Crime

From the archives: 15-year-old Ann Harrison was just waiting for the bus…

By TONY RIZZO

Editor's Note: The graphic nature of this story may offend some readers. It originally ran Feb. 2, 2006.

Kidnapped at the dawn of a beautiful spring morning a month after she turned 15, Ann Harrison fought two rapists and begged for mercy before they killed her.

For her, the blitz of terror lasted 90 minutes, but the story of the Kansas City girl snatched from her school bus stop, 60 feet from her front door, reverberated across the community for years.

If Missouri has its way, both of her confessed killers will die this year.

Just hours before Michael A. Taylor was set be executed Wednesday, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay and voted to hear arguments in his case.

Taylor and Roderick Nunley each portrayed himself as a reluctant participant, high on drugs and driven to murder by a violent companion.

But a former prosecutor says it doesn't matter who said what or who blamed whom.

"They were a sadistic tag team," Jeff Stigall said.

"They were in it together the whole way."

Based on court records, confessions to police and the recollections of Ann's parents and others, the story that follows is the most complete ever published about the case.

March 22, 1989.

"I'm up," Ann Harrison called to her mother over the house intercom. It was about 6:30 a.m.

Like many mornings, Janel Harrison relied on the intercom to make sure her oldest daughter awoke and got ready for school.

From her bedroom, she heard Ann scuffling around the house. She heard water running in the shower. She heard the front door creak open and slam shut. Routine sounds of a routine morning.

Two days into a cocaine binge, Taylor and Nunley cruised aimlessly in a car they had stolen the night before in Grandview. It was an '84 Monte Carlo, blue with a broken tail-light.

That defect had caught the attention of a Lee's Summit police officer a few hours earlier. He'd tried to pull them over, but they sped away. Following policy, the officer declined to chase them for a minor traffic violation.

Just after 7 a.m., the Kansas City men turned onto Manchester Avenue and spotted a brown-haired teenager standing by the mailbox in front of her house. She wore a jean jacket festooned with buttons, mementos of Disneyland visits with her grandparents.

They rolled past, stopped, and backed up. Nunley hopped out. Gesturing with his hands and asking directions, he closed the distance. With a rush he hit the girl and roll-blocked her into the car's front seat. The athletic 5-foot-5 girl kicked and screamed as her slightly built abductor tried to pin her to the floorboard.

Tires squealed. The car sped down the street.

Two blocks away another girl, like Ann waiting for the bus to Raytown South High School, saw the Monte Carlo crest a hill and roar past. She looked at the driver but didn't see anybody else.

Susan Crawford, Ann's school bus driver since kindergarten, pulled up to the Harrison's house three minutes early. Ann's books, purse and flute case were piled neatly under the mailbox, like always. Crawford thought Ann must have run back inside for something. She decided to wait.

Minutes passed. Crawford honked the horn. She waited and honked. Waited and honked. The sound, piercing above the low diesel rumbling of the idling bus, drew Janel Harrison to the front door. She noticed Ann's belongings and came to the same conclusion as Crawford. Her daughter must have run back inside.

She waved on the bus. Mom would have to drive Ann today.

Unable to find Ann inside, Janel walked around to the backyard to see if she was playing with the dog. She wasn't.

A pang of worry throbbed in her gut. Dependable and conscientious, Ann earned honor roll grades while balancing a part-time job sacking groceries with her love of sports and band.

Janel crossed the street to a neighbor's house. Maybe Ann had walked there to see another teenager. But that girl's father said his daughter already had driven to school. He volunteered to drive the neighborhood to look for Ann.

Mom hurried home, where her two other daughters, 9 and 4, were waking. Sensing something was wrong, the older girl looked afraid.

The neighbor returned minutes later. He had not seen Ann.

Janel Harrison dialed 911. Then she called her husband, Bob, at work in Lenexa.

"Ann's missing," she said.

With their crying captive wedged on the floor between them, Taylor steered the Monte Carlo toward the interstate then south to a house on east 118th Street, where Nunley's mother lived. Nunley fashioned a blindfold from a piece of loose clothing and threatened to kill the girl if she kept screaming.

They parked in the garage and led her into the house. To avoid being spotted from the street, they made her crawl below a window. In the basement, they bound her hands with wire and peeled off her jeans and panties.

Nunley raped her first, Taylor second.

Cars would not get out of Bob Harrison's way. It maddened him as he weaved in and out of highway traffic, laying on the horn and waving frantically at vehicles in front of him.

Driving from near 99th Street and Pflumm Road, he beat police to his house between Raytown and Swope Park.

