Nine years later, murderer still at large
They were an unlikely group. Three men, two middle-aged, and one approaching his 70s, in a rented motor home. No one can be sure about how or why their journey began, but it ended with one man dead, one either so ridden with guilt or fear that he turned himself in, and another hunted by police.
It was probably drugs that drew 43-year-old Terry Pappageorge into Paul Harmon’s web of influence. There were rumors that Harmon, 48, was involved in organized crime. After his disappearance, investigators found the remains of a methamphetamine lab on Harmon’s 39-acre ranch outside of Bakersfield. But John Fannon made an unlikely addition to the group. At 68, Fannon a resident of Winchester, a small rural town in northern Virginia, didn’t fit the image of a meth junkie. What kept him tied to Harmon isn’t clear.
Douglas County Sheriff’s detectives would eventually painstaking piece together the moments of the three men’s deadly association in October of 1990.
They probably didn’t plan to stop long in Lake Tahoe, but fate sometimes throws unexpected twists.
When the motor home broke down in Strawberry, their plans changed. They rented a Cadillac and a cabin at Zephyr Cove Lodge to hold them over while they waited for repairs to be completed. What they did to pass the time is unknown. But one night in the cabin near the lake things went bad. A desk clerk later told investigators that Pappageorge was “acting nervous” that weekend. Fannon told investigators that Harmon, possibly angry over a drug debt, stabbed Pappageorge repeatedly until the Aurora, Colo. man was dead. No one heard the struggle and Fannon just stood by and watched. The coroner’s report stated Pappageorge suffered more than 20 stab wounds.
After the heat of the moment was over, Harmon and Fannon were unsure of what to do with the body. They thought of several plans and discarded them, but in the process they left clues behind.
They went to Glenbrook, possibly looking for a place to dump the body, and Fannon gave his name at the front gate. They bought a rubber raft, weights and an outboard motor at the Outdoorsman, now Longs Drugs, again Fannon’s name was used. All this took time. When the two men rented a U-Haul, and in the early morning hours of Oct. 14, loaded it with the raft, motor, weights, and Pappageorge’s body, it had been several days since the murder.
Investigators said the plan was for Harmon to take the raft and body out from the Camp Richardson dock while Fannon rented a powerboat from the opposite side of the lake. Halfway out Harmon’s motor stalled, forcing him to paddle back to shore. He made another attempt, this time making it three-quarters of a mile off shore.
It seemed simple. Harmon tied the weights to one of Pappageorge’s legs. He planned to cut the raft and let the body slip into the lake’s frigid waters. The evidence would be gone. But instead of the body, Harmon fell through the hole and in the process lost his glasses. After finally getting the body out, Harmon and Fannon made their escape to southeast shore of the lake in the rented powerboat. At the time no one at the marina found it strange that the boat went out with only one man and returned with two – one shivering and cold from an October dip in the lake. Later, when talking to investigators, they would remember and wonder.
The two men’s activities didn’t go totally unnoticed. A fisherman noticed them speeding away from the raft and moved in to investigate. Pappageorge’s body, now bloated with gases, was floating face down near the craft. The weights had succeeded in only pulling one leg under.
Harmon and Fannon got back in the motor home and drove to Carson City, leaving the vehicle across from a car lot. The Cadillac was found in the airport parking lot, where the two men abandoned it to take a flight to San Jose. Harmon’s trail dwindles at this point. His neighbors in Bakersfield never saw Harmon again after Oct. 18, four days after the body was discovered. Fannon surrendered, with a lawyer present, to federal agents in Reno a little more than a month later. At first he refused to talk to detectives, but eventually he turned state’s evidence on Harmon and pleaded to a reduced charge. Fannon served a short sentence, and investigators believe he is a free man and still living.
Despite intensive investigation by Douglas County Sheriff’s detectives and the FBI, Harmon, now 56, is still at large and facing a warrant charging unlawful flight to avoid prosecution and murder.
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