Details of Disappearance Melvin was last seen in Greencastle, Pennsylvania on May 25, 1985. He has never been heard from again. On May 27, his truck was found parked outside a supermarket in Reisterstown, Maryland. It had been wiped clean of fingerprints and Melvin's checkbook was inside it.
Melvin's wife, Joan, reported him missing the same day his truck was found. She told police that some of his clothing, including a jacket, three pairs of shoes, several pairs of underwear, a western-style shirt and ten handkerchiefs, disappeared along with him.
However, Melvin did leave $4,000 in his bank account, as well as the guns he used for hunting. He went to the dentist a few days before his disappearance and made a further dental appointment for July, which he never kept. He also never claimed his pension from his workplace, Grove Worldwide.
Joan obtained a divorce from him in 1990 and remarried. In 1993, she had Melvin declared legally dead.
Ronald West Harshman has been convicted of Melvin's murder. A photograph of Harshman is posted with this case summary. Authorities believe he shot Melvin to death in revenge because Melvin had had an affair with Harshman's wife.
When Harshman's wife told her husband about the affair, he threatened to kill Melvin, rammed Melvin's vehicle with his own car and fired two shots at him but missed. He was placed on probation for that incident.
Melvin disappeared exactly one year after he left with Harshman's wife and went to Montana, where they stayed for a few weeks. They then returned to their spouses and ended their relationship, but Harshman's wife filed for divorce a few months later.
Harshman was charged with criminal homicide in March 2000 and convicted of first-degree murder in 2001. Joan was charged as a co-defendant, but the charges against her were dropped on the eve of her trial and she testified against Harshman.
Two .25-caliber shell casings were the only physical evidence presented at the trial. One was found in Melvin's barn at the time of his disappearance; police dug up the other outside Harshman's former home in July 1999. Both bullets had been fired from the same gun. Harshman bought a .25 caliber automatic pistol in March 1995; it has never been found.
Joan testified that Melvin was afraid of Harshman and kept a gun in his truck to defend himself if necessary. She said she knew of Harshman's plan to kill her husband and helped him by telling him Melvin would be alone in his barn between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. on May 25. Neighbors reported seeing a vehicle similar to Harshman's parked near the barn at that time.
Joan stated she saw Melvin's body in Harshman's basement. Three former cellmates of Harshman testified that he had confessed the murder to them. Harshman's defense called witnesses who said Melvin had spoken about wanting to "disappear off the face of the earth," return to Montana and never contact anyone again.
Harshman maintains his innocence and his conviction is under appeal. A Pennsylvania state trooper testified on his behalf, stating the three cellmates had all recanted their previous statements. The three men were threatened with arrest if they changed their stories, and at the appeal they refused to testify, citing their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
Harshman is currently serving a life sentence in prison. Melvin's body has never been found, but foul play is suspected in his case due to the circumstances involved.
- Ventura County Sheriff's Office
Updated 3 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated September 13, 2017; height and weight added, distinguishing characteristics updated.