“People send me links to stories all the time involving cold cases that get solved after long periods of time,” Scott Burnham told Dateline. “And I think that there’s hope that her murder will be solved.”
This year marks the 46th anniversary of the murder of Scott’s second cousin, 20-year-old Ann Harmeier.
“Our grandmothers were sisters,” Scott said. “[Ann] was 10 years older from me.”
Scott said he grew up in northwest Indiana, but Ann lived in a small town called Cambridge City on the southeastern side of the state. “Of our generation of cousins, she was the oldest,” he said. “I always looked up to her, and I thought of her as, like, the coolest person in my family.”
He said Ann was incredibly kind and generous. “Ann was the real deal,” Scott said. “She was always interested in what you were doing and would always ask questions about you.”
Scott told Dateline that he is one of Ann’s closest living relatives. “Ann was an only child,” he explained. He said Ann’s father was an attorney and died when Ann was just 4 years old. “Her mother, Marjorie, was a music teacher,” Scott said. “She taught in the school system there, and she also gave voice lessons and piano lessons to kids in town, so the whole entire town knew her very well.”
He said that Marjorie never remarried. “She and Ann, of course, were very close,” he said. “It was just the two of them.”
In the fall of 1977, Ann headed back to college at Indiana University in Bloomington. “She was an incoming junior,” Scott said. “Both of her parents attended IU and her father went to law school there, so there was some familiarity there,” Scott said. “She had grown up going to campus and going to see games.”
Ann was a born entertainer, her talent no doubt inherited from her mother. “She was a theater major,” Scott said. “She went to Indiana [University] and spent time in a larger environment, in a bigger community with a thriving arts scene. She really blossomed.”
He explained that Ann had already arrived on campus in Bloomington that year but had returned home for the weekend to visit a friend back home in the hospital. “She originally had planned to travel back to campus Sunday night, but her mother was concerned about Ann traveling at night,” Scott said. “So she convinced her to drive back on Monday morning when she suspected it would be much safer.”
Ann set off for Bloomington on Monday, September 12, 1977, in her 1971 Pontiac LeMans. “It’s like a muscle car,” Scott said. “It’s a total badass car.” It was about a two-hour drive back to school. “She left early Monday morning, and she had a 10:30 class on Monday, but she never made it,” Scott told Dateline. “Her car broke down on Route 37.”
State Route 37 — a highway Ann was familiar with — connected Indianapolis and Bloomington. “Her car broke down about two miles north of Martinsville and approximately 20 minutes from Bloomington,” Scott said. She almost made it.
Scott said people almost immediately knew something was wrong when Ann didn’t show up for her 10:30 class. “Ann was so diligent and she attended every class,” Scott told Dateline. “So it was unusual for her, obviously, not to be there.”
She also didn’t call her mother, as she’d promised she do when she got to campus.
Later that day, Ann missed a rehearsal at the school theatre. “Her peers in the theater community thought it was strange that she didn’t show,” Scott said.
Scott said his Aunt Marjorie had been calling Ann’s off-campus apartment over and over, but her daughter never picked up. Marjorie and a friend decided to drive to Bloomington to look for Ann themselves.
“The two of them retraced the route to Bloomington,” Scott told Dateline. “It was close to midnight and they came across Ann’s car parked on the side of the road.”
“They found the car was locked,” Scott told Dateline. “Her laundry and books were still in the car.” So they headed to the nearest police station to report that something was wrong.
The Indiana State Police Bloomington District has posted about Ann’s case in the cold case section of their website. “On September 12, 1977, Ann Louise Harmeier was reported missing after failing to return to the Bloomington Campus of Indiana University,” the post states. “Her rust-colored 1971 Pontiac LeMans” was found parked on the shoulder of SR 37 “with the doors locked and the hazard lights flashing.” According to the Indiana State Police, it was later determined that the “engine radiator was out of water and that the car had overheated.”
The family later learned more about Ann’s car troubles, cousin Scott Burnham remembers. “She actually made a couple of stops to some gas stations to have them look at it. And the last one she visited was only about 10 or so miles from the actual site where her car broke down,” he said. “The police had apparently interviewed the individuals who had contact with Ann that morning and they apparently all checked out.”
Back home in Cambridge City, the village rallied. “The community really banded together and started holding meetings,” Scott said. “They had regular meetings about what they could do to get the word out about Ann’s disappearance” and to try to figure out what might have happened.
