On January 22, 1986, my sister’s best friend, Amy Jo Harris, was murdered in Greenwood, Indiana. She was fifteen. This is Amy’s story, as told by my sister, Beth.
She was a year ahead of Amy in school, and the two met when Beth was a sophomore. Their personalities meshed well – both dealt with issues with their parents (Beth lived with her mother, and they didn’t get along at the time) and shared a huge love of Prince. In fact, my only memory of Amy is from shortly before we moved to Iowa, and she and Beth were visiting. I can still see them lounging in the backyard, listening to Prince and tanning. To this day, I always think of Beth and Amy when I hear Prince.
Beth remembers Amy as very gregarious, pretty, well-liked, smart and athletic. Amy was popular, and for all the right reasons. She genuinely cared about everyone and went out of her way for her friends.
She was aware that my mom and I didn’t get a long and she always supported and encouraged me. Whatever I needed, she was there. I had a part-time job at a pizza place that was a few miles from her house and she knew I was upset at work one night, so she walked there, brought me a stuffed bunny, with a sweet note attached to its arm, encouraging me to keep my head up. –Beth
Amy struggled with her parents divorce and lived with her mother and sister, but she’s remembered by her friends as a happy, positive person, drug free and never in trouble.
January 23rd, 1986 started out as a typical cold winter morning for my sister. Then Amy’s mother called wanting to know if she’d seen or spoken to her daughter. Amy hadn’t come home the day before, but her mother assumed she spent the night at friend’s.
I knew when I got off the phone with Jan that Amy was dead. I’m not sure how I knew, but I just did. –Beth
After school, Beth received the call she’d been dreading. Amy’s body had been found in a cornfield by a farmer walking his dog in Center Grove, just a few miles west of Greenwood. Dressed in running shorts, tennis shoes, and a gray sweatshirt, she’d been raped and strangled to death. A plaid jacket was placed over her head in an attempt to hide the body.
Her friends at Greenwood High School were in shock. Still a relatively small town in 1986, the Indianapolis suburb had a low murder rate. Things like that didn’t happen in Greenwood, especially to someone like Amy.
The police questioned all the students, including my sister, and a suspect soon emerged. Gary Monday, a classmate of Amy’s. Trusted by his friends, he was into fast cars and cruising. All of the students defended Gary – he might have been odd, but there were no signs he was capable of something as heinous as murder.
Still, circumstantial evidence quickly mounted against him. Amy had mentioned to friends a guy in a silver Camero was following her. Gary drove a Camero painted with silver primer, and the night her body was found, he asked a friend to paint the car. That friend remembers Gary acting panicked. Gary also arrived late to school on the morning of January 22 and many said he acted strangely.
Then the hard facts started coming in. On the morning of the 22nd, neighbors saw a man matching Gary’s description carrying Amy over his shoulder from her home and placing her inside a silver Chevy Camero. Plaster casts taken in the field where Amy’s body was found matched the tires on Monday’s Camero, and his tennis shoes matched the prints found at the scene.
Gary Monday was arrested on January 25 at Greenwood High School. His denials didn’t last long. His story? His interlude with Amy had been planned, the two having agreed to meet on the morning of the 22nd after Amy’s mother left for work. He claimed Amy wanted to be dropped off away from school, that she didn’t want to be seen with him. He got angry, they argued, she fell back and hit her head on the doorknob. Monday said he panicked when she started yelling for help. To quiet her, he held a pillow over her face and accidentally suffocated her.
I don’t buy it. Amy had no interest in losing her virginity, and she wasn’t the type of girl to make such a rash decision, especially on the morning before school. Her mother worked a lot and Amy had free reign, so finding privacy wasn’t likely an issue. Gary Monday showed up before school and raped and murdered the girl he’d been spying on. He was charged with first degree murder.
His plea deal avoided a trial, and he’s now in the Miami Correctional Facility until at least 2023. Monday has stated he was given bad advice by his attorney and has tried to have his appeal taken on pro bono but so far, no prisoner’s rights groups are interested. He’s serving consecutive terms: forty years for the murder and twenty-eight for the rape.
Loved in life and mourned in death, over 1,000 people attended her viewing, which was standing room only. And now, twenty-six years later, the aftermath is still felt among Amy’s family and friends. Today would have been her forty-second birthday, and she is still missed every day by her mother Jan, Beth, and countless other friends and family.
Have you lost a loved one to murder or know of anyone who has? How did you cope? Do grief counseling groups help?