Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Denice Haraway Case: Abduction, Murder, and a Missing Child

Note: This piece is drawn from facts and information detailed in the Forensic report by the author (Brent E. Turvey, PhD) filed with Fontenot's application for relief, See: Investigative and Forensic Assessment: Abduction and Homicide of Donna "Denice" Haraway.

Donna "Denice" Haraway (24,WF) was considered to be an attractive woman, though shy and a bit awkward, by those who knew her. She was eight months into her marriage with Steven Haraway at the time of her abduction from McAnally's convenience store. She had been employed there, working the counter, for about nine months.

By all accounts, Haraway was a dedicated student, in addition to being a wife and a holding down a job. She was enrolled at a local college, working towards a teaching degree. She would even study at the store, behind the counter, when things were slow. However, she had also been receiving harassing phone calls while work. And only while at work. This caused her a great deal of concern for her safety, as she often worked alone.

The Abduction
According to law enforcement reports, Haraway was last seen at McAnally's convenience store around 8:30 P.M. on Saturday, April 28th,1984. She was the lone clerk on duty that evening. This was not uncommon.

In relation to Haraway's disappearance, a regular customer, Gene Whelchel, made three calls that evening: first he called Mr. McAnally, the owner of the store; second, he called the store manager, Monroe Atkeson; and third, he called the Ada (Oklahoma) Police Department. Mr. Whelchel explained that when he arrived at the store, the clerk was not there and the cash register drawer was open. 

Mr. Atkeson, the store manager, drove from his home to the store. Additionally, Ada PD responded to the scene.

Other relevant background is taken directly from the court's decision in Fontenot v. State (1988):

Karl Fontenot
"[Karl Fontenot] and Tommy Ward were tried for the crimes during September, 1985. In October of 1984, Tommy Ward made a statement to law enforcement officers which inculpated Fontenot, an individual named Odell Titsworth, and to a slighter degree, himself. Fontenot and Titsworth were arrested as a result and Fontenot gave a statement substantially in agreement with Ward's except that it more clearly inculpated Ward. In each Ward's and Fontenot's statements, the instigator and ringleader in the criminal acts was said to be Titsworth. However, Titsworth was eliminated as a suspect within a few days of his arrest because of clear proof the police had that he had not been an accomplice.

According to the statements of Ward and Fontenot, Haraway was robbed of approximately $150.00, abducted, and taken to the grounds behind a power plant in Ada where she was raped. According to [Fontenot's] version, she was then taken to an abandoned house behind the plant where Titsworth stabbed her to death. She was then burned along with the house. When Haraway's remains were found in Hughes County, there was no evidence of charring or of stab wounds, and there was a single bullet wound to the skull."

It is helpful to understand that Karl Fontenot and Tommy Ward were convicted of abducting and murdering Hawaray 5 months before her body was actually found.

The Murder
On Monday, January 20th, 1986, a trapper found the partial skeletal remains of Denice Haraway; these were later identified through her dental records. The remains were located approximately 1 mile south, and 3 ½ miles west, of Gerty, Oklahoma off a county road. The remains were found scattered in a wooded area. 

The few crime scene photographs that were taken depict a skull, various scattered bones, and a conspicuous pile of bones placed on a rock. Bits and pieces of clothing and jewelry were also found at the scene, but not photographed or otherwise documented. According to Mrs. Haraway’s autopsy report, a gunshot wound to the head was reported as the probable cause of death. There was no evidence that the victim was stabbed, burned, or sexually assaulted. 

In short, every detail alleged to be provided by Fontenot and Ward to investigators about the abduction and murder of Denice Haraway turned out to be either unsubstantiated or completely false.

Post-Conviction Review
In late 2012, this author (Brent E. Turvey, PhD) was retained by attorney Tiffany Murphy to conduct a post conviction review of the facts and evidence related to the abduction and murder of Donna “Denice” Haraway, and the conviction of Karl A. Fontenot (Fontenot v. State, 1988). He was then asked to provide a professional assessment of the quality, competence, and thoroughness of the investigative and forensic efforts in this case. This assessment was conducted with the intent of determining whether sufficient investigative and forensic efforts have been undertaken to establish the facts of the case for use in related court proceedings.

