[This story first aired on January 24, 2021.It was updated on August 21.]
Dale County District Attorney Kirke Adams and Assistant DA Jordan Davis spent years building a case against Carl Harris for the murder of his ex-wife, Tracey.
“Tracey Harris was a hardworking, young mother that disappeared March 7th, 1990,” said Adams.
A week later, her body was found in a nearby river. Her death was ruled a homicide.
“I think from the very get-go, there was only one suspect in this case …” said Davis. “… Carl Harris.”
The couple had recently divorced, and Carl had a girlfriend.
“Carl Harris did have a reputation for being very violent in particular towards Tracey Harris,” said Davis.
About a dozen witnesses gave investigators statements describing Carl Harris’s physical abuse of Tracey—something Carl denies.
“I never put my hands on Tracey … Never,” he told “48 Hours” correspondent Maureen Maher.
“So, all those people were lying?” Maher asked. “Yes, ma’am,” he replied.
Despite the suspicion, no arrest was made and the case languished. Then, in 2015, an Ozark Police cold case unit took another look at Tracey’s murder, and again zeroed in on Carl.
“The evidence was circumstantially strong,” said Adams.
More than 26 years after Tracey Harris was killed, Carl Harris was arrested for her murder.
The prosecutors were confident in their case — until they got in touch with a potential witness for the trial who wouldl just days before it was to start, and point prosecutors to the real killer.
A HORRIFIC DISCOVERY
Tracey Harris, 22, disappeared on March 7, 1990.
Kirke Adams| Dale County District Attorney [by the river]: Tracey was alive when she came to this location and traveled down this access road to the beachy area.
A week later, her body was found in the Choctawhatchee River, a few miles from her home in Ozark, Alabama. The area around the river was a place Tracey and her friends would get together.
Kirke Adams: It was certainly one of the first places that investigators were looking for Tracey. … Her body … had come to rest upon a log after the water started to recede a bit.
The autopsy revealed that Tracey had drowned, but also noted marks around her neck likely indicating strangulation. The missing person case became a homicide, and Ozark police started interviewing those close to Tracey and her ex-husband Carl, with whom she still lived.
Kirke Adams: Carl had let the police in his house a couple of times for them to look around.
Carl was believed to have been the last person to see Tracey, picking her up the night she disappeared from the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. He then dropped Tracey off at their house and headed out to his job at a supermarket.
Kirke Adams: There were not any clues at home … It didn’t appear that anybody had taken her by force.
Police thought that location by the river might provide more clues. They learned that while Tracey might have enjoyed spending time by the river, she would never have gone in the river.
Kirke Adams: Every witness we spoke with, she could not swim. She was terrified of water.
Selina Dodson: She was so scared of the water … when she was baptized and she went under, she was hysterical.
Selina Dodson and Tracey were about 11 years old when baptized. They were childhood friends, spending a lot of time together at church. It was there she first saw Tracey with Carl.
Selina Dodson: Tracey and Carl started dating when we were … probably 16, 17 years old. … I was happy for her that she had a boyfriend and somebody that she really liked.
In her senior year of high school, Tracey became pregnant, and she and Carl, who was three years older, married.
Selina Dodson: When she had Carolyn, she was adorable … everybody just loved her. … She was like Tracey. She looked like her and she had a personality like her. … Tracey’s mother, was taking care of Carolyn … You know young parents, you could tell, you know, that her and Carl, you know, struggled some.
Maureen Maher: Tell me about your family as a young family, you and Tracey and Carolyn.
Carl Harris: We was all happy and everything. … didn’t have a problem with each other or nothing like that.
The picture Carl painted of a happy home though was not what police found when they started questioning friends and family.
Jordan Davis | Dale County Assistant District Attorney: There was about 14 different people that had come forward, that witnessed some types of domestic violence between Tracey and Carl.
One of those people was Dawn Beasley. She and her soon-to-be husband Jeff, who worked construction with Carl, lived with the Harrises for about a month.
Dawn Beasley: Tracey and I were a lot alike.
Dawn, who was pregnant at the time, and Tracey, a young mother, quickly became friends
Dawn Beasley: I think that she appreciated having someone, you know. Carl was real controlling and, you know he didn’t want her to have a lot of friends.
Maureen Maher: What did you see going on between Carl and Tracey?
