ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. – The suspect in a 1983 cold case murder is believed to be a Florida sheriff’s deputy who worked in several counties, including in Central Florida, according to the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office.
St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara announced Thursday his agency’s cold case squad found evidence that former deputy James Harrison raped and murdered an 11-year-old girl.
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Detectives think Harrison could be responsible for more unsolved cases. He died of cancer in 2008.
In 1983, 11-year-old Lora Ann Huizar disappeared while walking home from a gas station. She was found in a nearby drainage ditch three days later.
Detectives said Harrison is the only probable suspect. They believe he kidnapped, raped and killed her. They said original witness reports saw Harrison watching the girl as she walked home from the gas station around the time of her disappearance. They said Harrison also told two witnesses to leave the crime scene 20 minutes before more law enforcement officers arrived to assist.
Several members of the sheriff’s office worked with Harrison, including Mascara, who said he was concerned at the time that Harrison showed a pattern of inappropriate behavior with young girls.
“I want to guess it was somewhere around (1979) or ‘80, I made a complaint to my supervisors, that I thought this deputy was having inappropriate relationships with young adults,” Mascara said. “I thought his interaction was inappropriate.”
Mascara said that his complaint went up the chain of command. His supervisor told him that, since Harrison was also a preacher, he was “spiritually mentoring children at risk.”
“As I look back, in my mind I wonder if he was using his authority as a deputy sheriff and his standing as a preacher in the community to go ahead and violate children during the entire course of his life,” Mascara said.
The St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office said Harrison worked for 10 separate law enforcement agencies in Florida, including the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office and the Groveland Police Department, in a time period stretching back to the 1960s.
However, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said Harrison did not work as an officer or a civilian member of the agency.
“Nonetheless, Sheriff Mina has directed our Cold Case Unit to see whether we may have any possible unsolved cases that match the details of the St. Lucie County case,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
If you have any information regarding Harrison’s involvement in any other criminal activity, you may contact the St. Lucie County Criminal Investigation Division at 772-462-3230.