The first officer to arrive assumed that Ann had run away. But the officer, a woman, quickly agreed with Janel Harrison that it was unlikely a girl would leave her purse.

The Harrisons knew Ann was no runaway. Excited to begin spring break the next day, she planned to visit her boyfriend in the hospital that night. He was fighting cancer, and Ann spent hours with him whenever she could.

Bob Harrison called his brother, a Kansas City police captain and commander of the department's helicopter unit. Within minutes, the craft began buzzing the wooded hills and valleys of the triangular neighborhood between Missouri 350 and Interstate 435.

Eight and a half miles away, Nunley and Taylor plotted their next move.

Nunley didn't want to let the girl go. She had seen him before being blindfolded. Taylor, who'd hidden his face, tried to talk his partner into releasing her. Nunley was insistent. He told her to get in the trunk.

Whether she overheard them or sensed their intent, the girl balked. She pleaded with them to let her live. Her parents would give them money, she said.

To calm her, they said they would drive her to a pay phone. Nunley pretended to write down a telephone number she recited.

The men lifted her and placed her in the trunk. Nunley headed upstairs and returned with two kitchen knives.

On Manchester, a 15-minute drive away, the Harrisons weren't content to wait for something to happen. Workers at a nearby grocery store, where both Ann and her mother worked part-time, ran off copies of fliers with Ann's picture. A sister of Bob's worked at Arrowhead Stadium. She used a copier there to make more fliers.

Someone began calling trucking companies to ask drivers to watch for Ann.

Police officers knocked on neighborhood doors. One woman, who most mornings saw Ann waiting for the bus when she left for work, saw nothing this time. It was her day off and she had been in bed.

Another neighbor reported hearing a scream and squealing tires but saw nothing.

The girl down the street gave investigators their first clue, describing the Monte Carlo.

Nunley handed one of the knives to Taylor.

"Come on, man. We've got to be in this together," he said.

Nunley grabbed the girl's head with one hand and raked the blade across her throat then thrust it deep into her neck. He held on as she vainly tried to pull the weapon away.

He told Taylor to "stick her" too, and he did.

As the blades plunged into her torso, Ann's body heaved, her lungs gasped for air. The blindfold, pulled away in the struggle, revealed eyes rolling back in her head. Each labored breath became shallower until she no longer moved.

One of the killers slammed the trunk lid shut. They still didn't know the name of the girl inside.

The Kansas City community soon would.

Local media began to broadcast news of Ann Harrison. A short item made the deadline for that afternoon's Kansas City Star.

An 18-wheeler rumbled up Manchester. The driver wanted fliers to leave at truck stops.

More and more friends of the Harrisons came and asked for something to do.

About an hour and a half after arriving in the Monte Carlo, Nunley drove it out of his mother's garage and down the road.

He parked on a quiet street just over a mile away then got into another car driven by Taylor.

They headed back to his mother's house.

No one in the 11400 block of Ditman Avenue saw who parked the Monte Carlo. A neighbor first noticed it about 8:30 a.m. but said nothing then to authorities.

By late afternoon, the Harrisons mustered enough help to stop traffic on every street in and out of the neighborhood. Volunteers handed fliers to motorists.

Officials brought in search dogs. They followed Ann's scent to an entrance ramp to southbound I-435, where the dogs lost the scent.

Linda Taylor noticed something wrong as soon as her son, Michael, dragged himself in the house early that afternoon. He acted hysterical. Tears stained his cheeks.

He refused to tell his mother what was wrong. She begged him to let her help.

"Mama," he said, "only God can help me now."

He turned and walked out.

Medication helped the Harrisons sleep that night. At a news conference the next day, they pleaded with the unknown person who abducted their daughter.

"If there is any way that contact can be made to let us know how she is, we need that," Bob Harrison told the television cameras surrounding him. "We want Ann to know how much we want her and miss her and need her."

Janel Harrison cried as she added, "We love Ann very much, and we want her back home."

That night, 36 hours after Ann vanished, someone reported the Monte Carlo as abandoned.

Police checked the license, learned it was stolen and called the owner.

When the owner arrived, he added antifreeze because the engine had overheated. Then he opened the trunk.

Inside he saw the body of a brown-haired teenage girl.

Janel and Bob heard first on television.

A local station cut into programming with a bulletin that their daughter had been found.

The bulletin didn't say if she was alive or dead.

The phone rang.

A friend who had seen it excitedly relayed what she thought was good news.

Almost simultaneously there was a knock at the door. It was Bob Harrison's police officer brother with his wife.

Paul had come from the crime scene, where he had identified the body in the trunk.

The look on his face told them. Ann was dead.

Pete Edlund, who supervised the detective squad assigned to the case, felt confident.

