Olathe, Kansas—the same town that played host to the quadruple murder made famous by Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood—achieved notoriety again in 1982, when a gentle man named David Harmon was bludgeoned to death while sleeping. David’s wife Melinda and best friend Mark were suspected of the brutal murder. But rather than receiving a just penalty, Melinda and Mark walked away without charges being pressed, thanks to a defense by the growing Christian evangelical church in Olathe to which the victim and the suspects all belonged.
Two decades later, two Olathe police officers revived the cold case, making startling revelations that followed the old suspects to their new, separate lives. Melinda lived in suburban Ohio, a devoted wife and mother of two. Mark had become a Harvard MBA, a high-paid corporate mover, a family man, and a respected community member in a wealthy suburb of New York City. But some twenty years after the brutal murder, justice would be served.
Featuring a new afterword from the author, A Cold-Blooded Businessis a chilling exploration into the darkest depths of the human psyche.
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A Cold-Blooded Business
Adultery, Murder, and a Killer's Path from the Bible Belt to the Boardroom
By Marek Fuchs
Skyhorse PublishingCopyright © 2014 Marek Fuchs
All rights reserved.
David Harmon was a product of Chili, pronounced with long "i"s — CHI-lye — a downtrodden cow town in upstate New York off the Erie Canal Expressway, a highway in name only. The town's forefathers appeared to have chosen both the name and its pronunciation on a whim. An old timer will say the name may be the same as the bean dish, before letting a smile creep up one side of his mouth: "But we pronounce it right."
Sitting unnoticed along the way from Syracuse to Buffalo, near Rochester, Chili was always a modest place, even for a rural outpost whose northernmost regions once served as a stop along the Underground Railroad. Its winters are bleak, with billows of Canadian snow. Farming is a stubborn act of survival, with depth-charge temperatures in January and February and crop-killing frosts in spring.
Chili has been home to generations of Harmons, whose lives centered largely around prayer and farming. Like most Chili residents, they were known for a remoteness and stoicism, even when the "big stuffs," as government officials were called, annexed the family homestead to expand the local airport. There were howls of local protest, though little from the Harmons themselves. Were it not for the confiscation of the farm, young John Harmon (David's father) would have been land-rich by inheritance. Then again, tilling the land was a lifelong commitment. And even if farming were performed with diligence, the backbreaking labor would not have produced more than a modest livelihood; and that's if the weather held. Which it might not — no matter how often or hard he prayed.
* * *
The Harmon family settled in Chili in 1838, and John, who remained long after the others had moved away or gone to glory, was born there during the Great Depression. Bred into John were all the proper Christian convictions about how we live in a created order. He was reticent by nature and upbringing, and born into a family whose routine was work, pray, sleep, and fish. His father, without the family farm to tend, became an engineer.
When the time came for John to choose a college, he went to Roberts Wesleyan College in North Chili. Wesleyan is a Christian school founded by Benjamin Titus Roberts, a lawyer turned missionary. For some of his more liberal stands on slavery and women's rights, Roberts had been kicked out by the faithful of the Methodist Episcopal Church, but landed as a bishop with the Free Methodists. He started the school as Chili Seminary in 1866, and while the college changed name and location several times over the years, its overall approach of educating under the eyes of God remained the same. At Roberts, John felt in place and at peace.
John got his masters degree in education at the secular University of Rochester and chose to teach elementary school, drawn to both the security he felt the job offered and the meaningfulness he felt it imparted. Working with children was ideal for John, since he was socially strained with adults.
He married Sue, the first girl he met in college. From the outset of their marriage, a slight hint of irreverence, even wickedness, in Sue always brought a quick — if sometimes embarrassed — smile to John's face. Once, while hiking up a mountain with their dear friends, the DeHavens, John passed wind at an unintentionally loud volume.
"Geez Louise, John," Sue piped up, "that's the most you've spoken all day."
The two were Nazarene Christians. The Church of the Nazarene is a Protestant church in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, tracing its roots to 1908. It was founded to spread the message of "scriptural holiness," or "Christ-like living," throughout the world. Nazarenes believe in a higher purpose in life through victory over sin, in evangelism, in a strict interpretation of the Bible, in preaching the gospel to the poor, and, most of all, in salvation, or "perfection," through a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Though Sue and John considered themselves saved, they didn't believe themselves invulnerable. The two assumptions they allowed were that life was not ruled by chance, and that all souls can be saved from even our darkest sins.
The couple had one child. David Harmon was born on a windy day of malicious cold on January 3, 1957. He grew into a big, tall, handsome, dark-haired boy who was doted on by his parents. David grew up playing in his modest backyard, without the freedom or the burden of ancestral fields. Artistic, but with a linear mind, he made a hobby of sketching buildings. He dreamed of a professional life in architecture, or in engineering like his grandfather — but his real passions were sports and Jesus.
