A Private Man

MDCC English professor Wade Harris didn't share much about his life. But he might well have shared his murderer.

Just a week earlier, the Siskinds had moved to Southgate from a Michigan Avenue apartment, hopeful the new location would be safer. While unpacking, Hanna Siskind noticed her jewelry was missing. She contacted the moving company. The next day the company fired nineteen-year-old Chris Harris, one of the men in the Siskind moving crew. Harris's boss would later tell investigators that the dismissal was due to poor work, not the jewelry complaint.

Besides the Siskinds', police lifted only two sets of fingerprints from the apartment. One belonged to Carmen Adderly, a maid. The other was a match for Harris's. No prints were found from the other two movers. Murphy's theory is that Adderly cleaned the apartment after the couple moved in, erasing all fingerprints. This, he reasons, indicates that Harris was in the apartment after the move. Murphy interviewed Adderly, even put her under hypnosis, but although she said she had dusted the furniture, she could not remember whether she had wiped the dresser on which Harris's prints were found. He also interviewed Harris, who initially agreed to take a polygraph, then refused.

The case was never solved. But last year, after Chris Harris's arrest, Beach police reopened their investigation. Ken Miller, the detective who inherited the case from Murphy, says he hopes to re-examine the evidence with the aid of today's more sophisticated technology. "Back then we couldn't get enough evidence to charge Harris, but there was no doubt in my mind that he murdered that little old couple," Murphy says.

Harris was soon back in prison anyhow, for an armed robbery and aggravated assault.

It takes a few minutes for the guard to fetch Chris Harris from his cell at the Dade Stockade, just west of Miami International Airport. A stocky man with a smile that is more gold than enamel, Harris is not accustomed to visitors and appears bemused that anyone would want to speak with him. "It's hard for folks to make it out here," he explains. "I haven't seen my mama in about a year. My auntie says she don't want to spend time around someone who's involved in all this." He has affixed himself to a chain-link fence in the broiling stockade courtyard, where a hundred other inmates are lined up, shouting to visitors across a six-foot divide.

Though he consents to talk, Harris discusses his life in terms so vague and dispassionate that he might be describing a distant relative.

He says he met Wade Harris in a supermarket months before his death, and that the older man told him to stop by whenever he was in the neighborhood. This is what he did on July 11 at about noon. According to Chris Harris, he helped Wade fix his cable TV and left a couple of hours later. Then he visited his mother and headed to the dog track. He says the police are trying to set him up and claims they beat him for two hours and put a plastic bag over his head to try to make him confess.

Harris admits he used to deal drugs but denies he's ever hustled. He says the reason his old girlfriend Sherall Moore told police she saw him driving Wade Harris's car is that she was angry because he slept with her sister. Police have no proof that he pawned the valuables taken from Wade Harris's home, he adds, though he does concede that he might have purchased stolen goods in the same neighborhood. He says his public defender has a witness who will testify that he saw Wade Harris with another man on the night of his death. He has not discussed a plea bargain.

"Just 'cause my fingerprints are on a box of cable doesn't mean I killed the man," Harris concludes.

While prosecutor David Waksman may be able to prove the defendant was with Wade Harris and robbed him on the night of his death, the evidence that Chris Harris is responsible for the professor's murder indeed appears circumstantial. Further, prosecutors will not be able to mention Chris Harris's previous arrests or convictions A unless he testifies, which is unlikely.

"I truly believe Harris is a multiple offender; no one knows how many people he's killed," says John Parmenter, lead detective in the Liston Smith case. "But having been through this with Harris once already, I'm apprehensive about a conviction."

Howard Lubel, Harris's public defender, says he cannot discuss specifics of the case. "But I can say, without being overly critical of police procedures, that it's dangerous to disregard our system of justice, to keep names and photos around of people who have been found innocent, and then to try to fit them into a pattern," he asserts. "It's the Casablanca approach to law enforcement A you know, 'Round up all the usual suspects.' When you cast a net like that, a lot of innocent people get caught."

Lubel, who already has been granted more than a year's worth of delays, has yet to present prosecutor Waksman with a list of the witnesses he intends to call at trial.

Whether Wade Harris's alleged homosexuality will become an issue in court is not clear. No mention of it was made to the press during the investigation, by design. "We didn't release any information on that because we didn't want people to write this off as 'just another fag killing,'" notes a police source close to the case.

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