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Crime News Snapped

Police Catch Woman And Her Young Paramour 20 Years After They Beat Husband To Death So They Could Be Together

But after the brutal killing, they couldn't look at each other. 

By Benjamin H. Smith
Love Triangles That Turned Violent

Murders A-Z is a collection of true crime stories that take an in-depth look at both little-known and famous murders throughout history.

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Most criminals get caught soon after committing a crime. The reason is usually stupidity, a glaringly obvious clue that leads police right to their doorstep. In the case of the brutal beating death of 25-year-old David Harmon in 1982, it took police 20 years to catch up to his killers, even though they had suspects: his pretty young wife Melinda and their friend Mark Mangelsdorf, who was so close to the couple he described himself as “their adopted little brother” to The New York Times.

Melinda Lambert met David Harmon when they were teenagers in the early ‘70s and both worked at a summer camp run by the evangelical Church of The Nazarene. Melinda’s father was a man of standing in the church, and she had grown up in Columbus, Ohio. The couple married in 1977, when she was 19 and he was just 20.

“He adored Melinda, almost worship," friend and co-worker Joy Hempy told Oxygen’s "Snapped." "He thought the sun rose and set on her.”

In 1981, the couple moved to Olathe, Kansas, after Melinda’s father got her a job at MidAmerica Nazarene University. Meanwhile, David found work at a local bank. Affable and attractive, the Harmons made fast friends around campus. One of those friends was student body president Mark Mangelsdorf.

Mark and David enjoyed playing racquetball together, and he was a frequently seen visiting the Harmon home. 

"I would pass by their house on a daily basis, and I would see Mark's car over there and it was there all the time," David's friend Kevin Jakabosky told ABC News. "It seemed a little strange to me. But I just kinda chalked it up as, 'Well, they have taken him under their wing.'"

People soon noticed Mark was just as close to Melinda as he was to David and began to gossip about it. It was a big deal in a conservative Midwestern town like Olathe, whose main employer was a Christian university.

“Melinda was warned about it on several occasions by co-workers and members of the community,” local reporter Andy Hoffman told "Snapped." “They thought it was inappropriate for her, as a married woman, to be spending that much time with a student.”     

Around 2:30 in the morning on February 28, 1982, Gail and Richard Bergstrand were awoken by a loud, violent thumping on the other side of their bedroom wall. It was a common wall, the other side being the bedroom of their next-door neighbors, David and Melinda Harmon. An hour later, Melinda came pounding on their front door, crying hysterically. She said David had been murdered.

When police arrived, they discovered a gruesome crime scene. David Harmon lay dead on his bed, his face beaten beyond recognition.

“The police officers initially thought he’d been shot in the face with a shotgun,” said Andy Hoffman.

“His face was just beaten into mush,” district attorney Paul Morrison told "Snapped." Harmon's blood and pieces of his brain were splattered on the walls and ceiling. The lack of defensive wounds led the medical examiner to ultimately determine Harmon had been asleep when he was first struck in the face with a blunt object.

When cops questioned Melinda, she told them she had woken up in bed to the sight of two black men beating her husband.

“She hears one intruder say to the next, 'I think you hit him too hard. You may have killed him,'" detective Bill Wall told CBS’ "48 Hours." They then dragged her out of bed and demanded the keys to the bank where David worked in order to rob it. After she gave the keys to the assailants, they knocked her out.

“She did have a slight bruise on her cheek,” said Paul Morrison.

Melinda claimed she’d been unconscious for over an hour. After coming to, she ran next door and asked the Bergstrands to call the police and then call her friend Mark Mangelsdorf. He lived only a few blocks away and arrived within minutes, later accompanying her down to the police station.

Police set up a stakeout at the bank, waiting for David’s killers to arrive.

“They sit there and literally and watch the sun come up,” said Paul Morrison. Later, police used tracking dogs, hoping they would follow the scent to the killers. Instead, the dogs went directly to a dumpster outside Mark Mangelsdorf’s apartment building. Unfortunately, it had already been emptied earlier that morning.

Police began looking into the relationship between Melinda Harmon and Mark Mangelsdorf. They even searched Mark’s apartment, where they found bloodstains right inside the door. Unfortunately, crime labs of the time couldn’t match it to David Harmon.