David played hockey both indoors and, given the frozen tundra that was the Chili landscape, outdoors on ponds that froze up most of the winter. In high school, David would have liked to play varsity football. With his size, the football coach had his eye on him, but David had a trick knee that prevented him from playing. Instead, David devoted himself to pick-up sports and competitive Bible study.
David competed on a Bible Study Quiz team, where teams of five contestants raced to be the first to the buzzer with the correct answer. He studied for the competitions for hours every day. Even though the game had been a second choice to football, David never did anything in a detached way, and his team won the state championship.
When David was fifteen, he met a girl, Melinda Lambert, at Brooktondale Church Camp, a Nazarene summer camp outside Ithaca, New York. Melinda was the youngest child in her family, but with her older sister eleven years her senior, hers was not a "secondborn" childhood. She grew up in Syracuse like an only child in a doctrinaire household.
Her father, Dr. J. Wilmer (William) Lambert was a top Nazarene Church official, essentially an archbishop of the region including New York. Due to his prominence, Melinda was looked upon as the princess of the Nazarene Church, which certainly helped her social standing at camp.
Melinda could be controlling and rule-bound. At Brooktondale Church Camp, she alerted supervisors to the names and actions of boys and girls she found in compromising situations. Once, when she happened upon a group of teenagers throwing sticks and stones at a skunk to try to scare him into the Tabernacle, Melinda told a supervisor. In fact, telling on others was common at Bible camp, a practical function of the rules under God. Forbearance was essential.
Ironically, Melinda also came off as a flirt and a tease. Blonde and quick with a smile and a touch on your arm while talking or even while listening — which she always did with appreciative laughter — Melinda was a stunner. She was talkative — maybe even too talkative — but if you were a boy, and you wanted her attention, it paid to listen to her.
Melinda did not have an overly purposeful mindset, and one was not required of her. Nor did she do particularly well in school. She was, however, broadly ambitious — for a suitable boy, a good marriage prospect and all that union might bring home to her.
God, she was always told, has a way of making a way for you.
Bible camp was a complicated place for a pubescent teenager. Dating in this conservative environment, where there could be no public displays of affection and very little privacy was allowed, was no easy trick. They were teenagers in the 1970s, but in no way part of that era. Luckily, everything about Melinda — including her sexuality and her ambition — was made less sinful by the absoluteness of her faith. She was overt in her declarations of spirituality, and absolute in her observance of her church's prescriptions. She was excited about camp, God, and boys — specifically an agreeable and somewhat pliable one named David Harmon.
Melinda pursued David throughout her time at the camp. Whenever possible, she sat next to him in the Tabernacle, cuddled up close, and laughed at all his jokes. David was prominent because of his Bible Quiz accomplishments, his size — he was 6'3"— and his good looks. He was clearly going places, which was more than you could say for the many less impressive boys who spent the summer with their noses buried in the Bible. And who, after all, could land Melinda if not David? Smart and athletic without being cocky, David was also witty and fun. He loved a well-executed practical joke.
One year at Bible camp, he and Chad DeHaven — three years older than David and a friend from Chili who acted like a de facto older brother — drove a Volkswagen to the altar of the camp's Tabernacle. Turning the car off before the Tabernacle filled with fumes, David and DeHaven affixed a sign to the rear bumper, facing the pews, that read, "Shhhh. I'm praying." They ran back to the bunk and waited for the surprise at Sunday morning services.
Almost immediately after camp ended, David and Melinda began a long-distance relationship. The two wanted to see each other nearly every weekend, so with David in Chili and Melinda two hours away in Syracuse, their parents stepped in to help. Often, the Harmons drove David to meet the Lamberts halfway. Almost always, David went home with the Lamberts. Melinda's family was impressed with David. He was humble, religiously observant, and gentle with their daughter. They welcomed without hesitation this inherently decent young man.
When summer returned, David and Melinda went back to camp, drawn both to each other and to the feeling of acceptance the camp offered them. Inspiration and public displays of spirituality — such as carrying around Bibles, praying openly, and talking about God and faith — were expected and prized among that generation of evangelicals. At camp, David always had in hand a guide book to soul-winning, which, as the second sentence of its Foreword put it, is not soul-scalping. The Church of Winning Souls: A Handbook for Personal Evangelism in the Local Church, by V. H. Lewis, was less than a hundred pages, but in that space was a complete, albeit somewhat repetitive, guide to being a good evangelical Nazarene.
"Evangelicalism," wrote Lewis, "must be our method of advance as a church. We offer neither ritual nor ceremony as a substitute for salvation. Souls can know Christ as a personal Savior in a personal experience, through evangelicalism. We must not and shall not fail to evangelize! Our church was brought into being through the fires of evangelicalism. May its flame burn high on the altars of our church!" Later, Lewis wrote, "When the church loses its fervor and drifts in a parallel course with the world, the Holy Spirit withdraws."
