Home is where you should feel the safest. It’s a place where you can let your guard down and just be yourself. Certainly the people in Olathe Kansas felt safe in their homes. In fact they felt safe in the community as everyone knew each other and looked out for each other. That safe feeling came to an end on the 28th of February 1982, not just for one family but for the entire community. This is the story of David Harmon.
David was an intelligent and charismatic 25 year old man. He married his wife Melinda and the two set up home together in Olathe. David worked in a Bank in Olathe and Melinda worked as a secretary at the University. They were active members of the Olathe community. In 1982 it was very much a conservative Christian community. People would pray together and had a strong belief in God. David and Melinda were no exception. They prayed regularly. David’s three passions were the Church, business and sport. He was a quiet, respectable man so when he was found brutally murdered, it shook the entire community.
Melinda told police she was sleeping and woke to find two black intruders beating her husband in bed. They stole his keys to the Bank and knocked her unconscious. When she came around, she ran to her neighbours and asked them to phone the police and her good friend Mark Mangelsdorf. David had been brutally beaten to death. The police officers who arrived at the scene thought he had been shot point blank in the face due to the extent of his injuries. He had been hit at least a dozen times with a blunt force object. His face was completely disfigured-his jaw was cracked, neck crushed and his nose and cheekbones had been destroyed. The entire room was covered in blood. It was a vicious and violent attack, one which the police had never seen before.
Melinda’s account of the intruders didn’t make sense to police. There was no forced entry and nothing was taken. Melinda said that they stole David’s keys for the Bank but nobody used them to access the Bank. They found it quite strange that if the intruders wanted to access the vault that they would kill the person who could help them gain access. Shortly after the murder, rumours were rife around Olathe that Melinda had made up the intruder story and some believed she was involved. Rumour was that Melinda was having an ‘inappropriate relationship’ with Mark Mangelsdorf. The two met at the college where Melinda worked. Mark was a student and regularly had dinner with the couple. He became a close friend of Davids too. In Olathe at the time, Divorce would have been socially unacceptable and would have caused shame and scandal. Despite the rumours, there was nothing to tie the pair to the crime and after the murders Melinda moved to Ohio and Mark went to Harvard.
The case went cold for nineteen years and was re-opened in 2001. Detectives took a fresh look at the case and noticed there was a lot of blood on Melinda’s pillow case and only a small amount of blood at the end of her nightdress. This was inconsistent with her account that she woke up as intruders were beating David. It seemed more likely that she wasn’t in bed but standing a bit away from it which is why there was only some blood spatter on the end of her nightdress. They decided to re-interview Melinda. Melinda had married a very successful Dentist and they had two children. Detectives expected her to turn them away when they knocked on her door but instead she invited them in.
Melinda gave a different version of events than she had nineteen years previously. She told them that she saw a shadowy figure in the room and ran into the bathroom. She told Detectives that she was initially friends with Mark but over time they connected emotionally. Mark made innuendos that he wanted her to divorce David and she believed he was involved in David’s murder as she ‘sensed’ his presence in the house.
Mark was married to his second wife and had five children. They lived in a Multi-million dollar house and he was a successful businessman. When Detectives spoke to him, he denied that there had been anything more than friendship with Melinda and said that David was his best friend. His wife was shocked at the allegations and told Detectives that if they knew Mark, they would know that it was crazy to even suggest his involvement.
It took police a further two years before the case went to Trial. Melinda and Mark were charged with first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Melinda’s Trial was first. The Prosecution outlined the inconsistencies in her two statements about what happened the night David was murdered, her emotional love affair with Mark and showed the Jury the love letters she had written to him. Mark gave evidence at her Trial and said there was no affair. The Jury didn’t believe him and Melinda was found guilty on both counts and sentenced to life in prison.
Before Mark’s Trial began, Melinda said she would tell the truth in exchange for a shorter sentence. She admitted she was involved in the murder but Mark helped. He bought the crow bar and struck David repeatedly. He told her at David’s funeral that he got rid of the weapon. Mark plead guilty to a lessor charge of second degree murder. Both were granted liberty to apply for parole after only 5 years. They did apply but it was denied in 2011. The maximum they can serve is 20 years but will probably serve a lot less.
Some people believe as it was over 20 years since the murder, a shorter sentence was appropriate as they had lived their lives since then as good citizens with a clean record. I disagree entirely. They both planned a murder of a young man and viciously beat him to death in a brutal manner. They then went on to live their own lives as if nothing happened and if the case had not been re-opened they would have gotten away with murder. For someone to live so carefree shows how cold hearted and calculating they are. Tragically David’s mother died before the Trial but his father was in Court and said that the night David was murdered ‘destroyed his family’. They lived with the pain and horror for over 20 years. David was their only son. Melinda is no longer with her husband but Mark’s wife is standing by him and will support him through this ‘ difficult time’.