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Unique Harris disappearance: Man charged with murder a decade after woman goes missing

Valencia Harris wears a shirt with a picture of her missing daughter, Unique Harris. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

For 10 years, police investigating the disappearance of Unique Harris slowly assembled scraps of evidence. DNA from a couch. Stories from a companion of the victim that didn’t add up. A jailhouse informant who heard talk of a missing girl. The fuzzy recollections of a child.

For detectives who had chased a slew of false sightings and leads, including someone who claimed to have kidnapped Harris and demanded a ransom for her return, those scraps finally came together into a cohesive, tragic story.

This past weekend, police arrested the companion they had long suspected, accusing Isaac Moye of killing the 24-year-old mother of three who vanished from her apartment in Southeast Washington in 2010, leaving her three children alone inside. Her body has not been found.

Police charged Moye, 43, with second-degree murder while armed. He was released from prison last month after serving nearly five years for assaulting a woman with a knife. On Monday, a D.C. Superior Court judge ordered him detained on the murder charge.

Harris’s mother, Valencia Harris, who became an advocate for missing people and domestic violence victims, took to Facebook after the arrest to remind others in similar situations to “NEVER GIVE UP fighting for your loved one. NEVER!” She added: “I hope & pray EVERY parent out there can rest a little bit easier.”

A young mother — gone without a trace

Joel Maupin, who commanded the D.C. police 7th District station in 2010, recalled Monday that when Harris’s missing person report came across his desk, he immediately thought the worst. He assigned the case to the criminal division instead of to missing persons.

“It was very much a mystery how she would just disappear in the middle of the night with her kids still in the apartment,” said Maupin, who is now chief of the District’s Housing Authority police. “We always wondered what had happened to her.”

Of the arrest, Maupin said, “It took a long time. Thank God it’s done.”

Moye pleaded not guilty at his initial hearing Monday in D.C. Superior Court. His attorney with the Public Defender Service, Jason Tulley, argued the charging document prepared by police failed to present enough evidence to sustain a second-degree murder charge. He questioned whether there is sufficient evidence to conclude Harris is dead, and he said the affidavit cites “a plethora of alternative suspects.”

Tulley told the judge: “I think it all accumulates to show the weakness of the case.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Vinet Bryant said the affidavit established probable cause to believe Moye committed a crime.

Associate Superior Court Judge James A. Crowell IV ruled the murder charge could stand, though he said, “There are, in the court’s view, some challenges in the probable cause statement.” He set a hearing for Jan. 11.

This is the second time this year that D.C. police arrested a suspect in a killing in which a body is missing. A second-degree murder charge is pending against a man in the presumed death of 34-year-old Olga Ooro, who disappeared from her apartment in Northwest Washington in July and has not been found.

D.C. police struggled for years to find out what happened to Harris.

Investigators chased purported sightings, false leads and a bogus extortion scheme that police said was under investigation by the FBI and targeted other families searching for missing relatives. Harris’s mother got a call from one person telling her, “You will never see your daughter again,” the arrest affidavit says.

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According to the affidavit, police ruled out as suspects a boyfriend who lived in Virginia, a maintenance man with a murder conviction fired for improperly entering apartments in Harris’s building and an ice cream truck driver with whom she had argued. Tipsters told police they saw her in Detroit using the name Hollywood and in Georgia under the name Lexis. Police said none of these leads panned out.

But in 2017, some leads began to show promise.

Harris had disappeared hours after she and her three children, then ages 4, 5 and 10, had watched a movie. She sent them to bed, and she was gone when her children woke in the morning.

In 2010, the children said they recalled nothing suspicious.

But seven years later, one of the children told police he had gotten out of bed and opened his door. He reported seeing a man enter, whom he later recognized as “Iceberg,” which police say is Moye’s nickname. The boy reported he closed his door and later reported hearing his mother yell, “Get out, get out” followed by muffled screams. Three years later, the same boy told police he didn’t recall “Iceberg” having ever visited his mother’s apartment.

In 2017, police said they linked DNA from bodily fluids found on the living room couch to Moye. The hit from a database came after Moye went to prison on the assault charge in 2016. Police said in the affidavit that someone had cut off a piece of fabric from a couch cushion, but some genetic material remained on the couch.

In 2020, police said in the affidavit, an informant locked up with Moye told detectives he heard the suspect talk about a “missing girl and recalled Moye saying “that they will never find him because he did it the right way so they will never figure it out.”

Police said they interviewed Moye several times over the years. The affidavit says he told contradictory stories about when he visited Harris’s apartment and about the nature of their relationship. At one point, he told police he was one of the last people to talk to her before she disappeared, according to the affidavit.

According to the affidavit, Moye told police he didn’t hurt or kidnap Harris. Police said he told them he believes Harris “is alive and decided to walk away from her life because of all the stress she was under.”

Police say Moye was wearing a GPS tracker at the time of Harris’s disappearance, and the data shows he was at Harris’s apartment complex the night of Oct. 9 and departed the morning of Oct. 10. Police say in the affidavit that they believe Harris was killed in her apartment and her body was carried out.

Alice Crites and Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

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