Alice is a true crime blogger and blog coach based in the New River Valley in Virginia. Her blog, Defrosting Cold Cases, has been named among the 2013 and 2014 American Bar Association's Top 100 Blawgs in the category of criminal justice. It has more than 1050 posts about unsolved homicides and wrongful convictions.
Alice's second blog, Your Blog Coach is about blogging (tips and inspiration) and crime fiction. Her third blog, The Sampler, is dedicated to local artists and writers from the greater New River Valley. It gets updated during the spring and summer following visits to galleries, street fairs, and other events.
Alice is a proud member of the American Investigative Society of Cold Cases. She is currently writing her first full novel length book under the working title, “The Third Mistress.”
The following is a work of true crime and may contain material that is disturbing to some readers. No visual graphics are used throughout the piece.
Every time we take an exonerated person out of the crime equation we could face a cold case if there are no new leads. This is what happened with Alexander Harris’ murder case. This child’s unsolved murder will forever be connected to the Howard Lee Haupt trial. But Mr. Haupt was cleared and we have absolutely no leads to find Alexander’s murderer. With Haupt’s acquittal, we face a cold case.
Let me take you back to 1987.
Alexander (7) was in the Whiskey Pete’s Hotel and Casino Resort in Primm, Nevada. His family was gathering there for a Harris Family Thanksgiving Day Reunion. After the Thanksgiving weekend, they would all return home to Mountain View, California. Around 11 am, Alexander was in the video arcade from Whiskey Pete's on November 28, 1987. His mom and grandparents were gambling nearby. I will need a map to find out how “nearby” the video arcade is from the spot where his family was gambling. I could not find any more information about who attended the reunion, who else was in the arcade, etc.
I also have not been able to find whether a relative went looking for Alexander or whether someone alerted the family that the boy was seen walking out of the arcade. What we do know is that Alexander vanished. It was caught on the surveillance tapes. Whether they still exist and whether experts have looked at the tape with modern technology to enhance the images, is unclear.
After one month, Alexander’s body was discovered underneath a trailer. That trailer was on one of the ten trailer sites near Whiskey Pete's that were used by off-duty casino executives. Police made every effort to keep the crime scene intact. After disconnecting all the utilities, they used a crane to lift the trailer off the foundation.
Mr. James Weller, then-head of the Las Vegas FBI office, explained that Alexander’s glasses were found near his fully clothed body. He had been strangled. I cannot find whether this was manual strangulation or asphyxiation by an object. There was little physical evidence to help police find the murderer.
I hope that Alexander’s clothes and glasses were properly preserved because we could try to examine them with modern technology. The M-Vac comes to mind as a superior tool to find touch-DNA on cloth.
Witnesses told police that they saw a boy walking down a hallway of the resort. He was holding the hand of a man who appeared to be in his 30s. The surveillance tapes caught the images of a man and a boy. Initially, investigators looked at three suspects but as the investigation proceeded they found that all three had alibis.
I have not been able to find any firm confirmation that the boy on the surveillance tapes was indeed Alexander. We know he had to have left as we found his remains outside but I would have liked to see this clearly specified instead of the vague references to “a boy.”
Police sketches were released in hopes of finding the man seen on the tape. Here is the confusing part. There were two sketches.
One drawing showed a man approx. 5’7” to 5’9”weighing between 160-175 pounds, with straight, collar-length blond hair. He was wearing silver, wire-rimmed glasses, a brown “Members Only-type” jacket (I have not been able to find an example of such a jacket or a better description. Was this a casino uniform?) on dark trousers.
The second drawing is from a slightly taller man of 6 feet, approx. 170 pounds, with sandy blond hair and round wire-rimmed glasses. I guess that after speaking with all the witnesses and studying the tape there were discrepancies. What they all seem to agree on is this: the person was a man, approx. 6 feet and 170 pounds, blond straight cropped hair, and wearing glasses that appeared to be wire-rimmed.
I think it is important to note that
- wire-rimmed glasses are thin, wire like metal frames usually not combined with thick prescription lenses. The most popular wire-rimmed frames in the 80s were called aviator or pilot frames. Be careful if you search online because not all images popping up are what we call wire-rimmed. Some popping up are synthetic based frames.
- nobody mentioned facial hair so we have to assume that the man did not have a moustache or a beard.
I could not find the exact date but police arrested Mr. Howard Lee Haupt, a computer programmer from San Diego, on suspicion of kidnapping and first-degree murder. He was ultimately acquitted of all charges in 1989.
In 1987, Haupt was spending his Thanksgiving weekend at Whiskey Pete's where a land-sailing tournament took place that he wanted to attend. Haupt resembled the man seen with a boy near the arcade. Witnesses at trial testified that Alexander left the arcade with a man and Haupt looked like that man. However, the defense showed that not one witness or experts could confirm that man to be Haupt.
From various papers (list below) I learned that Mr. Haupt had no criminal record, that he passed two lie-detector tests, and that the defense produced eight witnesses who all testified that when Alexander disappeared, Haupt was at the sailing tournament.
The 1989 trial lasted five weeks but it took the jury just one day to acquit Haupt of all charges. His legal affairs in this case are worth reading. He later filed suit for damages.
The jury said that the testimony of the eyewitnesses was unreliable. Haupt's defense attorney had pointed out all the conflicting statements.
No further arrests have been made in this case.
Alexander has no web presence aside from a mention on Whiskey Pete’s Wikipedia page (link below) and of course, in the articles covering the Haupt trial. Aside from that, this child has no digital footprint. I can only hope that his clothes and glasses have been preserved. Modern technology might pick up on something. If not from his clothes and glasses than maybe the surveillance tape images can be enhanced. We owe this child one more effort.
Roxanne Harris, Alexander’s mom, is still waiting for answers. Who walked out the casino with her boy and why did he have to die? Can you help?