Dawn Beasley: One time (we were sitting at the table and) … she told Carl, hey, listen, I’m going to need some money for the water bill. …And he flew into a rage. … He’s got her bent over backwards with his hands around her throat.
Maureen Maher: Did he verbally threaten her?
Dawn Beasley: He threatened to kill her in front of me … And I intervened. I’m telling him, “let her go.”
Maureen Maher: Did she talk to you about it at all?
Dawn Beasley: Yes … She just wanted to be a family. … she felt like if she could just get through the rough stuff, you know, that it would be OK.
Dawn told police about those altercations she said she saw — and her feelings about Carl.
Dawn Beasley: Well, they asked me … so what do you know about Carl Harris? And I said,” well, I know he’s a rat bastard.” … he was not good to Tracey … He asked me about fights I’d seen … and I made a statement. And I signed it. And every word of my statement was true.
Maureen Maher: There are quite a few people who said that they saw you being abusive to Tracey. … Were you abusive to Tracey?
Carl Harris: No, ma’am, I was not.
Dawn Beasley: We all saw it. … Everyone in town was talking about it. I did my grocery shopping … and I’m in the milk section and there’s a couple standing there talking about it. The husband said, “well, looks like that boy done finally killed that girl.”
Despite all the talk in town, Tracey never filed police reports about the alleged abuse.
Kirke Adams: Back then, the domestic violence law was much different … if the police arrived and nobody wanted to make a report … there was just no reports done.
It wasn’t just stories about abuse that made law enforcement take a hard look at Carl there was that young girlfriend.
Jordan Davis: He did have a 17-year-old girlfriend at the time who several people said he had had conversations with about marrying her, but that she couldn’t — he couldn’t leave Tracey because he’d have to pay child support.
Kirke Adams: He also made comments prior to her going missing and after including … come back whenever. Tracey won’t be home.
Carl admits to having a girlfriend and talking to her about Tracey but says any comments he made were misunderstood.
Carl Harris: Honestly, wasn’t any of their business
Maureen Maher: You didn’t tell anybody that she wasn’t coming back?
Carl Harris: No, ma’am, I never said that.
Jordan Davis: It was just so many things, most of all which were circumstantial, but they all pointed at Carl Harris.
But no arrest was made, and the case went cold. Carl claims through the years he occasionally called authorities to ask about the investigation, but they say otherwise.
Maureen Maher: Has there ever been a time that Carl Harris said, “I want you to find out who killed Tracey?”
Kirke Adams: Never.
Maureen Maher: Does that strike you as odd?
Kirke Adams: Strikes me as very odd.
WHO KILLED TRACEY?
Selina Dodson: A lot of people, you know, just assumed Carl would be arrested — assumed he did it and were waiting for him to be arrested.
For years, Selina Dodson wondered if there would ever be justice for her friend Tracey Harris, who in 1990 was found murdered in Alabama’s Choctawhatchee River. Selina’s thoughts would often wander to Tracey and Carl’s daughter.
Selina Dodson: So, I would wonder, I wonder what happened to Carolyn. I wonder what she looks like. I wonder what she’s doing.
Carolyn Aznavour: I was four years old when my mom was murdered … I was 4 or 5, I would cry nonstop if I would get in trouble … and say, “I want my mom, I want my mom.”
Carolyn was immediately adopted by Tracey’s mother. They soon left Ozark, hoping to start over, and moved to Texas.
Maureen Maher: What did you grow up thinking happened to your mom?
Carolyn Aznavour: I knew my mom was murdered … And then, as the years went on, I found out it had to do with my dad.
Maureen Maher: What did people tell you about him?
Carolyn Aznavour: I’ve always heard that he was very abusive towards my mom … that he was just a bad individual.
Carolyn had no interest in a relationship with her father, who she did not see while growing up. Her grandmother provided a loving a home and, Carolyn says, that was more than enough.
Carolyn Aznavour: She was like the best. Like she did everything for me [crying].
When Carolyn was about 21, she says Carl did reach out and they met, but did not talk about Tracey.
Maureen Maher: Did you want to ask him about her?
Carolyn Aznavour: Yeah, I’ve always wanted to ask questions, but the way that everybody portrayed him to be, I didn’t think that he would tell me the truth.
Still, Carolyn wondered about her mother – wanting to know what really happened.