There were four major findings, the last of which is perhaps the most significant.

First: The investigative and forensic efforts of law enforcement at the location of Haraway’s abduction (McAnally’s convenience store; April 28, 1984) were inadequate rising to the level of abandonment.

This prevented the recognition, preservation, collection, and testing specific items of evidence, as well as an untold volume of evidence that would have been missed.

NoteAs discussed in Crowder and Turvey (2013), and Gershman (1997), professional abandonment refers to incompetence and negligence to the point of effective professional absence causing harm to the client. In effect, it also refers to the abandonment of one’s professional duty of care.

Second: The investigative efforts of law enforcement subsequent to Haraway’s abduction were inadequate rising to the level of abandonment.

Third: The investigative and forensic efforts of law enforcement at the location where Haraway’s remains were found (West of Gerty, off a county road; Monday, January 20, 1986) were inadequate rising to the level of abandonment. This prevented the recognition, preservation, collection, and testing specific items of evidence, as well as an untold volume of evidence that would have been missed.

A Missing Child
Everyone agrees that Donna Haraway had not given birth prior to her abduction. However, her remains tell a different story. The remains found West of Gerty, which are conclusively identified as those of Donna “Denice” Haraway, belong to an adult female that has given birth to at least one child through her birth canal. As stated clearly in the Report from Richard McWilliams, Phd, Consulting Forensic Anthropologist to the ME’s Office, dated January 23, 1986: “Marks on the pelvis indicate she had given birth to at least one child."

This finding means that the victim would need to have been held in captivity for up to as many as nine months in order to have given birth. Consequently, any suspects generated would need to be capable of physically holding her. They would need a place to do it, and they would need to be available to keep her alive while she was captive. This means another crime scene.

Additionally, no skeletal remains of an infant were found in association with the remains of  Donna “Denice” Haraway. This means that either those scene search efforts were inadequate to the task of finding them; that the child was killed subsequent to its birth and disposed of elsewhere; or that the child was not killed and may yet be alive. None of these possibilities have been investigated, or excluded, by investigative efforts to date.

This leads to the author's final conclusion, which is: It is unclear from the case record that anyone, whether prosecution or defense, fully understood that forensic reports indicated that the victim had given birth to at least one child. Moreover, nobody involved seemed to understand what this meant for the investigation and prosecution of Karl Fontenot. There is no evidence whatsoever that anyone focused on or followed up on this forensic finding, which is perhaps the single most important finding in this case.

In a case that already involves significant volumes of evidence (e.g., investigative reports and physical evidence) withheld from the defense, and investigative shortcomings across the board, the failure to grasp and follow up on this issue is not a surprise. However, this does not make it less important. Those interested in seeking the truth in this case, with the duty of care to do so, have an obligation to find out whether this child born subsequent to Harway's captivity was killed or perhaps remains alive to this day. The answer to that question is likely the answer to the entire case.

Hopefully, these and other relevant issues will be considered by the court in relation to the Application for Post-Conviction Relief filed by defense Attorney Tiffany Murphy late last month, on behalf of The Oklahoma Innocence Project.

See: The Oklahoman: Report sparks debate over innocence of Karl Fontenot


Chisum, J. and Turvey, B. (2011) Crime Reconstruction, 2nd ed., San Diego: Elsevier Science. 

Crowder, S. and Turvey, B. (2013) Ethical Justice: Applied Issues for Criminal Justice Students and Professionals, San Diego: Elsevier Science.

Fontenot v. State (1988) OK CR 170, 742 P.2d 31, Case Number: F-85-769. See also: Karl Fontenot v. State of Oklahoma, District Court of Pontotoc County State of Oklahoma, No. CR-88-43. Brief in Support of Application for Post-Conviction Relief.

Gershman, B. (1997) Trial Error and Misconduct, Lexis Law, Charlottesville, VA.