Fort Pierce, FL - He was a preacher, he was a deputy with 10 different law enforcement agencies, and now he’s the prime suspect in the 1983 disappearance and murder of an 11-year-old girl.
At a press conference on Thursday (Feb. 17), the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office announced an update in an almost 40-year-old cold case involving the disappearance and death of 11-year-old Lora Ann Huizar. Investigators now say former Deputy James Howard Harrison, who has been dead for more than 10 years, is the only suspect in her death.
“I wish it would have been somebody else. I wish it would have been a dirtbag that does this all the time,” said Detective Paul Taylor, who is heading the investigation.
Huizar disappeared on November 6, 1983 while walking home from a gas station. The young girl’s body was discovered three days later in a patrol zone assigned to Harrison. At the time, he worked as a deputy with the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office and as a pastor and mentor for local at-risk youths at a Fort Pierce church.
Chief Deputy Brian Hester says abducted, sexually assaulted, and murdered Huizard before altering the crime scene by placing the victim in a drainage ditch. Original witness reports also place Harrison at the gas station Huizar was walking away from the same night as her disappearance. At the time, detectives investigating the case weren’t able to link Harrison to the crime. It wasn’t until 2021 that a break finally came, leading to the exhumation of Harrison’s remains.
“Analysis at a private DNA lab recovered unknown male DNA from the victim’s sexual assault kit done back in 1983. In response to this new evidence, cold case detectives obtained a search warrant to exhume Harrison’s body,” said Hester.
But it wasn’t DNA that linked Harrison to the case, as Hester said his DNA had degraded over the years so a comparison was not possible. Instead, investigators familiar with the original investigation said Harrison told two witnesses to leave the scene before additional law enforcement officers arrived after Huizar’s body was discovered. Cold case detectives also learned the location of Huizar’s body when investigators arrived on scene differed from witness accounts.
Investigators were also aware of Harrison’s supposed pattern of inappropriate behavior with young females during his tenure in law enforcement, leading detectives to believe Harrison may have a hand in other sexual assault cases throughout Florida. St. Lucie Sheriff Ken Mascara, who worked with Harrison in the late 70s and early 80s, said he even noticed something off about him.
“I had made a complaint to my supervisors that I thought this deputy was having inappropriate relationships with young adults,” he said.
Accusations eventually arose against Harrison, leading to his forced resignation from the sheriff’s office and the church in 1984. Details about those accusations are not available, but investigators confirmed Harrison went to work for a number of other sheriff’s offices and police departments around the state after his departure in St. Lucie.
After retirement, Harrison lived in Okeechobee before dying of cancer in DeLand in 2008.
At this time, anyone with information about Harrison and his possible involvement in other crimes is asked to contact the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office at 772-462-3230. You can also submit a tip online.