Hair and semen collected on Ann's body and in the trunk eventually would nail the killer, he thought.

The grieving Harrisons experienced the community's generosity and concern. But they also endured feeling suspicious and distrustful.

"You start looking at neighbors, eyeing cars that drive by, you wonder," Bob Harrison recalled recently.

Wild rumors circulated of satanic cults or revenge because of the family's police connection. Teens the Harrisons had never heard of claimed to be Ann's best friend.

A prison inmate tried to scam them out of $500 by claiming to have information about the killers.

Three months after Ann's death, the reward increased to $9,000. The next day, a tipster told police of Taylor and Nunley. Both then confessed, but each blamed the other as the instigator. The semen and hair matched Taylor.

He told police: "I stuck her, two or three times, probably four, you know I stuck 'em in the stomach down here, you know, backed up on away from the car, you dig ... until she, you know, just you know, didn't wasn't moving no more, wasn't breathing. And then I stayed and watched it, you know ... Her eyes rolled up in her head, and she was sort of like trying to catch her, her breath. She couldn't breathe you know."

For Edlund, one of the most brutal and random cases he ever investigated had become one of the best from an evidentiary perspective.

"We had 'em dead bang."

For years afterward, Bob Harrison had a recurring dream. It was the night after Ann disappeared. Police cars lined the street outside the house. The front door swung open and Ann walked in.

Waking, Bob returned to his real nightmare.

Today, he and Janel live in the same house.

While others move from the scene of a traumatic event because of the memories, they chose to stay for the same reason: the memories.

They want to remember the girl with a soft heart for animals who carried on conversations with neighborhood dogs and "rescued" worms from the driveway after it rained so they wouldn't get run over.

When Ann died, their other two daughters were 9 and 4. The youngest informed her parents that Ann was in a spaceship with God and E.T.

The Harrisons vowed to keep the girls from the limelight and give them as normal lives as possible. Portraits show that both have grown into beautiful young women. Ann, pictured next to them, is perpetually 15, braces visible in her smile. Today, she would be 32.

Her parents felt touched by the community response.

Volunteers helped build a rose garden in her memory at the Cave Springs Interpretive Center near their home.

Every year, the Raytown softball league in which Ann played holds a fundraising tournament in her honor. Proceeds go to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The Harrisons have volunteered with the center and with the group Parents of Murdered Children.

The pain never goes away.

"You just get better at hiding your emotions," Janel said.

They don't look at the execution of their daughter's killers with any relish.

They decided not to attend Taylor's, which got stayed Wednesday, and they don't buy the idea that executions will bring "closure."

"I don't know what closure is," Bob said.

What it will bring them is the absolute assurance that Nunley and Taylor will never go free.

"I hope we can think of Ann without having to think of them," Bob said.

Last week, in a phone conversation from his prison south of St. Louis, Michael A. Taylor said that, more than anything else, he wanted to tell the Harrisons this:

"I'm sorry. I've never forgotten that day and I never will."

Courts have stayed his execution temporarily. But Taylor, who turned 39 Monday, has resigned himself to its inevitability.

"I don't want to die," he said.

"But it's out of my hands. I'm trying to stay in a peaceful state of mind."

Looking back, he said he couldn't relate to the person involved in that crime.

Out of his mind on cocaine and running with the wrong person, he got into something he couldn't handle.

"I did something wrong," he said. "That's why I pled."

Raised in a loving, Christian, two-parent home, he served as a church usher and displayed artistic talent. But when he and Nunley hooked up, they found trouble. Burglaries, stealing to pay for drugs, and jail time became a way of life.

Taylor said that before March 22, 1989, he never had committed a violent crime.

In prison, he mentored younger persons, trying to impress on them the ramifications of a criminal life.

He exists now in a small holding cell 15 feet from the place he probably will die.

He reads, visits with family, talks to his lawyer and waits.

As the courts and lawyers argue his future, all he can do is pray.

"I just pray for the next day."

To reach Tony Rizzo, call (816) 234-4435 or send e-mail to trizzo@kcstar.com.

About this story

After Missouri set an execution date for Michael A. Taylor, one of two men convicted of killing Ann Harrison, The Star pieced together the events of that morning nearly 17 years ago.

In an exclusive interview, her parents agreed to retell what happened and how it has affected their lives. Taylor, his mother, Ann's school bus driver, a retired detective who led the investigation and others shared their recollections.

The Star also reviewed old stories, court records and the killers' statements to police. Because he is expected to be the first to die, Taylor's version of events was used for this story. Roderick Nunley provided essentially the same details to police, but with the men's roles reversed.

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