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.


iustitia_est_defluo said...

Interesting case, though I wish more information were available on the husband. The harrassing phone calls are also of interest, whether or not they're related.

I'm curious as to whether or not the child (working from the theory he/she was still alive) would have been able to legally enroll in school? (wouldnt it require birth certificate, social security card, and proof of shot verification?)

I'm also curious whether or not the
Fontenot suspect knew the victim beforehand?

I realize it is only speculation for me to assume, but it seems to me that in such a case the offender(s?) would more than likely know the victim, and have prior knowledge of her pregnancy. (afterall, how many sexual predators and/or robber/abductors are going to kidnap a woman, learn that she is pregnant, and then decide to keep her around for nine months in order to have the child? why not just kill her right off the bat to avoid the potential risk of getting caught.)

iustitia_est_defluo said...

Mr. Turvey...PLEASE do something on the Morgan Dana Harrington case.

thelocator77 said...

John Hyatt said...

If I recall correctly the witnesses reported seeing a brown Chevy truck at the scene. Although I was very young, I knew Glen Gore. If you recall, Glen Gore was also convicted of killing Debbie Carter. In all events, I've always wondered if Glen Gore was ever investigated. I recall Glen driving a pick up that fit the description given by witnesses.

As to the child birth, I must ask whether or not its possible that the body of Denice Haraway was misidentified. If they identified her by dental records there must be teeth. If there are teeth, then there is a likelihood that DNA can be retrieved to settle the question. After all with all the gross negligence, if not intentional misconduct, by law enforcement in this case it seems that its possible that there's been a misidentification. Perhaps DNA has been done on the body that was found. Just a thought.

Unknown said...

i have read the book an wuld like to know y they r stil in jail seems they r innocent to me . the child sitution is really scary hope its alive if that was denise body found theres alot more to this so interesting it is yet so sad

Unknown said...

I live in the small town where this occurred and I lived here when it occurred as well. Her father-in-law was my dentist. I was a senior in high school at the time, and this incident combined with the murder of Debra Carter changed the feeling of safety previously known by the area residents. Over the years, I have read the John Grisham book on this case, as well another entitled "Dreams of Ada" (so named due to one of the guys' - I don't remember which one - description of his "confession" as the events of a dream he had. If the remains later found were indeed those of Denise Harraway, it was obviously a dream as none of the events in the guys' confessions appear to have ever actually occurred.) The "trial" and conviction of Fontenot and Ward were a witch hunt, on the verge of criminal. It was one of the first times in history that a murder conviction was sought and obtained without a dead body as evidence of a murder taking place. Many of us wondered if Glenn Gore was somehow involved and thought that avenue should have been investigated further by the local police. The entire incident screamed of, at best, incompetence; and, at worst, some kind of cover-up, whether that cover-up be related to the crime itself or to the incompetent "investigation" of the crime. It's a case that the people of my generation in particular would love to see re-investigated and convincingly closed. After all these decades of wondering, it would be nice to get some closure to a tragedy that brought the "real world" crashing into the lives of the citizens of our small, country town. RIP Denise Harraway.

Kathy Melendez said...

The Ada police department at that time were bad at investigation. Read the case of Ron Williamson, same time period. John Grisham wrote The Innocent Man, a non-fiction investigative account of that crime and conviction of Williamson

203 said...
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Chris Bentley said...

As a UK resident these cases present an extremely worrying profile of the US justice and police system, whereby the need to convict anyone overrides the desire and need to apprehend the actual killer/s. Those responsible for these miscarriages should hang their heads in shame.

Marv69 said...

Last comment is almost a year old. What is an update on the status of Ward & Fontenot's appeals and status?