WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — A homicide victim found 37 years ago in New Mexico has been identified as a missing Wichita teenager. On Tuesday, authorities with the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office said the victim is 16-year-old Dorothy Harrison. It took DNA to finally make the connection.
Now that they know her name and have talked to her family in Kansas, New Mexico, investigators have been able to piece together some of what happened to the teenager.
They learned that Harrison left her home in Wichita around 5 p.m. on Thursday, Jul. 25, 1984. A sibling saw her get into a big, tan, long car with two unknown older girls. Her family reported her missing.
The family said the teen would frequently leave and be gone for weeks on end during the summer. Law enforcement officers would find her and bring her home, but she would always leave again. The family said she always stayed in Kansas.
In August 1984, Harrison called her family and said she was in Los Angeles. It was around the time of the 1984 Summer Olympics.
Weeks later, approximately late August or early September, she called home again and said she was in El Paso, Texas, and was on her way back home to Wichita.
Her family never heard from her again.
Authorities believe someone killed her between Sept. 10, 1984, and Jan. 10, 1985. Hunters found her remains in a shallow grave off Interstate 25 near Upham, New Mexico, on Mar. 10, 1985. Upham is about 50 miles north of El Paso. It would take 37 years for authorities to identify Harrison.
Authorities recently notified her family that she had been positively identified as a homicide victim. Doña Ana County Sheriff Kim Stewart said the news has been hard on the teen’s family, even though it has been 37 years since they heard from her.
Stewart said Harrison is survived by her mother and five siblings in Kansas. They do not want their names released at this time.
The sheriff read a statement from the family:
“Dorothy was a typical teenager; she was only 16 years old when this horrific crime happened to her. Like most teens, she was sometimes unhappy at home and easily influenced. She left home with some people she thought were her friends, and we never saw her again. The news of her death is devastating, and even though this crime happened over 30 years ago to our family, it is new and incredibly difficult information to process. We have so many unanswered questions and are hopeful that the continued investigation will be able to provide some of those answers. We ask that you give us this time to grieve and request any questions or information about Dorothy’s murder be sent to Doña Ana County Sheriff Kim Stewart.”
The family is working on getting Harrison’s remains returned to Kansas.
Identifying Dorothy Harrison
Over the years, authorities tried to identify Harrison’s remains. They released images of what she might have looked like. They believed she was between 16 and 19 years of age, approximately five feet two inches tall, with blonde to light brown hair. She was wearing a sports jersey with three-quarter-length sleeves. “Wilson” was imprinted across with a large “W” on a white background.
Courtesy: Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office
Any leads investigators got turned out to be dead ends.
On Mar. 10, 2021, the sheriff’s office assigned the case of the unidentified remains to Detective Melissa Agullo with the hope that newer technology and investigative tools would lead to some answers.
As Agullo was reviewing three decades of case files, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) reached out to offer DNA resources for unidentified cases.
In collaboration with the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office and the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator, the left femur bone was submitted to Astrea Forensics. DNA was extracted from approximately 155 milligrams (mg) of bone powder.
The process was successful, and the DNA results were submitted to Innovative Forensics Investigations to build out a genealogical family tree.
The collaboration worked, and the team identified the victim as Harrison.
The sheriff’s office has classified the teen’s death as a homicide, but they have not determined how she died.
If you have information about her death or encountered her while she was away, contact the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office at 575-525-1911.