She told her husband Alan that she was going to the store to get some candy. She grabbed her gray leather purse, put on her blue leather shoes and her fur-lined denim jacket, the style at the time, and then said goodbye to her husband and three small kids on the chilly October day as she left her house on foot with her shoulder-length brown hair swaying behind her. Little did they know, this would be the last time they would see her alive.
Whether she made it to the store that Friday or not, or how this outing turned into what it did, isn’t entirely known. What we do know is that she ended up at the Diplomat Hotel at 72 Macdonell street in downtown Guelph that evening, which wasn’t too far from where she and her family lived. It was a typical 1988 autumn Friday night in downtown Guelph, where pub crawls would make its way across 1.5 blocks down Macdonell street.
Pamilla didn’t make it home that night. Alan wasn’t particularly alarmed but was a little worried. On several occasions during their 6 years of marriage, she had left home for several days at a time. But she always called home to let Alan know she wasn’t coming home. This was the first night that she didn’t make that call. Saturday, the next day came and went, and still no word from Pamilla. By Sunday the 9th, he was extremely concerned, as she had not returned, nor has he heard from her directly or indirectly.
He picked up the phone and made the call that he hoped he wouldn’t have to make. He called the Guelph Police to report his wife, Pamilla Harris, missing. He told investigators that Pamilla suffered from Schizophrenia, and she would often come off her medication and sometimes leave home for days at a time, but she always called home to let him know where she was and if she wouldn’t be home. This time she didn’t, and it was not like her. He provided them with a general description; she was 5’6″, about 130 lbs, had long brown hair and was 31 years old. He let them know where she said she was going and what she was wearing that last time he saw her. She was wearing blue jeans, a stonewashed denim faux-fur lined jacket, blue leather shoes, and a gray leather purse. Days would come and go, and if it wasn’t for the young kids he needed to care for, everything that was threatening to fall apart would have.
On Monday, November 7, 1988, two boys who were walking through parkland by a bridge on the banks of the Conestoga River, about 10 KM (6 miles) north of Waterloo and just south of Conestoga village, came across the body of a partially decomposed body of a female. She was nude, stuffed within the brush, with a pile of debris partially covering her. They immediately left the area and called the waterloo regional police.
Law enforcement arrived on the scene and completed a search of the area. There was no identification on or near her body. But they knew it was a murder; there had been no doubt about that. There was only one thing there, other than her body, that could possibly assist with her identification, a distinctive silver ring on her right ring finger—a traditional Celtic ring associated with friendship. Engagement or wedding, depending on how the ring is worn. The ring had two hands holding a heart, in the centre of which was a dark coloured stone. This is known as the Claddagh ring. The two hands symbolize friendship, the heart represents love, and the crown sitting atop the heart signifies loyalty.
Her body was removed and transferred to the Hamilton Regional Hospital for an Autopsy. The body’s discovery was reported in the news, and the Toronto police immediately contacted the Waterloo Regional Police. The Toronto police thought maybe it could have been the body of missing 27-year-old mom Eva Marie Mead who had gone missing after leaving her job at a bank in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke on October 19. The Toronto police had suspected foul place in her disappearance.
The autopsy took place on Wednesday, November 9. The medical examiner confirmed that the victim had been stabbed twenty times to the chest and then bludgeoned in the facial area until she died. The medical examiner also confirmed that she had been sexually assaulted before death.
When asked how long law enforcement believed the body of the woman had been there, they indicated, “We’re talking recent, not months or years.”
During the exam completed by the medical examiner, the testing confirmed that this was not the body of missing Eva Marie Mead.
A few days went by without identifying their Jane Doe. The police, neither the Guelph police nor the waterloo police, didn’t make the connection between the discovery of the female body and the disappearance of Pamilla Harris until the media started reporting on the ring she was wearing on her right hand. Alan knew it was Pamilla. With a heavy heart, he called the police to let them know he thought maybe the person’s body they found was that of his wife’s. She has been missing for a month, and she too had a ring precisely as described. Her remains soon after confirmed to be Pamilla Harris.