Carolyn Aznavour: I have tried to piece it together … that’s what I do — I try to piece everything together and make it all make sense.
Jordan Davis: This was definitely something Carolyn was passionate about … she wanted some type of justice for her mom.
When her grandmother died in 2015, Carolyn returned to Ozark to bury her next to her mother.
She started asking people in town what they knew about Tracey and the investigation.
Carolyn Aznavour: And there was one lady. She said that her son happened to be best friends with the sheriff.
Carolyn spoke with the sheriff, who put her in touch with the Ozark Police Department. At the same time, the cold case unit was starting to reopen the investigation. As it turned out, their No. 1 suspect had not changed.
Kirke Adams: There was nobody whose name had ever come up that had any reason to kill Tracey Harris. And I think when they reopened the case, they were just trying to prove Carl did it, not look for anybody else.
Jordan Davis: And so, they went back through all the witnesses that had given statements in 1990. … all the ones that they could find, they got back in touch with.
Among those who police went back and interviewed — an acquaintance of Tracey and Carl’s, and Tracey’s aunt:
WOMAN: He said, “the police are so dumb, I can kill somebody and get away with it.”
TRACEY’S AUNT: Because it kind of shocked me, because he was saying, it was like he was smarter than the police, you know?
Investigators also tracked down that girlfriend of Carl’s, who was 17 when Tracey was murdered.
EX- GIRLFRIEND: I was a young, naive teenager…
INVESTIGATOR: Did Carl at any time tell you that you didn’t have to worry about Tracey showing up again to the house?
EX-GIRLFRIEND: He could have …
INVESTIGATOR: And when do you think he said that?
EX-GIRLFRIEND: I don’t know.
Although she recalled little about her time with Carl, she did remember learning Tracey was dead …
EX-GIRLFRIEND: I just couldn’t believe that she was dead.
… and the realization that, perhaps, her boyfriend was a murderer.
EX-GIRLFRIEND: I just remember thinking that, you know, people were talking … and it even took me being questioned to even think that maybe he could have done it. … But after it all happened, we just stopped seeing each other.
Jordan Davis: There was also several people that they found since then that he had made statements to that were incriminating.
While police were reinvestigating the case, Carl was trying to get on with his life. Several years after Tracey’s murder, he had left Ozark, feeling like the cloud of suspicion had destroyed his life.
Carl Harris: I had to go out of town to get jobs, where people don’t know me.
He worked as a bouncer, in construction, had a girlfriend and another daughter. By 2016, he had moved to South Carolina, where investigators gave him a call.
Carl Harris: I thought it was good news … I thought they found somebody they were looking at … And when they told me they was looking at me as a suspect again … they came up two weeks later, arresting me.
More than 26 years after Tracey Harris’s body was found, Carl Harris was arrested on September 13, 2016 for her murder.
David Harrison: There’s absolutely no evidence at all that connects Carl Harris to this murder, none whatsoever.
David Harrison is Carl’s defense attorney. He says Carl’s arrest was motivated by politics and nothing more.
David Harrison: In 2016 … in this area … there were unsolved murders. They have a lot of political pressure to charge somebody … the environment of Ozark, Alabama was we need to do something.
Maureen Maher: Were you worried that there was some new piece of evidence that they had?
Carl Harris: No. I was never worried, never, because I was innocent.
While Carl may not have been worried, there was someone who, for years, was: Dawn Beasley, that friend of Tracey’s, who, with her then fiancé, briefly lived with the Harrises.
Dawn Beasley: Every time I would have a police officer get behind me I would wonder… is this where we’re all of a sudden … they know what’s happening. This is the moment.
IN SEARCH OF ANSWERS
Carolyn Aznavour: I’ve always wondered what happened to my mom since I can remember.
For decades, Carolyn wanted to know more about the 1990 murder of her mother, Tracey Harris. And in 2016, with the arrest of her estranged father Carl, Carolyn thought, finally, she would get some answers.
Maureen Maher: How do you react when the thing you want is justice for your mom, but it’s your dad who’s been charged with her murder?
Carolyn Aznavour: It’s a relief that we found somebody. But then in the back of my mind, I’m like, was it really him? Could he have really done this? Why?
Motive was also a question prosecutors Kirke Adams and Jordan Davis thought about, as they prepared their case against Carl.
