further when Jennifer met James Hamilton in the massage therapy school she had been attending. The two hit it off and decided to open a business together. That wouldn’t be all they did together and soon Jennifer was living in the city and seeing James while Rob moved back to Bonham.


Hamilton was living with the mother of his two children and had a baby on the way but was insisting on marrying Jennifer. Jennifer refused and was quickly losing interest in Hamilton. By early 2002, Jennifer had lost her massage business with Hamilton and was facing bankruptcy. What does she do? She looks up Rob, who had a new girlfriend by this time. It didn’t seem to matter. The couple frequently met and slept together. All this soap opera style drama would lead up to Mother’s Day, 2002 and a mystery that has haunted Bonham, Texas for sixteen years.


Jennifer visits a friend during the early evening hours of May 12, 2002, and leaves around 8 pm. She wouldn’t be seen alive again. A woman takes her dog out for a walk down a lonely country road and notices a dark green jeep abandoned at the side of the road but thinks little of it until she sees it again the next day. She calls the police. The Jeep is quickly identified as belonging to Jennifer Harris. It would be a long six-day search before a fisherman would discover Jennifer’s lifeless body in the Red River.


The medical examiner determined the cause of death to be homicidal violence but couldn’t determine the exact cause of death. Her body had been severely decomposed, and her uterus was missing. This is where the rumor mill of small towns kicked into overdrive. As soon as that story was released theories ran wild. Friends of Jennifer Harris said she had confided in them about her pregnancy, but there wasn’t any hard evidence to verify it. Could she really have been pregnant, and the murderer removed her uterus to destroy evidence? This is what the townsfolk claimed.

It would be years before her autopsy would be reexamined. After this examination, it is determined that Jennifer’s uterus was indeed missing, but so were other organs and body parts. The latter examiner determined that Jennifer had suffered some sort of severe injury that left her organs exposed to fish and turtles in the river.


Both Rob Holman and James Hamilton were initially interviewed by police and were named as possible suspects, but no arrests were made. Hamilton claimed he was at an Mc Donald’s over an hour away on the May 12th. After reviewing the case files new investigators and consultants are discouraged by the way this alibi was handled. It wasn’t verified properly, and no one ever pushed it. Rob Holman, on the other hand, claimed to be out driving around for over five hours on the night Jennifer disappeared. Hamilton supposedly passed a lie detector test, but Rob was never given one. To make matters worse, most of the evidence, in this case, has either been lost or damaged when the storage pods got wet. The clothing that was found was lost and so was her laptop. Nobody was even sure if the jeans and t-shirt were even Jennifer’s.


This case has more twists and turns than a roller coaster so hold on, there’s more. Jerry Harris took notes on the case from the beginning and was determined to find justice for his daughter. This meticulous record keeping brought up a sinister revelation years later. Two months after Jennifer’s body was found her ex-boyfriend, James Hamilton called the grieving father to ask about Jennifer’s life insurance policy. In all the case files, this is the only reference to an insurance policy. I have many questions about this. Was there actually an insurance policy taken out on the life of Jennifer Harris? If so, who was the beneficiary? Was there money paid out? Who received it? None of this has been reported. If the beneficiary was Rob or James then that would supply the investigators with a serious motive for murder. Who knows if this lead was even followed? The case file for Jennifer Harris is so slim no one knows what leads were followed and which ones weren’t.


A year later, a woman is watching the news when she hears about the Harris cold case. Incredibly, Deborah Lambert hadn’t heard about the case. She quickly called the police and gave a recorded statement. Deborah and her mother had driven across the Red River Bridge on Mother’s Day a year earlier and had witnessed a frightening scene around 5 pm. She vividly recalled a red-headed woman being rough-housed by three men. Deborah said she made eye contact with the woman and saw terror in her expression. Her mother said, “that girl is about to be raped and killed.” Deborah claimed she was too afraid to call the police at the time. Deborah claimed two men were wearing jeans and one man was wearing shorts. Because of the time discrepancy, the original investigators dismissed Deborah’s statement completely. The new team doesn’t dismiss it so quickly. In reality, the time difference can be explained. Most people don’t continuously watch the clock. Deborah and her mother could have traveled across the bridge later than she remembered, and or Jennifer’s friend could be mistaken on the time she left her home.


