Newlywed Denice Haraway was working toward a bright future when she seemingly vanished while working a normal shift at her job. Her 1984 abduction made headlines and sparked decades of controvery that rocked her small Oklahoma town, as documented in Netflix's new show, "The Innocent Man."
So, who exactly was Haraway and what happened to her?
[Warning: Spoilers for “The Innocent Man” ahead]
Denice Haraway was a 24-year-old college student who worked at McAnally’s, a convenience store in Ada, the town she lived in. She had just recently gotten married, only eight months before her disappearance, according to John Grisham’s 2006 book "The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town,” which the Netflix docu-series is partly based on.
She appeared to be well-liked — in the docu-series, one former employer, head of Ada Historical Society Billie Jean Floyd, called her “as sweet as can be." (Haraway worked as a secretary for her as part of a work-study.)
However, Haraway was showing signs of concern and discomfort in the weeks leading up to her death.
She was starting to feel uncomfortable working evening shifts at McAnally’s. According to the docu-series, she actually asked to stop working nights. She even asked a gun-toting customer where she could buy one because she said some customers made her feel uncomfortable.
Sadly, her intuition was on point.
On April 28, 1984, a customer walked into the store as Haraway was being led out by a man. Not realizing the clerk was in the process of being abducted, that customer went to up to the cash register only to realize it was left open. The store had been robbed and Haraway kidnapped.
Floyd said that the town was in disbelief, with a storm of rumors circulating about what happened to her.
However, her ultimate fate wasn't known until 1986, two years after she vanished: Her body was found when a hunter came across her bones in a pasture. She had died from a single gunshot wound to the head, shot with a small caliber weapon. Her clothes and shoes were in scraps, strewn about her body.
Two men were arrested and charged before her remains were discovered after they “confessed:” They claimed they stabbed her to death and left her body in a house they set fire to 30 miles away from the actual crime scene. Obviously, neither the location nor the cause of death matched. There were no indications of stab wounds on any of the college student’s bones.
It's true Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot both confessed to kidnapping, raping, and killing Haraway. But in addition to the fact that their confessions were entirely incorrect, the two men would also later recant them entirely, insisting the confessions were partially based on dreams and the result of high-pressure police interrogations.
Despite the lack of evidence, Ward and Fontenot are still serving life sentences for Haraway’s murder, although they are hoping to be exonerated.
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