Mr. Lewis, David soon learned, was one of many of Melinda's cousins who were highly placed within the church. But David was most intrigued by Melinda's father, Dr. Lambert, who was aggressive and worldly in a way his own father was not. Lambert had an air of quiet superiority and a reputation for being demanding, tight-fisted, judgmental; he also took good care of relatives by finding them work in and around the church, as well as housing them, accumulating properties as he went along.
David graduated high school in 1975, earning a National Merit Scholarship among many other awards. His future was a wide-open road. He and Melinda began taking classes at Olivet Nazarene University in the fall. Nazarene teens commonly paired off and married by the age of twenty, and David and Melinda were no exception.
The wedding was beautifully arranged; David and his wedding party looked ascendant in their powder-blue tuxes and yellow corsages. It was all as innocent and perfect as any parents — especially fastidiously religious ones — could hope for.
It was no surprise that David and Melinda left Chili shortly after they were married. David would not follow his own father out into the world, but rather Melinda's. Dr. Lambert had just received a promotion in the church hierarchy, rising to become the general superintendent of Zone Two, as it was known in church parlance. The Nazarene headquarters in Kansas City was thriving, and Lambert would soon become its central figure.
Nazarenes were migrating in droves to Kansas, where development was replacing farming, and new opportunities abounded. Kansas seemed like the right place for David and Melinda to begin the next stage of their lives. David could finish his degree at the University of Kansas. Melinda could easily put the secretarial degree she received at Olivet to good use. The decision was a natural one.
God was making a way for Melinda and David Harmon.CHAPTER 2
When Dick Hickock and Perry Smith killed four members of the Clutter family in the western reaches of Kansas in 1959, the pair chose Olathe (pronounced oh-LAY-thuh) as their staging ground. The two career chiselers, who had met in the penitentiary, set out from Olathe the day of the murders and, afterward, late that night, melted right back into town, all but unnoticed. The murders unsettled Kansas and the farm states surrounding it like little before. For weeks the Clutters' murderers could not be found. But frightful as it was, Hickock and Smith's run of freedom was brief and unproductive, involving nothing more than six weeks of petty crime and fizzled murder plots. The larcenous buddies had become killers when they took the lives of the Clutters, but — and there was at least comfort to be had in this — they never killed again. Hickock and Perry were hanged in the early 1960s at the Kansas state prison in Lansing and, were it not for Truman Capote, who documented their crime in the pages of In Cold Blood, that would have been the end of that.
Since the 1850s, when the Kansas School for the Deaf opened in Olathe, the town had stood home to an unlikely mix of farmers and deaf-mutes. Families tilled the flat land that had been handed down through the generations. The people were churchgoing folk. The more affluent ones — which was not to say wealthy — were those who had dairy farms in addition to wheat fields. In the evenings, the farmers and their families went into town to walk, which meant around the courthouse square. Girls married the boys they had grown up with and, if their husbands happened to die, say, in a farming accident, they married other boys they had grown up with.
The Church of the Nazarene came to Olathe in 1930, when it was chartered with twenty members. Things were put together with string and wax at first; for years, revival services were held in various spaces, including a creamery, an abandoned church, and a munitions depot. The latter was famous locally for its swayback roof.
The Reverend C. J. Garrett, who migrated from Ottawa, was the church's first pastor, and his sermon topics, reported in the local paper, were all variations on a single theme (subjects from "A Trip Through Hell" to "Is Olathe Hell?"). His flock grew exponentially.
The pivotal moment for the church came in the 1950s when the national Church of the Nazarene decided that God wanted them to open up their world headquarters just one-half hour from Olathe, across the border in Kansas City, Missouri, to "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19).
The arrival of the world headquarters ushered in a period of migration of Nazarene Christians to "little Olathe," as Truman Capote called it. Olathe was becoming a hub for the church.
A coterie of mostly professional Evangelical Christians — including the Lamberts — was becoming a vital force in reshaping this part of Kansas, bringing with them not only the church, but all the businesses, politics, and concerns that accompanied the church. This was not the high-wheat plains of western Kansas, but east, closer to Kansas City, Missouri, where suburbs were replacing farmland.
The people of Olathe weren't hankering for any big changes. The big cities — Kansas City and, farther afield, the industrial bastion of Wichita — were for the middlemen with pickup trucks piled high with corn, the occasional day tripper, or the unlucky farmers who were reduced to seeking city work.
So the demographic shift — some might say lurch — that was transforming Olathe, Kansas, did not sit easy with the old timers. These newcomers — who came to the frontier a century or two after the initial heavy lifting was finished — were religious to a standard that unsettled even the locals, who responded, in their old-line prairie twang, "Those ones have all come down with a bad case of religion."
Located in the middle of Johnson County and close to the geographic center of the United States, Olathe (the Shawnee word for "beautiful") began to be known as the buckle of the East Kansas Bible Belt.
Excerpted from A Cold-Blooded Business by Marek Fuchs. Copyright © 2014 Marek Fuchs. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
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