Jordan Davis: I don’t think there was one particular motive. I think that the domestic violence was definitely in the back of our heads … But also, the 17-year-old girlfriend that he had.
Based mostly on statements from the interviews originally done back in 1990, an investigator from the Ozark police put together this scenario of what he thought happened the night Tracey went missing:
“It was determined that Carl Harris left his job at Super Food [sic], sometime around 9 p.m. … and went to his home … Carl Harris jumped on top of Tracey Harris and began chocking [sic] her … Carl Harris then placed her seemingly dead body into his vehicle and subsequently drove her to the Choctawhatchee River and placed her body into the water.”
Police say Carl then picked up a friend, reportedly at 9:30 p.m. Making all those stops, Carl would have traveled about 20 miles.
David Harrison: You can take all the statements of anybody you want to put together in this investigation here. There is no evidence whatsoever that that is true. … When you put the timeline in this case … Maureen, unless he was on a Learjet, that was impossible.
Defense attorney David Harrison says the entire investigation is not just flawed, but that the police narrative is fabricated.
David Harrison: This officer made this up to make this arrest.
The defense also offered up an alternate suspect: that friend police say Carl picked up the night Tracey disappeared named Bobby Herring.
David Harrison: Bobby Herring … was convicted of raping a woman in a sister county.
But prosecutors say Herring had an alibi for the time Tracey was murdered. And they remained confident that Carl was their man.
Maureen Maher: What’s different in 2016 that wasn’t there or obvious in 1990?
Kirke Adams: I think the major thing was getting these witnesses together, which is what we did for the grand jury presentation … And once you heard those people … It was very clear that Carl was violent. He had threatened Tracey. He had said … “one of these days, I’m going to kill you.” Those things just add up.
As they prepared for trial, Kirke and Jordan sifted through statements, looking for more potential witnesses to testify.
Jordan Davis: I was actually 3 when this happened, so from 1990 — and we’re trying to track down witnesses … We were dealing with people that had moved all over the country. Several had passed away … there was a lot to go through. So, we just kind of started with a long list … And we just started trying to narrow it down.
The prosecutors also visited the area around the river where Tracey’s body was found.
Kirke Adams [at the river]: Part of our job is to paint that picture for a jury, and I think it is always important to try to get a feel for the area.
They spent time on the bridge where police believed Carl threw Tracey into the river.
Kirke Adams [standing on the bridge]: This location is approximately 7 miles from where Carl and Tracey Harris lived, it’s very quiet, very rural.
They also went to the area under the bridge where people would sometimes gather.
Kirke Adams: There’s a lot of graffiti under this bridge — a lot of names as well.
Putting the case together was an arduous process — one filled with continuances and delays. Carl Harris was out on bail, having spent two-and-a-half weeks in jail after his arrest. As confident as the prosecution was, so was the defense.
David Harrison: I’ve tried 140 criminal jury trials. I know a bad one from a good one, and they never had a shot with this case.
Maureen Maher: But they maintain that the case was … specifically built on the statements of all the people who said that they saw Carl being abusive to his wife, his strange behavior afterwards. Was that a concern for you as you were preparing a defense?
David Harrison: Never, never. Because the credibility of the people that were going to testify … they had no credibility, none whatsoever.
But Carolyn, who traveled to Ozark for every single hearing, was convinced of her father’s guilt.
Carolyn Aznavour: I was ready to put him behind bars — ready to see it happen.
Finally, more than three years after Carl’s arrest, the trial was scheduled for January 13, 2020. The week before trial, Jordan continued to scour over old witness reports, deciding who should testify. That’s when one statement from 1990, not followed up on, caught her attention.
Jordan Davis: The one in particular that we found that they hadn’t talked to in 2016 was this Dawn Hulbert now Beasley. … And she had witnessed domestic violence while living in their home. What we thought was interesting was that she had witnessed it in the same manner as how Tracey was actually killed.
It took Jordan several calls to wrong phone numbers to find Dawn Beasley.
Dawn Beasley: And she says … “My name is Jordan Davis, I’m with Dale County D.A. … this is about Carl and Tracey Harris.”
Dawn, who had moved away from Ozark and was now divorced, says she didn’t even know there was an arrest for the murder of her friend Tracey, until that call.
