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. Melvin's wallet and checkbook were in the truck, there was a loaded rifle in the back, the keys were in the ignition, and the vehicle had been wiped clean of fingerprints.
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 had gone 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.
Authorities believe Ronald West Harshman shot Melvin to death in revenge because Melvin had had an affair with his wife, Teresa Harshman, in 1984. In June of that year, after Teresa told her husband about the affair, Ronald threatened to kill Melvin, rammed Melvin's vehicle with his own car, and fired two shots at him but missed. He was charged with reckless endangerment for that incident.
Melvin disappeared exactly one year after he left with Teresa and went to Montana, where they stayed for a few weeks. They then returned to their respective spouses and ended their extramarital relationship. Melvin and Joan reconciled, but Teresa filed for divorce from Ronald a few months later.
Ronald was charged with criminal homicide in March 2000 and convicted of first-degree murder in 2001. Melvin's wife 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. Photographs of him are posted with this case summary.
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 the Harshmans' former home in July 1999. Both bullets had been fired from the same gun. Ronald bought a .25 caliber automatic pistol in March 1995, three days after his wife served him with divorce papers; the gun has never been found. Melvin is not own a .25 caliber gun.
Joan testified that Melvin was afraid of Ronald and kept a gun in his truck to defend himself if necessary. She said she knew of Ronald'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 two-tone brown truck, which matched the description Ronald's truck, parked near the barn at that time.
Joan stated she saw her husband's body in Ronald's basement. Three former cellmates of Ronald's testified that he had confessed the murder to them. Ronald's defense called witnesses who said Melvin had spoken about wanting to return to Montana, "disappear off the face of the earth" and never contact anyone again.
Ronald appealed his conviction, and 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. In 2018, his conviction was overturned; he will have to be retried.
Melvin's body has never been found, but foul play is suspected in his case due to the circumstances involved.