While My Banjo Gently Weeps: the Haunting Murders of Pam and Andy Harrison

Posted: April 23, 2018 in Uncategorized

Andrew and Pamela Harrison first laid eyes on the site of their demise on their honeymoon; they were charmed.

Pamela Harrison

The couple, raised in the middleclass suburbs of Philadelphia, spotted their dream home while sightseeing in the Blue Ridge Mountains—a six-room log cabin on eighty acres of woodland in the rustic town of Surgoinsville, Tennessee.
It would be, they later told their loved ones, the perfect place to raise a family.

Andy Harrison’s face is illegible in every available photograph

The cabin, lacking a phone and electricity, needed extensive repair work but the couple was undeterred;
in April, 1979 Andy and Pam purchased the property and moved south.
Andy, age twenty-eight, a former high school sports hero, got a job delivering Pepsi products to local convenience stores; Pam, age twenty-seven, a former cheerleader and model,
manned the front desk at a nearby Holliday Inn.
It appeared their life together was just beginning, but Pam and Andy Harrison had less than two years to live.

Although the Rogersville Review never specifies I believe these photos are from Pam’s modeling portfolio

Their last day, June 24th, 1981, dawned as a typical workday; the couple had only one car, a 1968 Camaro, and at approximately 6:30am Pam drove Andy to his job at the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company in Johnson City.
She then returned home for a few hours before her scheduled shift at the Kingsport Holiday Inn;
that afternoon Pam, known as a conscientious employee, failed to report to work.

“She’s the nicest person I ever met—so bubbly and friendly. Everybody here loved her.” Unnamed coworker of Pamela Harrison, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 3rd, 1981

At 4 pm that evening a fellow Pepsi employee drove Andy to the Holiday Inn to retrieve the couple’s vehicle
as was his routine, but the Camaro wasn’t in the parking lot.
A quick check with her coworkers revealed Pam had never arrived at the hotel;
Andy, stranded, helped his coworker with some deliveries for a few hours in exchange for a ride back to Surgoinsville.
He subsequently arrived home at approximately 8pm where he discovered Pam’s keys, purse and the family car—everything in its proper place except Pam herself.

That evening Harry and Janie Rimer—a salt-of-the-earth couple who lived across from the Harrison cabin on Longs Bend Road—heard Andy walking in the area calling for his wife.
He later stopped by the Rimers’ home in the company of a bespectacled stranger;
according to the Rogersville Review, when the Rimers said they hadn’t seen Pam that day Andy replied, “Oh, well, I guess she’s among the missing.”

Andy and his companion soon drove away in a two-tone blue automobile; approximately a half hour later,
at 10pm, the Rimers witnessed the same car, a 1980 Plymouth Horizon, return to the Harrison home.
A few minutes later a shot rang out;
the sound of gunfire was apparently commonplace in the area, however, and the Rimers were unperturbed.
The vehicle then departed and for the next forty-eight hours the Harrisons’ cabin was silent.

When the Harrisons failed to report to work for the next two days the couple’s coworkers became anxious.
The Holiday Inn staff asked Bobby Baird, a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent staying at the hotel,
to visit the Harrison home for a wellness check.
Just before midnight on June 26th Agent Baird arrived on Longs Bend Road;
although the Harrisons’ door was padlocked and nothing appeared amiss he immediately noted the odor of human decomposition.
Forcing his way inside, Agent Baird discovered the body of Andy Harrison in the front hallway,
his remains covered with an assortment of women’s clothing.

Andy had been shot once in the back of the head with a .25; his billfold was absent but everything else in the cabin appeared undisturbed.
Although the residence was thoroughly searched Pam, almost three days she’d last been seen,
remained among the missing.

The next morning a search of the Harrisons’ property revealed several items of Pam’s clothing scattered on a creek bed forty yards from the cabin;
as Hawkins County Deputy Charlie Godsey searched nearby he noticed a cistern for an unused septic tank—peering into the chasm he discovered the decomposing remains of Pamela Harrison.
Wrapped in a maggot-infested blanket and clad only in a bra and hiked-up shirt,
Pam had endured a sexual assault and a massive skull fracture;
she’d also been shot once in the back of the head with the same weapon that killed her husband.

“Andy and Pam went down there looking for their dream, and then this.” Andrew Harrison’s stepfather Alfred Gilbert, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 3rd, 1981

Andy had been slain shortly after 10pm on the 24th, the coroner estimated, and Pam a few hours earlier,
sometime in the early afternoon.
Luckily for law enforcement neighbors Janie and Harry Rimer had exceptional recall of the events on Longs Bend Road on the Harrisons’ final day.
When interviewed the Rimers provided a detailed description of Andy’s companion and his vehicle
including a partial license plate number.
Mrs. Rimer further revealed she’d seen the same car at the cabin midday, after Pam returned from driving Andy to work.
The TBI had to search through more than ten thousand vehicle registration records but agents were eventually able to identify the automobile and its driver.

Kingsport resident David Jordan, age twenty-five, was employed in the collections department of the First National Bank of Sullivan County.

Jordan, married with two children, told investigators he’d met the Harrisons approximately one year earlier when Andy delivered Pepsi products to a Jiffy Market Jordan was then managing.
At first Jordan denied he’d been at the cabin the day the Harrisons were slain but when confronted with the Rimers’ recollections his story mutated.
Eventually he verified the Rimers’ account—he’d been at the cabin midday, he admitted,
and had later returned to help Andy look for Pam—but Jordan was adamant he hadn’t harmed either of the Harrisons.

