Shirley Allen: A deadly Black Widow, Allen sent three husbands to an early grave. Her weapons of choice? Arsenic-spiked Tylenol and anti-freeze.
Dorice “Dee Dee” Moore: Abraham had never won a thing in his life until the day he landed a $30 million Lotto. But here’s the thing with that much money. It draws out the predators.
Shelly Arndt: Opposites may attract but they can also repel. And when one of those involved is an abusive drunk, the warning signs are not to be ignored.
Rena Salmon: When Rena’s marriage was falling apart, her best friend, Lorna, was a shoulder to cry on. Now Lorna is dating Rena’s ex and Rena is none too happy about it.
Betty Neumar: A man is shot to death in an apparent robbery. Then detectives make a startling discovery. The grieving widow has been down this road before.
Lois Jurgens: She was a prim, Catholic wife, house-proud to a fault. She was also a sadistic monster, who brutalized the unfortunate children in her care.
Lisa Segotta: A cheating wife, a hen-pecked lover and a $750,000 insurance policy are the key ingredients in this real-life take on a classic film noir.
Deadly Women Volume 13
Melinda Lambert was the daughter of a prominent evangelical preacher; David Harmon was an intelligent, athletic, and devout young man. When these two attractive teenagers met at a summer camp run by the Church of the Nazarene in the 1970s, it was love at first sight. The pair started dating and were married in 1977, when David was 20 and Melinda just 19. Four years later, they moved to Olathe, Kansas, where Melinda’s father was teaching at MidAmerica Nazarene University. There, David found work at a local bank, while Melinda took up a job on campus. It was on campus that she first encountered Mark Mangelsdorf.
Mark was considered by many to be the rising star at MNU. Handsome, intelligent, and affable, he made friends easily and was soon drawn into the Harmons’ circle. He and David became racquetball partners, but he also developed a friendship with Melinda, even visiting her at home while her husband was out. In a conservative town like Olathe, home to a major Christian university, that set tongues wagging. Melinda was warned by friends and co-workers that she needed to be aware of how Mark’s visits might be perceived. Melinda assured them that she and Mark were just friends. She was lying.
The truth was that Melinda had fallen for the handsome student and he for her. The relationship wasn’t yet sexual, but they had kissed and cuddled and held hands. They had also bemoaned their situation. Melinda was a married woman and a member of a church that frowned on divorce. She, herself, considered it a sin. The only way that she and Mark could be together was if David were to die. And since David was a healthy man in his 20s, the prospect of that happening, was remote.
Or so it seemed until the early hours of February 28, 1982. At around 2:30 that morning, Gail and Richard Bergstrand, neighbors of the Harmons, were awakened by loud thumping from the other side of the wall. The couple thought of going next door to check on their neighbors but then the noise abruptly stopped. All was still again. The Bergstrands drifted back to sleep only to be woken about an hour later by someone banging at their door. They answered it to find Melinda Harmon crying hysterically on their doorstep. They’d been attacked, she said. David was dead.
Police officers who responded to the scene walked in on an extremely brutal murder. David Harmon had been beaten to death, his injuries so severe that detectives at first thought that he’d been shot in the face with a shotgun. The skull fractures, however, suggested that he’d been bludgeoned, possibly with a crowbar or metal rod. The lack of defense injuries probably meant that the first blow had been struck while he was asleep and had knocked him unconscious. The subsequent strikes had been delivered with such ferocity that one of his eyeballs had popped out. It was found some distance from the body. This extreme overkill suggested a killer who knew the victim and perhaps bore a grudge against him. Maybe his wife knew of someone who had meant him harm.
But Melinda Harmon rejected the idea that the killing might be personal. According to Melinda, her husband had been killed by two black men who had broken in and demanded the keys to the bank where David worked. One of these assailants had punched her in the face, knocking her out. She’d woken about an hour later, to find her husband beaten to death. That was when she’d gone to the Bergstrands to summon help.
A search of the apartment showed that the keys had indeed been taken and a bruise on Melinda’s chin seemed to back up her story that she’d been punched. But to experienced detectives, something just wasn’t matching up. Although they initiated a stakeout on the bank, in case the murderous robbers did turn up, they also started working other angles. One of those was to bring a tracking dog to the Harmon residence. The dog soon picked up a scent and followed it to a dumpster, several blocks away. Unfortunately, the dumpster had recently been emptied so whatever evidence it might have held was gone. Its location, though, was telling. It stood right outside Mark Mangelsdorf's apartment building.
The investigators were already familiar with Mangelsdorf. He had showed up at the crime scene soon after they arrived, apparently summoned there by Melinda Harmon. He’d later accompanied her to the police station when she was taken in for questioning. He’d been very attentive. The police had since heard rumors of a possible relationship between him and the widow. That supplied a motive and there was physical evidence too, that Mangelsdorf might be involved in the murder. Spots of blood had been found just inside the front door of his apartment. The blood type matched the victim but was also the same as Mangelsdorf himself. In 1982, with DNA profiling yet to be discovered, it was impossible to match the blood to the murder victim.
