Cold Case Pinned on Soccer Mom

ByABC News

May 5, 2005 -- -- Melinda Raisch of Columbus, Ohio, hardly fits anyone's stereotype of a murderer.

Bill Wall, a police detective from the small town of Olathe, Kan., described Raisch, a mother of two, as a soccer mom living in luxury. "She's just your perfect neighbor next door," he said.

But this week, Raisch was convicted in the coldest murder case in Olathe. Twenty-three years ago, her first husband, David Harmon, was bludgeoned to death in his bed.

Raisch claimed two intruders had attacked Harmon looking for the keys to the bank where he worked. She claimed the intruders also hit her, and when she regained consciousness an hour later, she fled to her neighbors to report the crime.

Police soon found holes in the story and began to suspect she might know more. But they were unable to make any progress, and with few additional leads, the case went cold.

"This case was sort of an open wound to this community of Olathe," said Johnson County District Attorney Paul Morrison.

"It was a very, very brutal homicide, it was a senseless murder of a young man that had a lot going for him. Very religious, responsible good guy."

Melinda Raisch was known by her maiden name, Melinda Lambert, when she first met David Harmon in 1973. They were both attending a youth camp in Ithaca, N.Y.

They married in 1977, and began a quiet life in Olathe, home of MidAmerica Nazarene University, a liberal arts university focused on Christian values. David Harmon had attended classes there, and Melinda got a job there. Their social lives revolved around the church.

Those who knew them said David was devoted to his wife. "I think he kind of idolized her," said David's close friend Kevin Jakabosky. "I think he really, really was enamored and in love with his wife."

Through her work at the dean's office of MidAmerica Nazarene, Melinda soon met a younger, extremely charismatic student leader named Mark Mangelsdorf. Melinda introduced Mangelsdorf to her husband, and he quickly became part of their family.

"I would pass by their house on a daily basis, and I would see Mark's car over there and it was there all the time," said Jakabosky. "It seemed a little strange to me. But I just kinda chalked it up as, 'Well, they have taken him under their wing.'"

Then, on Feb. 28, 1982, police got a frantic call. Melinda said she and her husband had been sleeping when two black men burst into the room, and began bludgeoning her husband right there next to her in bed.

She said she gave the intruders the bank keys, and then they knocked her unconscious. She said she woke up an hour later, stumbled to her next-door neighbors and had them call the police.

When police arrived, several things struck them as peculiar. Melinda did not seem too concerned about her husband, they said, and she asked her neighbors to call Mangelsdorf, not her parents or her pastor. When Mangelsdorf arrived, just a few minutes later, his hair was wet -- even though it was the middle of the night.

The small, religious community was shaken by the news. It was a brutal crime -- David Harmon, then 25 years old, was beaten so savagely that his brain matter was splattered on the walls.

Police hunted for clues -- and time and again they found themselves turning to Melinda Harmon and Mangelsdorf as the only two people with any possible link or motive. But they could never find any physical evidence to support their suspicions.

Followed by a cloud of suspicion, both eventually left town.

In 2001, the Harmon case was revived when the county crime lab offered to run modern DNA tests on cold cases. The police didn't get the answers they hoped for -- much of the evidence had degraded -- but their interest was reignited.

Two detectives decided to track down Melinda Harmon, and found her in a tony suburb of Columbus. She had remarried in 1986. Now known as Melinda Raisch, she had two children. The detectives told her they were investigating new evidence in her first husband's murder, and hinted that the DNA provided new clues.

She agreed to talk to them, but the story she told wasn't the same one that she told police decades earlier. In a videotaped statement, she admitted that her relationship with Mangelsdorf may have been emotional, even inappropriate.

In that recording, Melinda is heard detailing what Mangelsdorf allegedly said to her: "Things like, you know, 'If life could be different. If you weren't already married maybe we'd end up together.'"

She also tells police that on the night David Harmon was killed, "in my heart I knew it was [Mangelsdorf]." She said she didn't see his face and didn't hear his voice, but saw a shape that matched him.

Melinda's admission that her original story was a fabrication, along with the new information about her relationship with Mangelsdorf, helped convince the district attorney to charge her with murder.

When she went on trial last month, a key piece of evidence turned out to be about 20 love letters that demonstrated the bond between Melinda and Mangelsdorf. They went back to a year before the murder, and were signed, "Love, Melinda," or "I love you, Melinda."

But before Melinda Raisch was convicted, her lawyers tried to rebut the story of an illicit relationship by calling Mangelsdorf to the stand.

It was a high-stakes gamble, since anything Mangelsdorf said could be used to convict him in his own trial.

Mangelsdorf also had a new life. He was a married father of four, and a successful corporate executive living in an affluent suburb of New York City.

Testifying at the trial, Mangelsdorf emphatically told the jury, "I was not in love with Melinda Harmon. I did not have a romantic or physical or sexual relationship with her. None of that. Melinda Harmon was my friend."

He also said, "I did not kill David Harmon."

The gamble did not pay off. The foreman in Melinda Raisch's trial told "Primetime Live" that Mangelsdorf's robotic demeanor and alibis seemed rehearsed, and they helped to seal her fate.

Raisch, now 47, was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, and she now faces 15 years to life in prison.

Mangelsdorf's trial scheduled is for early next year.

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