Jennifer’s younger sister Alyssa and her filmmaker husband Barry has taken up the case along with private investigator Daryl Parker and the new sheriff Mark Johnson. Everyone hopes to find justice for Jennifer. This case was recently highlighted on the show 48 Hours. Hopefully, the renewed interest in the case will generate some leads. If Deborah Lambert’s statement is correct, there could be two other men out there that know something about this case.


At one point, the local D.A. was accused of being involved in the murder of Jennifer Harris. This rumor was completely unfounded but based on the fabricated fact that her uterus was missing. Authorities researched this rumor extensively and found absolutely no connection, but the D.A. still lost his job over this case.

This case was so mishandled that people wonder if it can be solved at this point. I believe it can, but I have many questions. Here are a few of my questions and theories.


– Is it normal for a body to decompose so quickly in the river, or was she partially mutilated before her body was dumped?
– I would like to know what happened to Rob. Did his second marriage fall through? Is his wife/ex-wife still alive?
– Did a forensic team investigate Jennifer’s Jeep?
– Has anyone checked Jennifer’s online footprint? Yes her laptop is missing, but surely her accounts would still be there. Everyone had a MySpace account. If someone remembered Jennifer’s email address then they might be able to reopen the accounts and see who she was talking to at the time of her death.

My suspicion and theory:
Rob Holman claimed Jennifer had called him and wanted to see him on the evening of May 12th. He told the police that he refused to meet her because he had plans with his new girlfriend, but when asked for an alibi Rob said he didn’t have one. He was out driving around for four hours that night.
Ok. What is it then? Was he with his new girlfriend, or was he out driving around? Also, I looked up the historical weather data for that day. It was rainy, overcast, and pop up thunderstorms all evening. Who drives around in thunderstorms? Curious.

I have reached out to Sherriff Johnson and Daryl Parker with questions about this case. I haven’t heard back from them as of this writing, but I will update you all when I get some answers to my questions. As always, if you have any information regarding the murder of Jennifer Harris, please contact the Fannin County Sherriff’s office at (903) 583-2143


Further Reading:

NY Post

Texas Cover UPs

Texas Monitor

LawsInTexas.com


Recommended Reading:


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“One of the few books written that gives the reader an insight into the criminal mind” – Retired FBI Agent Egelston Raised in a mob-controlled suburb of Chicago, Sidney Heard grew up wanting to be a gangster. He was on probation by the age of thirteen and continued building his criminal resume over the next half a century. He was a professional arsonist for nearly twenty years; escaped from jail twice; ran a gold scandal grossing over a quarter of a million dollars, and that’s just to name a few of his illegal escapades. To top it off, he played a role in one of the most important Supreme Court Decisions of all time (Gideon vs. Wainwright).Sidney’s underworld connections ran from the Chicago-based Italians to the Mexican Mafia. He even worked undercover for the Federal Government at one point in his life. However, all of Sidney’s so-called glory would come with a price. While working undercover for the F.B.I. D.E.A., Sidney became hooked on drugs. He soon found himself staring at 125 years of jail time , a massive criminal record, and pushing his fiftieth birthday. Can a career criminal change? Frank Abagnale’s criminal career lasted ten years and was featured in the movie Catch Me If You Can. Sidney Heard’s criminal career spanned five decades!
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Murdered Under The Christmas Tree – Cheryl Springfield

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Her body was found under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning 1980. Cheryl L. Springfield had been beaten, sexually assaulted, and strangled with the cord from a clothing iron. When her ex showed up with presents for their child, he found the toddler crying in the other room and a horrid scene under the tree. Who would do such a thing to this young mother?


Cheryl Springfield, 21 was recently divorced and lived in a house with three other girls, her child, and one other baby. One of Cheryl’s roommates was a woman named Cindy, who happened to be the sister of her ex-husband. On Christmas Eve, Cheryl attended a family Christmas party before returning home with her son. Her mother dropped them off at the house on Whitter street, never knowing the horrors that lay ahead for the young mother.

Around 6 am Christmas morning, Scott Springfield arrived at the home with presents for his child. The couple had recently divorced but were on friendly terms. They had married at a very young age, and the strains of parenthood and financial woes were more than Scott could take. They divorced, and shortly after Scott would regret the decision to end their union. The couple were working on things and had planned to make Christmas morning special for their child.

As Scott entered the house, he noticed someone lying under the Christmas tree but thought one of the girls had just gotten drunk and passed out. What immediately drew his attention were the cries of his child from the bedroom. He entered the room to find his son sitting in bed alone and his ex-wife not there with him. Dread began to wash over the man as he walked back into the front room. Nearing the body, his fears were realized. It wasn’t a drunken woman. It was the beaten corpse of his lovely Cheryl.