In the end, the murder of David Harmon would go unsolved. The mysterious burglars never did try to use the stolen bank keys and, despite the suspicions of investigators, there was never enough evidence to charge either Mark Mangelsdorf or Melinda Harmon. The case went cold, and everyone involved got back to their lives. Mangelsdorf would later graduate from MNU and obtain a post-graduate degree from Harvard Business School. He became a successful marketing executive in New York City and married twice, fathering five children. Melinda Harmon would have an equally successful life. She married a wealthy dentist named Mark Raisch and raised two children in Delaware, Ohio. It was a happy ending for all concerned…all except David Harmon.
By the turn of the century, nearly two decades separated Melinda Raisch from the murder of her first husband. Technology had come a long way in that time and the field of crime detection had benefitted from its trajectory, particularly in the ever-evolving science of DNA profiling. Back in Olathe, Kansas, there were still officers who remembered the Harmon murder and remained determined to solve it. In the summer of 2001, they got their chance.
That was when the Johnson County Crime Lab asked local law enforcement agencies to submit cold cases that had unprocessed biological material. Olathe PD immediately thought of the blood found inside Mark Mangelsdorf’s apartment. The match it returned wasn’t perfect, but the result was enough to convince them that it came from David Harmon.
On December 17, 2001, Olathe detectives Bill Wall and Steve James made the 700-mile trip from Kansas to Ohio and arrived unannounced on Melinda Raisch’s doorstep. Melinda was somewhat taken aback when they asked if she would answer some questions about her husband’s death, but she nonetheless agreed to talk to them.
The answers that Melinda gave, though, did not match the story she’d told nineteen years earlier. Then, she’d spoken of two attackers, now she mentioned only one. The race of the killer had also changed. She now said that he was white. Then she voiced her suspicion that it may have been Mark Mangelsdorf. Pressed on the issue, she confirmed that it was Mangelsdorf who had killed her husband. He’d done it, she said, because he’d been obsessed with her and had wanted the two of them to be together. She’d had no involvement in planning the murder. All that she was guilty of was lying to the police about the identity of the killer.
Unfortunately for Melinda, the D.A. didn’t buy her story. She was arrested in December 2003 and charged with first–degree murder. At her trial, in April 2005, the prosecution contended that she and Mark Mangelsdorf had been involved in an inappropriate relationship and killed David Harmon for one simple reason. The Church of the Nazarene forbade divorce. Murder was the only way for them to take their relationship forward.
Melinda strongly rebuffed this accusation, and her defense team had a solid argument to back up her denial. She and Mangelsdorf had last seen each other at David’s funeral, 23 years earlier. If they had killed David to further their relationship, why had they stopped seeing each other directly after his death?
Called to the stand, Mangelsdorf added his own denials to the defense case. There had never been anything between him and Melinda that went beyond the bounds of a platonic friendship, he said. And neither of them had contributed to David’s death. What possible motive could they have had for killing him? It seemed a reasonable enough argument, but it was one that the jurors ultimately rejected. On May 2, 2005, they returned a guilty verdict against Melinda Raisch.
Melinda was now looking at life in prison without parole. But before the sentencing phase was completed, she contacted prosecutors and asked for a deal. She would tell the truth and would testify against Mangelsdorf at his upcoming trial. In exchange, she wanted leniency in her sentence.
It was thus that the truth of David Harmon’s murder was finally revealed. Melinda admitted under oath that she and Mangelsdorf had conspired to kill her husband. It was Mark who’d done the actual killing but she had been in on it from the start. David Harmon had been killed for one simple reason. His wife wanted out of their marriage and with the avenue of divorce cut off to her that left only one option…murder.
On the night in question, Mangelsdorf had arrived at the Harmon apartment carrying a crowbar. Melinda had let him in. He’d struck the first blow while David was asleep and had continued hitting him until he was sure that he was dead. Melinda had then waited an hour before raising the alarm, giving Mangelsdorf the chance to escape and dispose of evidence.
Melinda was also able to clear up the question of her and Mangelsdorf ending their relationship. They had planned to be together after David was dead, but they had not counted on the feelings of guilt that would plague them after the murder. It had driven them apart and they’d gone their separate ways immediately after the funeral. After two decades, Melinda had thought that she’d gotten away with murder. But for advances in forensic science, she might well have done so.
Faced with the testimony of his co-conspirator, Mark Mangelsdorf must have realized that the game was up. He asked for a deal, entering a guilty plea to a charge of second-degree murder, and accepting a term of 10 to 20 years in prison. Melinda Raisch got an identical term. She walked free in 2015, having served just nine years behind bars. A year later, Mark Mangelsdorf was also released. For the savage beating death of an innocent man, a man who had welcomed him into his home and trusted him as a friend, Mangelsdorf had spent just ten years in prison.
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