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Arrest made 33 years after Roswell boy was beaten, strangled, found dead in woods

Joshua Randall Harmon went missing on May 15, 1988. He was found dead two days later.

ROSWELL, Ga. —

An arrest has been made in a case that has gone unsolved for more than three decades, police say.

Roswell Police announced a major break in cold case that involves the 1988 murder of an 8-year-old boy. Joshua Randall Harmon went missing from his Roswell home on May 15 of that year. Harmon was found dead two days later in a wooded area not far from where he lived.

James Michael Coates, 56, of Woodstock, was taken into custody July 21st and booked into the Fulton County Jail on multiple charges including murder. Roswell detectives arrested Coates after DNA evidence collected from the crime scene linked him to the murder.

The suspect was in prison for about 20 years on an unrelated charge in Roswell and was recently released. Police arrested the suspect Wednesday for Harmon's murder, sources said.

You can watch a replay of the press conference here:

Here is background on the case.

The disappearance

It was a Sunday evening when Harmon went missing. His his stepdad tried to call him in for dinner and he never showed up. They lived at an apartment complex that was then known as the Roundtree Apartments on Raintree Way.

Detectives learned Harmon had been playing outside all day, with friends and alone. Family said he was in and out of the apartment all day, for various reasons. When his mom started making dinner, she asked her husband to warn the boy to stay close to home.

Credit: Roswell Police Department
The body of 8-year-old Joshua Harmon was found in a wooded area behind his apartment complex in Roswell. Investigators said he had been beaten and strangled.

RELATED: He was beaten and strangled in 1988. His murderer might still be in Roswell.

A neighbor told the family that Harmon stopped by their home at about 7 p.m. that night to see if their son, his friend, wanted to come outside and play. The neighbors said no – they were about to eat dinner. According to police, Harmon told his neighbor he planned to wait in the woods, at the fort, for his friend to come play with him. This was the last reported sighting of Harmon alive.

The tragic discovery

After an extensive search over the next two days, the boy’s lifeless body was found in woods behind the apartments. 

Detectives said he was beaten and strangled to death. His small body was buried under loose dirt and pine straw, with logs placed on top of him to hide his remains.

The unsolved case

The person responsible for Harmon's death remained unknown for more than 30 years. Back in 2019, Roswell Police and the Fulton County District Attorney's Office said they were still hoping that someone in the community would come forward regarding the case. Detectives were reaching out to witnesses from the original investigation as well.

Credit: Roswell Police Department
James Michael Coates

The arrest after 30 years

James Michael Coates, 56, of Woodstock, was taken into custody July 21st and booked into the Fulton County Jail on multiple charges including murder. Roswell detectives arrested Coates after DNA evidence collected from the crime scene linked him to the murder.

The suspect was in prison for about 20 years on an unrelated charge in Roswell and was recently released. Police arrested the suspect Wednesday for Harmon's murder, sources said.