She had been beaten, sexually assaulted, and strangled with a cord from a clothes iron. Her nude body had been left near the foot of the Christmas tree. Sick with grief, Scott hurried back to the bedroom and called the police and family members. Friends came and took the toddler out of the house while the police conducted their search.

Of course, in these cases, the ex-husband is always a suspect, but Scott Springfield was quickly cleared. Who then, could have done such a thing? The family believes they know the answer. Barry Dean Kelly.

Barry was Cindy’s boyfriend and to say he was a predator would be an understatement. Barry and Cheryl couldn’t stand each other, and the family began to suspect the man rather quickly. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough evidence to charge the man. No one could even place Barry Kelly at the scene of the crime. Standing for her man, Cindy found herself alienated from her own family when she chose to marry Barry a few years later. This mistake would eventually make Cindy question herself on many levels.

The marriage was built of turmoil and would end within a year of its beginning. During this time, Cindy began to fear her husband and reports of one instance where he forced her to let him tattoo his initials on her hand. She claims he didn’t put the gun to her head, but it was sitting on the table next to him as he branded her with a homemade tattoo.

Shortly afterward, Cindy filed for divorce and ran to her mother for help. She then found herself hiding out in her mother’s house out of fear. One October day in 1980, Cindy makes a quick run to the store only to be followed by her ex. He grabs the poor woman and forces her into his car. Barry took her to a wooded area nearby and terrorized her for a few hours. When Cindy finally convinces him to let her go, she runs to the police.

Cindy was unaware of Barry’s recent activities when the police showed up on her door, asking questions. She would later learn that Barry had kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and murdered an elderly woman. Her name was Melva Teems. He had stolen her truck and drove it for a while. He also pawned some of her jewelry to get enough cash for a down payment on a vehicle. Later he abandoned her truck.

When the police found Melva Teems’ body, they found she had been strangled with a piece of cloth torn from her shirt. Investigators noted the knots used to kill Teems were the same type of knots used in the murder of Cheryl Springfield seven years earlier. Barry was seeing Melva’s daughter on the side, and Cindy wasn’t aware of the affair. It is unclear if this relationship was active during his short marriage, or if he had picked up an old flame after Cindy filed for divorce.

Barry Kelly was eventually convicted of the murder o Melva Teems and the kidnapping of Cindy. He would receive life in prison. Unfortunately, the police still couldn’t pin Cheryl’s murder on the known killer. Barry meanwhile vehemently declared his innocence in both cases despite overwhelming evidence in Melva’s murder. Strangely 37 years after Cheryl’s murder Barry reached out to cold case detectives saying he had information that would solve the case. Investigators traveled to his location to interrogate the inmate. Come to find out, Barry wanted a few jailhouse amenities, and when the officers couldn’t provide them, he refused to talk to them.

What was Berry Kelly going to tell the investigators? If he has proclaimed his innocence for nearly four decades, why would he re-insert himself into the murder investigation? What happened to Cheryl Springfield?

If you have any information that would help solve Cheryl Springfield’s case, please contact Fort Worth Police Department’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 817-469-8477.


THIS LIST OF LINKS IS NOT AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING SOURCE CITING. ALL OF THE INFORMATION USED IN THIS ARTICLE CAN BE EASILY FOUND ONLINE. LINKS BELOW WERE USED AS SOURCES AND ARE RECOMMENDED READING FOR SYNOVA’S READERS. SYNOVA STRIVES TO CITE ALL THE SOURCES USED DURING HER CASE STUDY, BUT OCCASIONALLY A SOURCE MAY BE MISSED BY MISTAKE. IT IS NOT INTENTIONAL, AND NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT IS INTENDED.

Further Reading:

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All photos were taken from Cheryl Springfield’s Facebook page with permission from the Administrator.

Out of the Cold – Deanna Boyd

Find A Case


This week’s Recommended Reading:
She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement

The Life and Times of Frank Balistrieri: The Last, Most Powerful Godfather of Milwaukee


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All information used to create this content is a matter of public record and can be easily found online or can be verified by the guest blogger. Any participation or alleged involvement of any party mentioned within this site is purely speculation. As the law states, an individual is innocent until PROVEN guilty. I do not own the photos used in this post. All photos are used under the fair use act. No copyright infringement intended. Any and all opinions are that of the guest blogger and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Synova Ink©2017-2019. All rights reserved.


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