Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Susan Harrison

Real Name: Susan Mary Hurley Harrison
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: Timonium, Maryland
Date: August 5, 1994


Occupation: Entrepreneur selling handcrafted lamp shades
Date of Birth: March 2, 1942
Height: 5'6
Weight: 115 lbs.
Marital Status: Married
Characteristics: Caucasian female with blond hair.


Details: Fifty-two-year-old Susan Hurley was a mother of two adult sons, Nick and Jon Owsley. In 1982, she met James J. "Jim" Harrison, a CFO for McCormick & Company, through her husband Tom Owsley. She and Jim later divorced their spouses and married each other in 1988. From the beginning, their relationship was rocky, full of heavy drinking and frequent fights. However, he blamed the fighting on her alleged manic depression. He claimed that she would yell, scream, fight with him, and destroy things. Nick and Jon dispute that claim, saying they had not seen any signs of it. Instead, they and other loved ones claim that Jim was physically abusive towards her.
Susan and Tom shared custody of Nick and Jon. On one night, Jon was visiting prospective colleges while Nick was at Susan's home. Nick claims that he woke up at around 2am and heard her and Jim fighting. She came into his room crying, saying that Jim was hurting her. Nick called Jon's girlfriend and she agreed to come pick him up. While waiting outside, he witnessed Jim abusing Susan. He came to her aid and told him to leave her alone. Jim, however, claimed that he never abused her and only defended himself. Police officers had been called to the home on several occasions. One reported that Susan did have bruises, but was unable to get the full story from her and Jim.
In 1993, Susan twice petitioned the court for a restraining order against Jim. However, she ended up violating it by visiting him. In December, she fled barefoot and without a coat to a friend's house after Jim threw her into a Christmas tree during an argument. Finally, in January 1994, she left Jim to start her own business, selling hand-crafted lamp shades at a store she called "The Shady Lady". Shortly after, she began seeing him again and the fighting continued. In early August, Nick and Jon gave her an ultimatum: either stay with him or with them. The next morning, she decided to leave him for good. Two days later, on August 5, Nick went to her home in Ruxton; the two had planned to visit relatives in Boston the next day. When he arrived there, he found the front door open and no one inside. Her car was gone and a set of keys were on the kitchen table. He waited until 2am and then went home. The next day, he and Jon notified the police who began an investigation.
The police questioned Jim about Susan and her whereabouts. He claimed that she visited him at his Timonium home three times on August 5. He claimed that she was upset at first, but after she took a nap, she was much happier. Two hours later, she took another one. When she woke from it, however, her mood changed for the worse. According to him, she became angry and belligerent. At around 10pm, she left in her car.
Authorities immediately began a search for Susan's missing car, a 1992 green Saab convertible, hoping it would provide clues to help find her. Three weeks later, it was discovered at Washington National Airport, approximately seventy miles south of her home. Records showed that it entered the parking lot at 6am on August 6. The keys were in the ignition, the gas tank was half full, and the battery was dead raising the question: Did Susan walk away from her life and family? Despite finding the car, police had few leads to go by and she was still missing. Later in August, Jim took and failed a polygraph test; he claimed it was flawed.
The police have found no evidence that Susan disappeared on her own accord. They, along with her family, believe that foul play was involved. Jim, however, maintains that she simply walked away from her life.

Jim harriosn1.jpg

Suspects: The police have found no evidence of another person being involved in this case and consider Jim the prime suspect. Suspicion remained with him, although he disputed and denied all the allegations. Police records, medical records, and testimony from a forensic psychiatrist have all supported Susan's allegations of abuse by him. Witnesses, including family and friends, have also confirmed the abuse. It was reported that police were called nearly twenty times to the Harrison home for domestic disturbances. His propensity for violence was also shown when he tried to assault police officers on three separate occasions when he was arrested for public intoxication.
Jim's actions following Susan's disappearance have been suspicious. He acted surprised when Nick and Susan's brother called him, asking about her whereabouts, despite being earlier told by the police that she was missing. He changed his story about where he was the morning following her disappearance. He claimed that he was jogging, despite being an overweight alcoholic who did not normally exercise. That morning, Tom called Jim's home between 9:30 and 10am, but Jim did not answer.
A week after Susan vanished, Jim asked his cleaning lady to clean the downstairs bathroom, which was normally clean and seldom used. She noticed that it was filthy, filled with dirt and soil. He also asked her how often she emptied her vacuum cleaner bag. At the time, she did not know about Susan's disappearance. When she learned about it, she contacted the police; unfortunately, she had already emptied the bag by that time.
A utility worker who was working on power lines near Jim's home on the night of August 5/6 noticed a car leaving there at around 4am. He believed that it was Susan's; this was suspicious as Jim claimed that she had left hours earlier.
Susan's family claimed that Jim did nothing to help with the search for her. They believe that he accidentally killed her in an argument, put her body in her car, disposed of it, then abandoned the car at the airport before taking public transportation home. After arriving home, they believe that he changed out of his dirty clothes in the basement bathroom and then met with the police.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the November 8, 1996 episode. Susan's sister, Molly, later wrote the book "Finding Susan" about it.
Results: Unresolved. On November 29, 1996, two years after Susan disappeared, her skeletal remains were found in a shallow grave by two hikers in a remote hunting area near Wolfsville, Maryland, about fifty miles from her home. Dental records and sapphire earrings confirmed her identity. Based on head injuries to her skull, the State Medical Examiner ruled that she had been murdered, probably on the day she disappeared. Although Jim claimed to have never been to the area where her remains were found, a witness told investigators that he and Susan had visited the area a year before she vanished.
In July 1997, police searched Jim's home for evidence; it is not known if anything was found. Later that month, Nick and Jon filed a $17 million wrongful death suit against him. In August 1999, it was settled privately. Surprisingly, later that year, the Maryland Attorney General's Office ended the criminal investigation into Susan's murder due to "insufficient evidence". Her family is convinced that Jim is responsible for it, but charges were never filed and he passed away in 2007 at the age of seventy-one. A reward is being offered for information in this case.