“1982, forensically speaking, was the stone age compared to today,” said district attorney Morrison.

Without any physical evidence, the Olathe Police Department had no choice but to put the investigation into David Harmon’s murder on hold. Meanwhile, people around town noticed Melinda Harmon and Mark Mangelsdorf’s friendship had gone cold. After David’s funeral, they were never seen together again. Within a week of burying her husband, Melinda moved back home to her parents in Ohio. Mark Mangelsdorf graduated and later went to Harvard Business School.

As 19 years passed, Mark and Melinda and David’s murder become the stuff of legends among the Olathe PD. In 1986, Melinda married a successful dentist named Mark Raisch and raised two children in Delaware, Ohio. Mark Mangelsdorf, meanwhile, became a successful marketing executive and lived outside New York City with his second wife and two young daughters, while an ex-wife lived in Kansas with their three children.

In the summer of 2001, the Johnson County Crime Lab had recently upgraded their technology and were looking to test it out on some older cases.

Speaking to "Snapped," detective Bill Wall commented, “They basically said, 'Hey, you guys got any cold murder cases that involve DNA?"

The department immediately thought of the David Harmon murder.

"Those kinds of crime scenes you don’t forget about,” said the district attorney.  

On December 17, 2001, detectives Bill Wall and Steve James made the 700-mile trip from Kansas to Ohio and rang Melinda Raisch’s doorbell. James said she was taken aback, but agreed to sit down with them and discuss the murder of her first husband. The detectives noticed her story was different than the one she told 19 years prior.

“As the story proceeds, she leaves out some really major points,” said Wall.

James added, “The biggest one is that there was only one intruder. I can remember looking across the table at Bill and we made eye contact for a few seconds and you could tell we were both thinking the same thing.”

The detectives suggested they continue the interrogation down at the nearest sheriff’s department. Surprisingly, Melinda agreed.

They quickly confronted her about the inconsistencies in her story, saying, “It was either you or Mark.”

Melinda almost immediately confirmed Mangelsdorf as the killer and tried to cut a deal.

As Paul Morrison said, “Innocent people don’t want deals. Guilty people want deals.”

In late 2002, the DNA tests of the blood found in Mark’s apartment came back. They weren’t 100 percent conclusive, but in Paul Morrison’s words, they “showed that it was highly, highly likely that the genetic material of David Harmon was in that.”

That was good enough for prosecutors, who arrested Melinda Raisch on December 3, 2003 and charged her with first–degree murder. It took another year and half before they arrested Mark Mangelsdorf on April 8, 2005. He spent a week in jail before making his $300,000 bail.

Melinda Raisch’s trial began on April 11, 2005. They had her on tape admitting that she and Mark Mangelsdorf had an inappropriate relationship and that she thought he was the masked intruder who had killed David Harmon but denied any part in the murder itself. The prosecution argued that because the Church of Nazarene forbade divorce, becoming a widow was a better option than becoming a divorcee, and Melinda and Mark planned the murder together. Mark Mangelsdorf, who hadn’t seen Melinda in 23 years, testified on her behalf, denying their relationship and any role in David’s death. The jury didn’t believe either of them, and on May 2 found Melinda guilty of murder.

Now looking at a possible life sentence, Melinda cut a deal with prosecutors. In exchange for a lighter sentence, she’d testify against Mark in his upcoming murder trial. She admitted they had conspired together to kill David Harmon so they could be together. Mangelsdorf bought the crowbar to kill him, and they agreed upon the story they’d tell police. But when it was all said and done, they couldn’t look at each other and went their separate ways. Faced with her testimony, Mangelsdorf pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2006, according to The New York Times, and both he and Melinda were sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison.

After just nine years behind bars, Melinda Raisch was released from prison on April 29, 2015. Upon her release she returned home to Ohio, where she will be on supervised release until 2025, according to CBS affiliate KCTV 5. Almost a year later to the day, Mark Mangelsdorf was released from prison in 2015 after 10 years behind bars. He is on conditional release, according to the Kansas City Star.

[Photo: Oxygen]

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