Many parents fear losing their children in a crowd. You turn your back on them for one second at the mall, and they’ve disappeared into a clothing rack. It’s a story that’s been told time and time again, and most of these children are found quickly and safe. But that doesn’t always happen. This is the case of Alexander Harris.
Very little information is publically available on Alexander Harris’s early life. He was born in or around 1980 to Roxanne Harris; I found nothing substantial about his biological father. At the time of his death, Alexander lived with his mom in Mountain View, California, in the state’s famous Silicon Valley.
On the morning of November 27, 1987 — the day after Thanksgiving — Alexander, his mom and grandfather were on the way home from a family reunion, I believe in Las Vegas. (A couple of sources said November 28, but that would have been a Saturday, aka not the day after Thanksgiving.) The family stopped at Whiskey Pete’s, a bar and casino that is, at least today, part of Primm Valley Casino Resorts, on Las Vegas Boulevard near the Nevada/California state line. Alexander headed to the casino’s arcade while his mom and grandfather went to gamble.
Around 11 am, witnesses saw 7-year-old Alexander walking hand in hand with a man in his thirties down a hallway, headed in the direction of the casino’s hotel. At first, at least one witness assumed the two were father and son. Not too long after this, Roxanne Harris approached this man, looking for Alexander. The man told her he’d recently seen a little boy who matched her son’s description, and they soon realized these two boys were actually the same — and the man was obviously not his father. Roxanne contacted the police.
For the next two days, Las Vegas police searched the casino grounds. The FBI also got involved.
Alexander’s family was quickly ruled out as suspects, and at least two drawings were released of the man Alexander had last been seen with were produced. The man was described as being between 5 foot 7 and 6 feet tall, 160 to 175 pounds, with sandy blonde hair, a tan “Members Only” style jacket that was popular at the time, and glasses.
Then, on December 30, Alexander’s body was found by a maintenance worker. He’d been buried under the trailer, which was close to the casino and was used by employees during their off time. An autopsy would later conclude that Alexander had been dead since pretty soon after he went missing. His body had no visible trauma, and investigators believe he was suffocated.
Police looked into everyone who had been staying on the second floor of the casino at the time of Alexander’s disappearance. This is how they found out about Howard Haupt, a 38-year-old data processor from San Diego who bore at least some resemblance to the man Alexander had last been seen with. Police showed his photo to eyewitnesses and hotel staff, who agreed that he looked like the same guy.
But this case was not rock solid by any means. A fingerprint found on Alexander’s glasses was similar to Haupt’s, but it couldn’t be determined whether it was actually his. Haupt also proceeded eyewitnesses of his own who corroborated his alibi that he was out sailing when Alexander went missing. Searches of his house and car failed to turn up any evidence to tie him to the crime.
Nevertheless, Howard Haupt was arrested on February 20, 1988 and charged with kidnapping and first degree murder. His trial began the following January. He faced the death penalty.
Haupt’s lawyer said the man Alexander had last been seen with wasn’t Haupt, that it was a case of mistaken identity. His defense accused police of rushing to judgment and trying to prove that Haupt was guilty, rather than going where the evidence led them.
On February 15, 1989, Howard Haupt was acquitted on all charges, the jury later saying they were skeptical of shaky eyewitness testimony. Most of the witnesses who testified — if not all of them — had only seen photos of Haupt during the initial investigation. They didn’t see him in person until they actually got to the courtroom. At least one eyewitness contradicted herself, initially saying the suspect had brown hair and was muscular, but saying on stand that he was skinny and blonde. One witness even said she was sure Haupt wasn’t the man she had seen that day.
In 1994, Haupt filed a $4 million lawsuit against the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, city of Las Vegas and Clark County. The lawsuit alleged that Haupt had been subject to “unreasonable search and seizures,” and that detectives had manipulated evidence to get a search warrant and coerce a confession. His lawyer here, J. Pat Horton, also accused police of honing in on Haupt as a suspect and trying to build their case around the idea that he was guilty. Haupt was ultimately awarded $1 million in punitive damage, but later said the lawsuit had been more trouble than it was worth. As of July 2021, nobody else has ever been charged with kidnapping and killing Alexander Harris, and the case remains unsolved.
There's very little information about this case online, but I did get a request to cover it on my corresponding YouTube channel, so I thought I'd give you guys the information I could find. I've seen several people on social media sites like Reddit say they wish this case would get more coverage, and I agree -- and hopefully any new coverage will cause renewed interest in it and, one day, it can be solved.