How The 1983 Murder Of Lora Ann Huizar Was Finally Solved

On the evening of Saturday November 5, 1983, 11-year-old Lora Ann Huizar spent the night with a friend in her hometown of Fort Pierce, Florida (per Law & Crime). The following day, she planned to walk home. However, as reported by Click Orlando, she stopped at a gas station along the way and seemingly vanished into thin air after exiting the building.

Huizar's father reported her missing when she did not return home as planned. However, at the time, authorities did not take reports of missing adolescents seriously until they had been missing for a longer period of time. Detective Paul Taylor said adolescents who do not return home on time are often playing with their friends and have simply lost track of time. He believes that was the likely assumption when Huizar was reported missing.

Three days later, authorities with the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office received reports that the body of a young girl was found in a drainage ditch, which was an estimated 600 yards from the gas station where Huizar was last seen. According to Law & Crime, St. Lucie County Deputy James Howard Harrison was the first law enforcement official to arrive on the scene. It was later learned that he was also the last person to see Huizar alive.

Lora Ann Huizar's abduction and murder were unsolved for nearly 40 years

On the day Lora Ann Huizar vanished, St. Lucie County Deputy James Howard Harrison reported seeing an adolescent girl walking in the area where Huizar was last seen. As reported by Law & Crime, Harrison noted in his report that the girl was walking away from the gas station and appeared to be carrying a bundle of clothing. Chief Deputy Brian Hester said he questioned why Harrison did not offer the girl a ride. However, it was reportedly assumed that she was a runaway.

When Harrison arrived at the scene of the murder, he asked the witnesses who found the body and called authorities to leave the area. According to Law & Crime, several other deputies arrived approximately 20 minutes later. In addition to identifying the deceased at Huizar, authorities confirmed she had been sexually assaulted prior to her death. According to TC Palm, the coroner determined her cause of death was asphyxiation. 

Although detectives collected evidence from Huizar's body, DNA testing was not yet available, and there were few other leads in the heinous crime. Authorities did not identify a suspect in the case until 2020 and were unable to solve the case until 2022. Although it took nearly 40 years, TC Palm reports that the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office ultimately concluded Huizar was abducted, sexually assaulted, and killed by former Deputy James Harrison. However, by the time they solved the crime, Harrison had been dead for 25 years.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Former Deputy James Harrison had a dark past

St. Lucie County Sheriff's Detective Paul Taylor, who is the agency's cold-case detective, began working on the case in 2020. As he began his investigation, Taylor said (via TC Palm) that former Deputy James Howard Harrison "was not even a name in [his] radar." However, as he dug deeper into the evidence, he realized Harrison had a troubled past and a disturbing reputation for targeting young girls.

In addition to working for the St. Lucie County Sheriff's office, Harrison was a preacher at Fort Pierce's Bethel Baptist Church. Approximately five months after Lora Ann Huizar was abducted and killed, Harrison was accused of sexual abuse by members of the church. As reported by Law & Crime, Harrison realized the accusations could cost him his job at the sheriff's office. In an effort to spare his job, he went directly to the home of the chief deputy to explain the situation.

Although he brought his wife along and denied the allegations, the chief told Harrison to leave and immediately contacted Sheriff Lanny Norville about the accusations and told him he wanted Harrison to be dismissed. The current St. Lucie sheriff, Ken J. Mascara, said he remembers working with Harrison back in the 1980s. At that time, he expressed concerns about Harrison's interactions with younger girls. According to Law & Crime, Mascara said Harrison's behavior with the children and teenagers was "not sexual." However, he felt it was inappropriate.

Harrison worked for nine other law enforcement agencies before he retired

Unfortunately, as reported by Law & Crime, Ken J. Mascara's complaints were essentially ignored. Mascara said his superiors believed James Howard Harrison simply enjoyed mentoring children and teenagers in his capacity as a preacher and extended that to girls he met through his work with the sheriff's office. Detective Paul Taylor said he is concerned that former Deputy Harrison used his positions as a preacher and sheriff to take advantage of children and teens throughout the area. However, no other victims have come forward.

According to Orlando Sentinel, Taylor is specifically concerned that Harrison may have preyed on the children of undocumented immigrants, which were plentiful in the area, as they would have been more hesitant to report anything to law enforcement officials. Although he left the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office amid accusations of sexual assault, Harrison went on to work at nine other Florida law enforcement agencies. Throughout his career, Law & Crime reports that Harrison also worked at the Brooksville Police Department, Edgewood Police Department, Glades County Sheriff's Office, Groveland Police Department, Hernando County Sheriff's Office, Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office, Okeechobee Police Department, Orange County Sheriff's Office, and Osceola County Sheriff's Office.

It is unclear how Harrison continued working in law enforcement after he was accused of inappropriate behavior with ⁠— and the sexual abuse of ⁠— minors. However, Taylor said hiring decisions were largely based on resumes alone, and background checks were rare at the time.

Former Deputy James Harrison died in 2008

According to his obituary, James Howard Harrison died on June 2, 2008, at the age of 73. The obituary states he worked in law enforcement for 25 years and was a member of the Oakview Baptist Church at the time of his death. Harrison was preceded in death by his wife, Elizabeth. He was survived by one son, one daughter, and three grandchildren.

Although Harrison died prior to becoming a suspect in Lora Ann Huizar's abduction and murder, that did not deter Detective Paul Taylor. As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, Taylor initially became suspicious of Harrison when he realized the former deputy saw Huizar on the day she vanished and was also the first deputy to arrive when her body was found. Taylor was also concerned that Harrison asked the witnesses to leave the site and was alone with the body for at least 20 minutes before the other deputies arrived.

WTSP reports that Taylor also noticed the position of Huizar's body in the crime scene photos did not match the initial witness reports. As Harrison was alone at the scene, he was the only one with an opportunity to have repositioned the body before the other deputies arrived. Taylor said the irregularities — combined with accusations that Harrison behaved inappropriately with underage girls — brought him to the forefront of the investigation.

Lora Ann Huizar's murder was declared solved in 2022

Although authorities preserved evidence from the scene of Lora Ann Huizar's murder, the DNA sample in the rape kit had degraded significantly. Therefore, the lab was only able to confirm she was sexually assaulted by a male. Orlando Sentinel reports that authorities were granted permission to have former Deputy James Howard Harrison's body exhumed to collect his DNA. Unfortunately, it was impossible to prove his DNA matched the degraded sample from the rape kit.

In a media release, which was published on Facebook, the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office confirmed "former Deputy James Howard Harrison as the only probable suspect" in the abduction, sexual assault, and murder of Huizar. Detective Paul Taylor said he was happy to have finally solved the 39-year-old crime. However, the conclusion he reached was both good and bad. In the media release, he said, "The day I solved this case was both the worst and the best day of my 30-year career in law enforcement. Nobody dislikes a bad cop more than a good cop, and it felt bittersweet to finally provide the victim's family with some long-awaited answers."

Although both of her parents are deceased, Lora Ann Huizar's brother Joe and sister Michelle said they are both thankful to have some closure. As reported by WPBF, Joe said, "It naturally was like a disbelief, a dream."