Although her family and friends scoffed at this allegation, Jordan claimed he’d been having an affair with Pam. He had visited the cabin around noon on the 24th to drop off some personal use marijuana he regularly sold Andy, Jordan said,
and then had sex with Pam. The crime lab found pubic hair and semen consistent with Jordan’s in the blanket wrapped around Pam’s remains,
but even a consensual affair couldn’t explain the serological evidence in the Plymouth:
when doused with Luminol the interior of the car—specifically the steering wheel, accelerator, radio, air conditioner, floor, glove box, and light switch—lit up like a kid on Christmas.

During their yearlong acquaintanceship personal use marijuana wasn’t the only item the Harrisons purchased from Jordan;
he also admitted he’d sold the couple a .25 caliber gun, the same type of weapon used in the slayings—the .25, like Andy’s billfold, has never been located.
Jordan was arrested on July 6th, ten days after the murders, and held without bail at the Hawkins County Jail.
While in custody Jordan reportedly confessed his guilt to fellow prisoner Dennis Evans Taylor; rape of Pam had been the primary motive, he allegedly stated, and then Andy had to be eliminated to prevent retaliation.
Andy was “a fool,” Jordan purportedly said, but even he would eventually figure out who murdered his wife.

“[Jordan said] Pam was one of the most beautiful women he had ever met; he said he burned inside every time he got close to her.” Inmate Dennis Evans Taylor, Rogersville Review, October 21st, 1982

The murders of Pam and Andy Harrison—while certainly tragic—seemed to be destined for a tidy conclusion;
Jordan, charged with two counts of capital murder, faced death in Old Smokey,
the Tennessee State Prison electric chair.
The sense closure lurked right around the corner was illusory.
This was Appalachia; the Harrisons were strangers and Jordan was from a prominent local family who provided him with the best legal counsel money could buy. Three trials ensued.

The first jury declared themselves hopelessly deadlocked after only 24 hours of deliberation; the second jury, which reportedly split eleven-to-one for guilt, suffered a similar fate.
(According to a Newsweek article penned by Andy’s mother the second trial’s hold-out juror claimed an auditory issue had prevented him from hearing testimony—an affliction he neglected to mention before the alternates were dismissed.)
Finally on September 1st, 1983 the third jury returned with a verdict after a single hour of deliberation:
Jordan was found not guilty on all counts.

[Three degrees of Sid Vicious: after the Harrison murders Andy’s mother Louise Gilbert attended a Philadelphia-area Parents of Murdered Children support group with the mother of infamous punk muse Nancy Spungen.]

And thus the legal saga of the Harrison murders ends and the crime slipped into the realm of legend;
whispers of strange happenings at the couple’s murder scene fueled rumors the risen spirits of Pam and Andy could not rest in peace.
Subsequent residents of the cabin reported phantom footsteps, doors slamming,
and spontaneous woodstove fires—one tenant even claimed she saw Pam’s face reflected in her bathwater.
More gruesomely, the blood stains in the foyer where Andy was slain reportedly returned several times despite being masked over with plywood, tar paper and oak flooring.

The most spectacular otherworldly event at the Harrison home, ten months after the David Jordan’s acquittal,
actually garnered front page coverage in the Rogersville Review.
Star prosecution witnesses Harry and Janie Rimer remained on Longs Bend Road after the murders despite several incidents of intimidation—their house was vandalized,
and midway through the first trial Mrs. Rimer had almost been killed by an unidentified sniper while hanging out her wash. The couple didn’t scare easily, however,
and despite the harassment the Rimers persevered and testified at all three trials.

On July 14th, 1984 several Rimer family intimates—Janie Rimer, her two daughters, a granddaughter and a friend—happened to stroll past the Harrison residence at approximately 10pm.
The cabin, still lacking electricity, was unoccupied at the time but Mrs. Rimer and her companions noticed a small light flickering inside.
As the onlookers stood transfixed the light swelled to brilliance, an unearthly glow illuminating the entire structure—and it was then Mrs. Rimer noticed a spectral figure standing on the porch.

There, three years after his murder stood Andy Harrison,
still clad in the Pepsi uniform he wore when he breathed his last.
Suddenly one of Mrs. Rimer’s daughters screamed—and as if a switch had been thrown the cabin was again plunged into darkness.

Mrs. Rimer later said she felt no fear when she saw the shadowy figure on the Harrisons’ porch; she wasn’t sure what he was trying to say, she told a Rogersville Review reporter, but she had the feeling Andy was trying to send her a message.

Click through for an October 27th, 2000 Rogersville Review article about the hauntings

Speaking for the dead, obviously, is a tricky proposition but I believe I know what Andy was trying to convey;
and he chose Mrs. Rimer as a conduit, I’m sure,
because considering her fearless trial testimony he knew she’s be the perfect person to tell the tale.
Andy Harrison, in my opinion, was sending a message to the person who killed him—and regardless of the jury’s verdict Andy knows exactly who that person is.
I think Andy wants his killer to know he’ll be waiting patiently on the other side
to avenge the rape and murder of his beautiful wife Pam—and this time a cowardly gunshot from behind isn’t going to stop him.

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