Davenport in Scott County
Scott County in Iowa
Cody W. James
Gary Lee Harker
Cody W. James, 30
Gary Lee Harker, 30
Went Missing December 25, 1979
Bodies Found April 24, 1980
Cody James and Gary Harker met at Moline High School in Illinois, and remained great friends long after graduation. Even their birthdays were just one month apart. Not surprisingly, they were together on Christmas Day, 1979, painting in James’ woodcarving shop in Moline. Later in the day they stopped painting and hopped into James’ 1965 black Chevrolet pickup truck; they had an air compressor to deliver in Rock Island, Ill., and afterwards were to pick up the $500 payment for it in Davenport, Iowa.
The two knew they had enemies and wanted to be prepared — they’d gone so far as to give a roll of film to another friend with explicit instructions:
“If anything happens to us, develop this film.”
Harker lived in Rock Island, Ill., with his wife Marie, and she, too, had reason to worry about the risky business in which her husband and his friend had become involved; she was into her third trimester expecting their new baby.
James and Harker delivered the compressor in Rock Island and headed toward Davenport that night, but never arrived to pick up the $500 payment.
Neither were ever seen alive again.
On February 22, 1980, the black pickup truck that sat parked in the 600 block of Iowa Street in Davenport — its bed full of grass, branches, other debris and snow — was tagged as an abandoned vehicle. On March 3, police had it towed to Road and Wrecker Service’s yard in Davenport, where it would be held for the 40-day minimum stipulated by city ordinance before being put up for auction.
A certified letter with towing details was sent to the truck’s registered owner, Cody James at 1019 25th St. in Moline, Ill. The letter was returned, unanswered.
Spring soon arrived, as did Gary and Marie Harker’s baby — a daughter.
On March 29, Cody’s 31st birthday came and went without a celebration.
On Thursday, April 24, 1980 — five days before Gary’s 31st birthday — James Spurling, Jr., 25, and his brother, Richard, 19, both of Muscatine, spotted the black pickup at the Davenport police auction. They had another truck in need of repairs, and thought the black Chevrolet would be perfect for salvageable parts. Around noon and $140 later, the pickup belonged to them. When the auction ended they drove the truck out to their father’s Muscatine County farm.
A few hours later the elder brother noticed a foul odor coming from the truck, and drove it out to a field where he could empty the grass and branches from the pickup truck’s bed. He went to grab a shovel to begin shoveling out the debris, when all the sudden he noticed a boot. He tried to pull it out, but it wouldn’t move. That’s when he saw a leg — a bug crawling across it — and realized a decomposing body lay beneath the refuse.
Spurling, who said he initially thought the smell came from “a dead animal or something,” went back home to phone police. Once there, and not quite certain what he’d seen, he decided to have another look before placing the call. He then discovered the second set of boots and the other body, and immediately phoned police.
Davenport police said the bodies had probably been in the truck about 60 days, though the U.S. Social Security Death Index lists Cody James’ death as “Dec. 1979,” and Gary Harker’s death as “Jan. 1980.”
Officials determined both James and Harker had been struck in the head with a wedge normally used for tree cutting. No foreign objects were found inside the bodies.
Police Chief Kenneth Conlon confirmed the truck had been sold at the PD’s auction, but said the police department wasn’t responsible for cleaning abandoned vehicles towed to the pound.
By late May, police said they were looking for three people in the double slaying they believed was drug-related. The drugs, they stated, may have been amphetamines. They did not, however, identify any suspects.
Marie Harker said at the time she knew her husband “set up drug deals for other people,” but that “Gary knew I didn’t want him to be dealing.”
The new mother denied allegations by neighbors who complained that her husband dealt drugs out of his woodcarving shop at 1147 16th Ave. in Rock Island.
Witnesses said the truck bed had been cleaned out the morning the two men disappeared.
Christmas Photos — 25 Years Later
With Christmas 2004 came the 25th anniversary of Cody James’ and Gary Harker’s disappearance. A friend — one who’d been entrusted with a certain roll of film — opened up his nightstand. He pulled out the photos. The time had come. He knew what he had to do.
On December 26, Davenport police announced they were renewing the investigation into the double homicide after a friend handed over photographs from a roll of film given to him by the victims before they died.
“He turned over photos of suspects we believe are involved in the killing,” said Detective Greg Keller. “People talking to us are speaking freely and not fearing retaliation.”
Keller said the victims were “not wimps” and would have put up a good fight.
“It stands to reason there were multiple people involved in their deaths,” he said.
Keller said a drug supplier was involved in the killings, and that when he’d read up on the case, he’d found a multi-jurisdictional investigation that could be reignited because advances such as computer databases made it easier for police to follow leads and connect evidence. Additionally, he said when he’d first opened the file — the first time the case had been reviewed since 1996 — he found “there were things that weren’t done that needed to be done.”
A renewed multi-state hunt for the killers began.
Keller said many of the people the victims hung around with would not go to police in 1979 and 1980, but now were more willing to answer questions and provide evidence. The same people talking to him now, he said, were those who listened to James and Harker talk about concerns for their safety a quarter-century ago.
The soil and shrubbery found in the truck was tested to determine whether it matched similar materials from a suspected murder site, though police would not disclose the location.
Detective Sgt. Greg Glandon, one of two Davenport officers who’d towed the truck in 1980, said he remained optimistic about the direction of the renewed investigation. It already had turned up hair and blood samples on old evidence for possible DNA analysis, he said.
In May, an evidence technician used a chemical process just being developed at the time of the slayings to find a fingerprint on evidence discovered in the truck with the bodies.
Detectives interviewed people in at least five states but looked to question more. Keller said they felt people were still out there who knew what happened.
“People [who have knowledge about the case] may think we already know and we don’t,” Keller said. “That may be the thing that we need.”
It never came, and the case remains open today.
If you have any information about this unsolved double homicide, please contact the Davenport Police Department at (563) 326-7979 or Detective Keller at (563) 326-6189.
- Davenport Police Department
- “Davenport’s unsolved homicides,” The Quad-City Times, June 25, 2011
- U.S. Social Security Death Index
- “Davenport reopens double murder case,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, Sunday, December 26, 2004
- “Film roll sent out West by police,” Quad-City Times, December 24, 2004
- “Davenport police reopen murder case,” Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, December 20, 2004
- “Davenport police renew old murder case of Illinois men,” The Dispatch-Argus, December 19, 2004
- “Davenport police renew probe of old murder case,” The Dispatch-Argus, December 18, 2004
- “Police renew 25-year-old slaying case,” Quad-City Times, December 18, 2004
- “Body of Decorah man in truck,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, April 28, 1980
- “Investigate bodies found at police auction,” The Spencer Daily Reporter, April 26, 1980
- “Two bodies in truck identified,” The Spencer Daily Reporter, April 25, 1980
- “Truck bought at police auction held 2 bodies,” The Burlington Hawk-Eye, April 25, 1980
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