“Ann was such a cautious person that a lot of her friends and family say, ‘Well, she would never get into a car with somebody who she didn’t feel comfortable with or didn’t know,’” Scott said.
But he told Dateline that he thinks Ann might have been so concerned about getting to that 10:30 class that morning that she decided to accept a ride from someone to get back in time. “Ann was very — she was so diligent, and I know that she was likely so concerned that she was going to miss this 10:30 class that she got into the car with somebody who she felt was safe,” Scott said. “I think if she was taken against her will, the car wouldn’t have been locked.”
Scott was about 10 years old when his cousin Ann vanished. “I remember my parents letting me know soon after she disappeared that she had gone missing, and they were definitely concerned about it,” Scott told Dateline, adding that the family initially felt that Ann would be found safe.
According to Scott, once the authorities began investigating Ann’s disappearance, “within days, the tenor of the case changed dramatically,” he said. “The ISP and the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department stepped up and devoted significant resources and staff to the case.” Scott said they conducted a road check near the area where Ann’s car had broken down. “They actually brought the car back and stopped vehicles along the way to ask them if they had seen this vehicle a week ago and if they had seen Ann or anyone engaging with her,” Scott told Dateline.
With no cell phones or internet, the community turned to making flyers and distributing them throughout central Indiana and along SR 37. Scott told Dateline his cousin’s disappearance even sparked national interest and attention. “I think her story was actually featured on the NBC Nightly News,” Scott said.
He was right. In the weeks after Ann vanished, NBC Nightly News covered her story.
“So her disappearance sparked national headlines and created a huge search by the Cambridge City community and the IU community, who were put on edge following her disappearance,” Scott said.
The search ended five weeks later. “Towards the end of October, there was a farmer who was plowing or harvesting the corn in the fields, and he came across her body,” Scott said. “The farmer called the police, who responded immediately and identified the body as Ann Harmeier.”
He said officials knew right away that it was Ann. “She was wearing a Indiana T-shirt, and she was identified by the clothing, through dental records, and her purse was found nearby,” Scott told Dateline.
It was a brutal scene. “One of her shoelaces was used to tie her hands behind her back, and the other was tied around her neck, and her hairbrush was used to tighten the knot,” Scott said. “And after she was raped, her assailant had used her hairbrush to twist the knot around her neck to tighten it, and she eventually succumbed to asphyxiation.”
The ISP website confirmed that more than a month after her disappearance, “Harmeier’s body was found in a cornfield approximately 7 miles northeast of Martinsville, Indiana.” They were able to determine that Ann “died from strangulation by a shoelace.”
“My aunt was notified, and obviously she was just devastated,” Scott said. He told Dateline that the adults in the family didn’t divulge too many details to the children in the family, at the time. “They wanted to shield us from the gruesome details.”
But he does remember attending Ann’s funeral that fall. “We were in this little church in Cambridge City,” Scott said. “It was just crowded, and there were people outside trying to get in.” He said he remembered sitting in the wooden pew among his siblings and cousins. “What really impacted me the most was that all the people in attendance were just completely devastated,” he said. “At 10 years old, that really stuck with me.”
According to Scott, his Aunt Marjorie did not recover from losing her daughter in such a brutal way. “After Ann’s body was found, my aunt had basically given up on living, much less devoting any energy on tracking down her killer.” She died of brain cancer a couple of years later.
At some point, Scott said, their family was led to believe Ann’s case was closed. “Our family was under the impression that Ann’s killer had been caught and he was no longer living,” he recalled. He said that for a long time they believed Ann had been killed by a man named Steven Judy.
According to the Clark County, Indiana Prosecuting Attorney’s website, Judy was put to death for the April 1979 murders of Terry Chasteen and her three young children. He was executed on March 9, 1981, by electric chair.
“Their bodies were found in the same county where Ann had died and similar type of MO where the woman had been tied up and raped and strangled,” Scott said. He added that before Judy was executed, he had the opportunity to confess to other murders and crimes. “So he confessed to several other murders of women that he committed, some in other states,” Scott said. “But when they asked him about my cousin, he told them that he had no responsibility in her death and he had no idea who she was.”
Scott believes that Judy had nothing to do with Ann’s death. “There’s clear evidence he was in jail on the day Ann was killed and he had plenty of opportunities to confess — and he did reveal plenty about other crimes he took part in — but was adamant when it came to denying a role in Ann’s death,” Scott told Dateline. “It has become apparent to everyone that he knew nothing about Ann or the circumstances surrounding her death.”