Law enforcement started the task of tracing her last movements. They were able to confirm that she had been at the Diplomat in the evening/night of October 7. According to a few patrons, she had been asking for a way to get to Kitchener, a neighbouring city about 26 km (16 miles) from Guelph, as she was telling people that she wanted to attend the annual Oktoberfest that was going on at the time.
She was allegedly seen leaving the Diplomat with 3 men in the early hours of October 8 after she had been seeking a ride to Kitchener.
Once again, this had been a record year for homicides in the region, and her case fizzled out. Law enforcement was to lament that they had no more leads to investigate, that there wasn’t an apparent motive to her murder, and they had no suspects. She likely died at the hands of a stranger or strangers. Law enforcement indicated at the time that one in four Canadian murder victims die at the hand of strangers, which make tracking and identifying such killers difficult.
By the end of 1992, the police were once again trying to swim above the water with another record high of homicide cases the previous year. At this time, Crime stoppers offered a reward of $1000 for information on several cases and put out a video featuring four unsolved homicide cases in the region. The crime stoppers video featured the deaths of a couple in their 60’s who had been murdered in their home with an axe by the names of Josef and Persa Gligor, the sexual assault and murder of 19-year-old Jennifer Ueberschlag, who had been raped and murdered in her Homewood Apartment in Kitchener in May of 1992, the violent assault and murder of 31-year-old Robert Wagner, who was so viciously attacked that he was unrecognizable, coming soon to True Crime Real time, as well as the assault and murder of Pamilla Harris.
At this time, a man came forward and informed the police that he had picked up a woman matching Pamilla’s description, hitchhiking on October 8, 1988. She had been hitchhiking on the side of Highway 7 in the Guelph area. He indicated that he dropped her off at the Canadian Tire parking lot on Victoria Street North and Frederick Street in Kitchener at approximately 4:00-4:30 PM on the 8th.
Alan, her husband, did confirm with the police that Pamilla would often hitchhike.
The police have not ruled out this individual as a suspect. The total distance between the Diplomat Hotel in Guelph and the Canadian Tire Parking lot is 26 km (16 miles), and another 10 km (6 miles) from the Canadian Tire parking lot to where her body was eventually found.
I visited both the Canadian Tire parking lot in Kitchener and the general location where Pamilla’s body was found.
The area where Pamilla’s body was ultimately dumped by her killer or killers is a known area to locals. It’s often visited by hunters and people fishing from the area. It wasn’t the easiest spot to find, even with details that I had. A reasonable person could assume that the perpetrator was familiar with this location, had likely visited before and was probably a Woolwich, Kitchener/Waterloo or Saint Jacobs Area resident.
The police had not confirmed if Pamilla was sexually assaulted and killed at the location where her body was discovered or if she was killed elsewhere, and this was a secondary crime scene. What is known is that there was clear evidence of decomposition, meaning she was likely killed & dumped shortly after she had gone missing, which was in a during 24 hours period on October 8, 1988.
Pamilla was stabbed 20 times to the chest and beaten in the head and face with a blunt object. According to local media, no murder weapon was found on scene.
Police have indicated that there is forensic evidence on file; however, they are not willing, at this time, to divulge what types of evidence are on file and if any of that is perpetrator DNA.
At the time of Pamilla’s murder, the fall of 1988, the use of DNA had not yet been used for investigative purposes in Ontario.
The first forensic use of DNA in Canada took place in 1987 in Edmonton, Alberta, in the case of the “spandex rapist” who was a serial rapist in Edmonton. But the sample was deemed too small to give a reliable result, and the offender was acquitted. Curiously though, he ended up being charged 20 years later to a different sexual assault cold case in the province.
