Who is James Michael Coates? Suspected killer of Joshua Harmon, 8, arrested after 33 years

The Georgia police have managed to close a 33-year-old cold case involving a child's murder after James Michael Coates' arrest


                            Who is James Michael Coates? Suspected killer of Joshua Harmon, 8, arrested after 33 years
James Michael Coates was arrested on July 21, 2021, for the 1988 murder of 8-year-old Josh Harmon (Fulton County Police)

MARIETTA, GEORGIA: The police have managed to close a 33-year-old cold case of Joshua Harmon, 8, who was found dead in the woods of an Atlanta suburb in 1988. Convicted sex offender James Michael Coates has been arrested after more than three decades in connection with the murder. Prior to his arrest, the police had obtained warrants against him against multiple charges including murder, aggravated assault, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation, and first-degree cruelty to children.  

Another recent case involving delayed justice has been that of suspected serial killer Robert Durst. Durst is accused of killing his best friend Susan Berman who was shot in her home on Christman Eve in 2000 and is being tried in the court of law. Prosecutors said Durst killed Berman fearing she was going to tell New York authorities that he killed his wife in 1982 and she helped him cover up the crime. In April this year, Paul Flores who was a suspect in the 1996 disappearance of Kristin Smart who was legally declared dead in 2002, was arrested for her murder. On Mother's Day 2021, Sergio Williams was arrested for the 1998 murder of 91-year-old Leola Jordan who was found stabbed in her bed nearly 40 times. The team of Oxygen network's true crime show 'Cold Justice' helped crack the case. 

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Who is James Michael Coates?

According to police records, James Michael Coates had been convicted of a number of charges, including child molestation for crimes that took place between 1990 and 1993. According to the Georgia Department of Corrections, he was imprisoned for 20 years following his last conviction in 1993.

The Joshua Harmon's case began in May 1988 after he failed to return home for dinner after which his parents filed a missing complaint. After a 48-hour long search operation, police recovered his body from the woods near the family's apartment complex on Raintree Way. Coates was a resident of the same complex, according to Roswell Police Chief James Conroy who addressed the press during a news conference on July 23. 

Coates was arrested after DNA evidence collected from the crime scene linked him to the killing, according to the police. In March 2021, Roswell police had received funding from Georgia's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council which allowed investigators to pay for the additional testing on evidence from the original crime scene by a private, independent laboratory, Cyber Genetics Inc. A warrant for his arrest was taken out and the 56-year-old criminal was taken into custody on July 21 during a traffic stop from an Uber, without incident. 

“The death of Josh and the fact that his killer remained free for such a long time is unimaginable. I hope this arrest brings a sense of closure," Conroy said. Harmon's family was finally at peace after the arrest. “Josh was an amazing young boy who had an uncanny relationship with nature, and with God. So I know where he is and I know he’s at peace,” Harmon's aunt Marlene Carlisle said at the news conference, speaking on behalf of the family. She is the sister of Cherie Harmon, the mother of Coates' victim. She had died in October 2020 at the age of 65. “My sister never gave up. Never gave up,” Carlisle said. “She kept going and she made that phone call every few years ... and I know she’s smiling down on everybody here.”

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