Florida-Melinda Harder

Unsolved Murder DNA Helps ID Bones Of St. Pete Woman Killed During 1980s –

October 15, 2008
ST. PETERSBURG – If a civilian investigator had not stopped by a gas station one day last year, authorities might never have learned what happened to a 20-year-old single mother who vanished 28 years ago.

At the station the investigator, Brenda Stevenson, spotted a poster put up by the friends and family of , who disappeared while walking the few blocks from her home to her boyfriend’s place in July of 1980.

Stevenson said she noticed an uncanny resemblance between the picture on the poster and a composite sketch based on skeletal remains that were found eight years later in a park miles away. The remains were found March 2, 1989, in Maximo Park, wrapped up in carpet.

Stevenson knew DNA from the bones had been sent to the FBI, and she knew DNA from Harder’s mother and daughter had been sent to the FBI. She called the FBI in June, when she saw the poster, and she’s been calling them once a month ever since, asking that they compare the two DNA samples.

On Thursday, she was told there was a match.

Harder was living at 2136 23rd Ave. N. when she was reported missing on July 27, 1980, police said.

The night before, she and her sister-in-law decided to go out while Harder’s ex-husband watched over her three young children, police said. Later on, the pair returned, but Harder decided to walk by herself from her home to her boyfriend’s home at 17th Street and 20th Avenue North, police said.

She never made it there.

Her remains were found at the park at 6500 34th St. S., which is at the other end of town, police said. A bulldozer clearing heavy brush from an area in the park uncovered a carpet rolled up containing skeletal remains of a woman, police said.

Although there were no signs of trauma to the remains, the medical examiner’s office concluded the cause of death to be homicidal violence, police said. The manner of death was undetermined.

Before she went to the gas station, Stevenson, who started working cold cases at the police department two years ago, had asked for a list of women reported missing in Pinellas County for the 10-year period leading up to the discovery of the bones. Harder’s name wasn’t on the list.

There are no suspects. St. Petersburg police are asking that anyone with information on Harder’s death to call them at (727) 893-7780 or the confidential tip line at (727) 892-5000.
or contact
CUE Center For Missing Persons 24 hr confidential tip line
(910) 232-1687