The first conviction in Canada using DNA evidence was in 1989, almost a year after Pamilla was murdered. This was in Ottawa. The DNA evidence aided in the conviction of 32-year-old Paul McNally, who ended up pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a 68-year-old woman in her home.
The medical examiner stated that Pamilla had been sexually assaulted before death; law enforcement could potentially have forensic biological evidence resulting from this act. Depending on how this evidence would have been stored would determine if it is still viable after 30 plus years.
It wouldn’t be until 1995 that law would pass, Bill C-104, that would allow the police the right to take DNA samples from individuals convicted of serious crimes, including sexual assault and murder. After this law would be passed, it would be another 5 years before a databank of DNA samples would be created. This National DNA Data Bank was created by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in 2000.
There are two main parts to the data bank. The first is DNA profiles of individuals convicted of serious crime, known as the Crime Offender Index. The second separate part is DNA that’s collected from crime scenes.
The DNA profiles don’t show the offenders’ names; they are shown as bar codes, which ensures there is no risk of bias. The bar-coded DNA samples from each section are compared to one another, and if there are any matches, it gets sent back to the investigator.
A separate computer network, called CODIS, links this information, allowing different police forces through Canada to find or share information, making it easier to connect multiples crimes from different regions and if the perpetrator’s DNA profile is in the data bank, then linking them to a crime.
As for the Waterloo region itself, in addition to being able to access the National DNA data bank in 2000, they started using a software program called PowerCase in 2002.
PowerCase is a Case Management software, and it’s used by many police forces and investigative firms. All Major cases, such as homicides and sexual assaults, are stored in a central repository. Every time new info is added, the software completes a search against its databank to see if it matches against other case data, making it easier to connect cases across different jurisdictions. These connections are not just based on DNA profiles. Based on connections made and the programming, new lines of inquiry are created, which are then assigned to different individuals based on their role and the specific line of inquiry. It also tracks how long someone takes to complete that task.
With these types of software, the more information you put into them, the better they work. When first being implemented, all new investigative details would be entered into the Major Case Management PowerCase system. The goal was to also input all cold cases into the software as well. We have not received confirmation from the Waterloo Regional Police, although specifically asking, that Pamilla’s case had been entered into the system. Several questions were asked by this podcast to the Waterloo Regional Police. Despite several calls indicating that they would do their best to answer the basic queries we were asking; they have not gotten back to us despite several more attempts. It has now been more than 2 months since we first reached out. This makes me question whether her case has, in fact, been added to the major case management software.
In 2005 the waterloo police had 10 homicide detectives, they were looking to double this number by 2008, which they divided into 4 teams. Each team was assigned a cold case to review when they had the time to do so, including sending out forensic evidence for analysis. In 2005 the waterloo regional police had 15 unsolved murders dating back to 1972. There has been no indication of how frequently any forensic evidence gets re-tested within each cold-case or how frequently a cold-case even gets looked at.
Law enforcement has not confirmed the media about the type of forensic evidence that they may in Pamilla Harris’ case or whether the forensic evidence on her case is viable.
Advances in DNA technology and other investigative techniques increase the odds of solving this case.
It has been 32 years since the rape and murder of Pamilla Harris. Her husband is still haunted by not knowing what happened to her and not getting the justice she deserves. His only hope now is that this will be resolved before he dies, for his sake and for the sake of their three children who grew up without their mother.
Anyone with information with regards to the assault and murder of Pamilla Harris can call the Waterloo Regional Police at (519) 570-9777 or Crime Stoppers. Remember, the supreme court of Canada guarantees anonymity when you submit a tip to them. Tips can be provided by phone by calling 1-800-222-8477 or online at www.waterloocrimestoppers.com
The Guelph Mercury, May 13, 2005
The Record, Apr 30, 1992
The Record, Dec 2, 1992
The Record, May 13, 2005
The Record, Nov 6, 1991
The Toronto Star, Nov 15, 1988
The Expositor, Nov 15, 1988
The Expositor, Nov 18, 1988