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It would be 30 years before Pamela Pitts’ murderer was brought to justice — but why did it take so long?
“Pam” was the oldest of the four children born to Paul and Carol Pitts and grew up in Prescott, Arizona.
“Pam was a wonderful kid,” Paul Pitts told “Snapped,” airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen. “She was the type of person who could make friends with anyone. She was outgoing and just excited about life.”
At 19, Pam moved out of her parents’ home and got an apartment with a girl named Shelly Norgard. Pam and Shelly were part of the same social circle and became fast friends.
"Shelly was always kind of awkward. I don’t recall Shelly ever talking about her background. It had always been a mystery to me where she came from,” Pam’s sister Kerrie Tarver told producers.
After moving in with Shelly in the summer of 1988, Pam got a job at a local restaurant. She had many interests but still wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life.
"She talked about going to beauty college and that was one of her goals … She was very artistic,” mother Carol Pitts told “Snapped.”
She never got the chance to figure it out. On Sept. 16, 1988, Pamela Pitts disappeared without a trace.
“Shelly called and wanted to know if I knew where Pam was, and I said, ‘No, I don’t know.’ And she said, ‘Well, I’m not sure where she’s at. I haven’t seen her. She took off and didn’t come home last night,'" Paul explained.
When Pam failed to show up for work the next day, Paul knew something was wrong. He filed a missing persons report with the Prescott Police Department.
On the evening of Sept 29, 1988, a visitor to Prescott National Forest was walking back to his truck when he spotted a human arm in a campsite fire pit. He rushed to the nearest payphone and called 911. Officers from the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office arrived at the scene.
Trash and debris surrounded the body. While such refuse would now reveal crucial evidence, technology at the time told investigators little, including where the crime had occurred.
“The Medical Examiner, he labeled it homicidal violence, but he couldn't determine what actually caused the death. Because of the condition of her body, there was no way to determine more,” Yavapai County Sheriff’s Captain Victor Dartt told producers.
Dental records identified the victim as 19-year-old Pamela Pitts. Authorities notified Paul of his daughter’s ghastly death.
“The first thing that goes through your mind is, ‘Who could do something like this and why would somebody do this to Pam?'” Paul said.
Pam had recently confided in her father that she and Shelly were having issues over the rent. Pam wanted to move back home.
“I said, ‘When do you want to do this?’ and she says, ‘Well, I haven’t told Shelly yet but I’m going to let her know. I’ll tell you how it goes,'” said Paul.
Detectives interviewed Shelly on December 5, 1988. She claimed she and Pam were close friends.
“Thursday night, the night before she disappeared, she said that she was going to move out because she couldn’t afford to live there anymore. We sat down and we talked about it and we got everything resolved,” Shelly told detectives in her recorded statement, which was obtained by “Snapped.”
Shelly claimed she was working on the night Pam disappeared. After her shift, she went to a friend’s apartment with her boyfriend, Ray Clerx, and watched movies until 3 a.m. Afterward, they went back to his house.
“I couldn’t sleep. I got in my car and I took a drive,” Shelly told investigators. She claimed she drove around aimlessly until 7 a.m.
Sensing Shelly was holding something back, investigators pressed her, asking directly if she was involved in Pam's death. Shelly burst into tears, at which point detectives concluded the interrogation.
When Ray Clerx was asked if he could verify Shelly's alibi, he said he last saw her at 11:30 p.m. on the night in question. When asked about the discrepancies in his and Shelly’s accounts, he said he got the days mixed up because it was weeks earlier.
However, witnesses said that on the night of September 16, Shelly was driving around Prescott looking for Pam, saying she’d kill her if she found her, according to the Associated Press. They also claimed Shelly often talked about how to dispose of a dead body, by burning it or dumping it down a mineshaft.
Despite Shelly's shaky alibi and incriminating statements, local authorities were unable to build a case against her. Instead they chased down wild theories about Satanic cults, ex-boyfriends, and local rivals. None panned out.
Then, in May 1991, students from Prescott College were exploring a cave when they found a dead body in an abandoned mine shaft. It was a young white male wrapped in a waterbed mattress liner.
“The autopsy revealed that he had been shot in the head. He was in a state of decomposition so it had been some time, several weeks,” Dartt said.
Dental records identified the victim as 24-year-old Raymond F. Clerx. He had been reported missing after he didn’t show up at a relative’s wedding. At the time of his disappearance, he was living with Shelly.
“Shelly Norgard’s fingerprints, or one print, was recovered from one of the flashlights that they located in the mine shaft,” Yavapai County Sheriff’s Volunteer Brendan Fillingim said.
Clerx’s family told investigators he was planning on breaking up with Shelly and moving to California. Detectives thought the case sounded too similar to Pam's murder to be a coincidence.
“The big thing with that case was Shelly’s car,” Dartt explained to producers. “In the trunk they found evidence that a dead body had been stored there. There was blood present and it was the same blood type as Ray’s.”
Shelly Norgard pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree and was sentenced to 20 years in prison, according to the Arizona Daily Star newspaper. She said she shot Clerx in a fit of rage after he broke up with her and said he was taking their dogs with him.
In 2011, Victor Dartt received the Pamela Pitts files as part of a cold case investigation. Dartt believed Shelly had motive — and Clerx’s murder showed she was capable of killing.
Dartt interviewed Shelly while she was still incarcerated. Investigators hoped to rattle her so she would talk about the murder over one of the prison’s pay phones, where all calls are recorded.
Shelly, who was released from prison in May 2011, soon married and become Shelly Harmon. She was living in Nevada and supporting herself through a variety of jobs.
But in reviewing Shelly’s phone calls from prison, Dartt eventually found what he believed was an incriminating statement. It occurred after detectives had first visited her and she spoke with her father.
“I had a moment. I had a huge moment,” Shelly told her father as they discussed Pamela's death, as heard on tapes of the phone call obtained by “Snapped.”
Shelly Marie Harmon, 46, was arrested in June 2017 in Nevada, according to The Arizona Republic newspaper. She was held on on suspicion of first-degree murder and her bond was set at $3 million.
Unfortunately, building a case against Shelly was no easier than it had been 30 years earlier. There was no physical evidence and many of the witnesses were dead or unable to remember the events of 1988.
After a judge ruled the Clerx murder was inadmissable as evidence, prosecutors feared they couldn't win the case. With the consent of the Pitts family, Shelly Harmon was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder in May 2021 without facing additional jail time, according to Phoenix, Arizona ABC-affiliate KNXV-TV.
As part of her plea deal, Shelly recounted the events of September 16, 1988. She said she was angry with Pam over money disputes and her plans to move home. She found Pitts at a local party and they got into a fight, where she knocked Pam to the ground and beat her until she stopped moving. .
“Then she heard voices coming so she got up and left. That was essentially her confession. She would not talk about the body or what happened after she killed Pam so we did not get any of that,” Dartt told producers.
Shelly Harmon was given credit for time served for her 20-year sentence in the Clarx murder and the four years she spent in county jail awaiting trial. She was released from custody in the spring of 2021.
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