A report published in the Indianapolis Star in September of 2022 stated that “an Indiana State Police review of jail records from Sept. 12, 1977, showed Judy was in the Marion County Jail that day.” However, the paper noted, that the records no longer exist — they were either lost or thrown out. Judy’s attorney told the IndyStar that Judy denied that he was responsible for Ann’s death, but added that Judy “did have a problem telling the truth sometimes, so you can’t necessarily believe everything that he said.”
Decades after Ann’s murder, Scott was listening to a story on the radio that brought his cousin’s case to the front of his mind again. “The arrest of the Golden State Killer in California prompted a renewed interest among myself and family members,” he said. It made him think of Ann because the Golden State Killer was active in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Arrested in 2018, Joseph DeAngelo pleaded guilty to 13 murders, among other charges in that case, and is now serving life in prison. If that case could be solved after so long, why not Ann’s? “I decided to reach out to the Indiana State Police,” he said.
Scott told Dateline that he filed a Freedom of Information Act request for Ann’s case files, but the request was denied because the Indiana State Police said the case was open and active. “As you can imagine, following more than 40 years without any arrest, my family was devastated,” he said. “The state police had told us that because no one was officially charged in the killing — in Ann’s killing — that it was technically still open.”
Scott told Dateline that he decided he would look into Ann’s case as much as he could, without those reports. He even told his colleagues at a public affairs agency in Chicago about it. Hannah Warren was one of those colleagues.
“One day he came into work, this was shortly after the Golden State Killer had been found from DNA evidence from many years ago,” Hannah told Dateline. “And we were all sitting around lunch one day and he was like, ‘I’m going to solve my cousin’s murder.’”
Hannah said the colleagues all thought Scott was joking at first, but quickly realized that he was serious. “Immediately, I was like, ‘I want in, I want to help you,’” Hannah said. “So [we] got together and built a social media campaign from nothing to what it is today.”
Hannah explained that she helped Scott create Facebook, Instagram and X, formerly known as Twitter, accounts dedicated to finding out who killed Ann. “It’s told from Ann’s point of view, she’s rather cheeky,” Hannah said. “It’s rather different, which I think makes us stand out.”
“My New Year’s resolution aren’t that different from most 20-year-olds, eat healthier; make more time for myself,” one post read. “And find the guy who raped and killed me.”
Hannah said that the cheekiness of the social media campaign has been off-putting for some people, but that’s OK. “Some people have liked it and some people haven’t,” she said. “But no matter what, it got them talking.”
“This is going to be the 46th anniversary of her murder and it marks a critical point,” Scott told Dateline. “We’re 46 years away from the time of her murder and many of the individuals who have knowledge about the case or– possible suspects are either dead or in poor health.”
That’s why he thinks it’s important to spread the word about Ann. “Our best bet is to raise awareness about her death and get people to start talking and remembering and hopefully come forward with new information that would crack the case,” he said.
As far as DNA goes, Scott said that there was evidence collected at the scene, and it has been tested, but there haven’t been any matches yet. “At the time, in the ‘70s, nobody really thought about DNA evidence that would become critical in the future, but the evidence was preserved, and it is occasionally tested,” he said. “So we’re hopeful that one day there will be a match.”
Scott told Dateline he has two goals now. “Our number one goal is to find Ann’s killer,” Scott told Dateline. “Finding the guy who did this and getting him locked away for good, if not worse, was my end goal.”
He said that through researching his cousin’s case he has a new goal, as well. “At first, I just cared about my cousin’s case, but,” he said, “I started coming across a lot of victims — particularly women in Indiana who disappeared or were murdered in the ‘70s and ‘80s — whose cases have remained unsolved for decades.”
He’s hoping to help raise funds to create a dedicated cold case unit to look into some of the many unsolved cases in Indiana — Ann is just one of almost 100 unsolved cold cases listed on the Indiana State Police website.
And while Ann was initially the driving force behind Scott’s interest, he ultimately realized how much his efforts could help other cold cases. “This wouldn’t just help Ann, but it would help a lot of people, especially women who were murdered whose crimes have gone unsolved because of who they were — whether they were people of color, whether they were sex workers, whether they came from marginalized communities,” he said. “I know that’s something Ann would have wanted.”
Dateline reached out to the Indiana State Police for an update on where Ann’s case stands now. Sergeant Kevin Getz, the PIO for the Indiana State Police Bloomington District, told Dateline that the “case remains under investigation, so there is little that we can release.”
If you have information, please contact the Indiana State Police at 812-332-4411.