Love, Adultery, and Murder in a Small Kansas Town


A brutal unsolved murder case is cracked after 20 years of silence.

The town of Olathe, Kan., was already notorious for the 1959 slaying of the Clutter family—immortalized by Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood—when it was again rocked by a vicious killing in the winter of 1982. An unknown assailant bludgeoned David Harmon, a newly married 25-year-old evangelical Christian, so severely that “his face had been rendered featureless,” reports New York Times contributor Fuchs. Harmon’s wife Melinda and her young friend Mark Mangelsdorf, a popular student at the town’s MidAmerica Nazarene College, were the prime suspects; there were rumors of an affair between the two, but both had relatively solid alibis and were never formally charged with the crime. The case was eventually closed. Melinda and Mark left the area and went on to live separate, notably successful lives until late 2001, when the file was reopened and investigations resumed after an inquiry by Olathe Police Department Detective Bill Wall. Together with Sergeant Steve James and Assistant District Attorney Paul Morrison, Wall reexamined DNA evidence, reconstructed the crime scene and cautiously revisited both suspects in their respective residences. Melinda, “strangely malleable and yet equally manipulative,” recounted a radically different scenario from her original story. Both her interrogation and Mark’s contained enough inconsistencies to warrant indictments; ultimately, the investigation exposed a premeditated crime of passion. Readers will be riveted by Fuchs’ debut, which begins with background stories on the major players and testimony by the Harmons’ neighbors, but soon moves on to list key components surrounding the case. A breakneck pace is maintained right up to the final pages, which describe Melinda’s and Mark’s convictions.

Justice prevails in this focused true-crime drama.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-60239-254-0
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2009