In 1998, 11-year-old, Ryan Harris disappeared while playing outside on her bike. Her body was later found abandoned in bushes with her underwear stuffed in her mouth. Two young boys aged 7 and 8 were soon to become suspects. But had they really killed Ryan, or was the real killer still out there..?
On 27 July 1998, police got a call about a missing 11-year-old girl. Ryan Harris and her five siblings had been staying with their mum’s friend in Englewood, Chicago.
Ryan had been playing outside on her bike. When she didn’t return later that night, the police were called. Friends, family and neighbours combed the streets looking for the little girl.
Then the following day, her body was found in bushes on an abandoned lot. Ryan was on her back, her top and bra pulled above her breasts.
Her lime green shorts were hanging around one ankle. Her knickers had been stuffed in her mouth too and folded leaves had been pushed up her nostrils. Blood was splattered around her, including on bricks.
Investigators believed she’d been hit over the head. A murder investigation was launched. And less than two weeks later, two boys aged 7 and 8, were charged.
The boys were among the youngest accused murderers in US history. But many questioned how two little boys could be capable of such a heinous crime.
Police claimed the boys confessed to killing Ryan because they wanted to steal her bike. They said the boys struck her with a rock causing her to fall off her bike, knocking her unconscious.
And allegedly, they dragged her body to the bushes and undressed her out of childish curiosity before poking her with a stick.
When the story hit the papers, everyone was in disbelief. The thought of two young boys doing something so despicable sent chills down everyone’s spines.
But a month later, investigators analysed the underpants found in Ryan’s mouth. And forensic tests uncovered semen stains on them. Experts said it was highly unlikely that boys so young could even produce semen.
It threw the whole case on its head. Prosecutors quickly dropped the charges against the two boys. Many believed police had pushed them into fake confessions. Being so young, they were easily influenced.
Two weeks later, DNA tests showed the source of the semen was 29-year-old Floyd Durr. He was already suspected of raping three young girls earlier that year. Durr admitted to masturbating near Ryan’s corpse but denied killing her.
He claimed he’d been drawn to the lot where Ryan’s body was found after seeing two young boys fleeing with a bike. When he found Ryan’s dead body, he masturbated, but denied putting the pants in her mouth.
An autopsy revealed Ryan had suffered a depressed skull fracture on the right side. Blows to her head were thought to be the main cause of her death.
Though Ryan’s brain had swelled, suggesting she didn’t die immediately. And the autopsy revealed asphyxiation was also a contributing factor to her death.
This suggested the pants were put in her mouth shortly after she was attacked. So whoever killed her must’ve stuffed the underwear in her mouth too. The evidence seemed to point to Durr.
But there were still things that didn’t quite add up. The way in which Ryan’s clothing had been pulled up, indicated childish curiosity so that parts of her body could be exposed and explored.
The leaves in her nostrils also indicated immature behaviour. Investigators also found it odd that Ryan’s left arm was lying alongside her body and the right was above her head.
It suggested that two people had dragged her into the bushes, with one person dropping an arm before the other. If only one person had dragged it, they would’ve likely released the arms at the same time.
Nobody could be sure who killed Ryan and who did what to her body. Eventually the families of the two young boys filed civil suits against the police and the city. In time both families won settlements.
Then in 2006, Floyd Durr, then 37, appeared in court. During a hearing his lawyer announced he was making an Alford plea – pleading guilty but still maintaining he didn’t commit the crime.
At the time Durr was already serving 125 years in prison for separate crimes – all relating to assaults on young girls. He pleaded guilty to the murder of Ryan, agreeing to a life sentence plus an additional 30 years for committing one of Chicago’s most horrific crimes.
Prosecutors said his IQ was so low, he wasn’t eligible for the death penalty. Despite the conviction, many still felt the mystery of exactly what happened to Ryan Harris that day in 1998, remained largely unsolved.
But one thing was for sure, the little girl’s murder was one of the most horrific crimes in Chicago history. And it still sends shivers up the spine of the city today.
In a Press interviews ahead of Durr’s sentencing, Ryan’s mother, Sabrina Harris, said: ‘Because of the way she died, I don’t feel that he (Durr) should have a type of mercy.
‘My daughter suffered, so why should he get treatment? Why should he get help? My daughter didn’t have help. She didn’t have a chance for nobody to help her.
‘The worst thing I saw was her in a casket, she didn’t deserve to be there.
‘He (Durr) robbed the world.’