Dawn Beasley: They asked me … we need you to testify. And I said, “”no, I can’t possibly do that. My job is very stressful.
Jordan Davis: I texted her the next morning and said, … “We really would like for you to come.” … she texted me back … and said that she was going to decline our invitation … that she couldn’t help us.
Maureen Maher: So, Jordan, for you … This wasn’t an invitation. This is a murder trial.
Jordan Davis Right … I was aggravated … I simply got a subpoena ready, and we gave it to our investigators the next day. … And she made a scene and was very dramatic.
Dawn Beasley: I was very unhappy. I said, “you’re ruining my life and you don’t understand why. You guys don’t want me to testify.”
A SECRET REVEALED
Dawn Beasley: It was unbelievable to me that I should end up … with this incredible secret.
Dawn Beasley’s secret weighed on her when she was asked to testify in the 2020 murder trial of Carl Harris. Dawn refused to come, saying she was too busy. Then, after being subpoenaed, she called prosecutor Jordan Davis again.
Dawn Beasley: I told Jordan, I have given you … completely honest reasons why I don’t want to testify, but … the most important reason I can’t testify is because
Jordan Davis: I thought, wow … she’s coming up with a crazy story as to why she can’t get here.
Dawn Beasley: And she said, “well, how do you know he’s innocent?” I know he’s innocent because the man that did commit the crime … confessed it to me the night he did it. …That’s my ex-husband, Jeff Beasley.
Dawn told Jordan about the night of March 7, 1990, when Tracey went missing. Dawn, about to celebrate her 21st birthday the next day, was pregnant with her first child. Her fiancé, Jeff, came home, waking her in the middle of the night.
Dawn Beasley: And he said, “I accidentally hurt her and now she’s dead.” “Who?” “Tracey.” … “What happened?” … “I went over to Carl’s to talk to Carl, Carl wasn’t there. I talked to Tracey. I tried to talk her into leaving him. She got mad at me. We had a fight. We tussled and I accidentally hurt her and now she’s dead.”
Dawn Beasley: He said he took her down to the river because he didn’t want them to come home and find her body.
Dawn says she told Jeff they needed to go to the police, but he insisted they keep quiet.
Dawn Beasley: I had an impossible choice to make … And I really struggled … Tracey deserves justice. … But the cost was going to be so high.
Maureen Maher: What was the cost going to be, if you went to the police?
Dawn Beasley: I was going to have to throw my entire life away. I’m about to get married, I’m pregnant … This baby deserves a chance at a life with a loving family and a mom and a dad.
And so, Dawn made her decision. She would stay quiet, she says, out of her desire to keep her life intact, and also out of fear that police might not believe her.
Dawn Beasley: They’re going to ask him some questions. He’s going to deny it. … Then what happens to me?
Dawn says she was honest when police questioned her after Tracey’s body was found and described the abuse — seeing Carl grab Tracey by the throat and threaten to kill her.
Dawn Beasley: And every word of my statement was true. They just never asked me, “who do you think did it?” … I walked out, and I do remember the sense of relief because I hadn’t actually had to lie.
Maureen Maher: Did it feel like you were lying, though, by not telling them?
Dawn Beasley: Sure … I’ve gone back, Maureen, and questioned that decision over and over and over and over and over again.
Maureen Maher: Did you feel badly at all that he was under such scrutiny and suspicion?
Dawn Beasley: I would like to say that I did, but I didn’t. Carl made Tracey miserable.
While Ozark police questioned Dawn, they never got a statement from Jeff, even though they both spent time together living with the Harrises.
Jordan Davis: They had a statement from Dawn and that was things that they had witnessed while living in the home together. I’m sure they thought that Jeff’s statement would be very similar to Dawn’s.
But Jeff Beasley should have raised some red flags for police; he had a criminal record. Dawn met Jeff shortly after he was released from prison, having served four years for burglary and escape attempts. But Dawn was willing to overlook his criminal past, and the information about killing Tracey, as they married and started their own family, keeping the secret to themselves.
Dawn Beasley: I never talked about it ever to another living soul, not even Jeff.
Maureen Maher: You and Jeff never talked about it ever again?
Dawn Beasley: Never once.
Maureen Maher: You just pulled a dark curtain over and that was it? It was done?
Dawn Beasley: We just pretended it never happened.
Maureen Maher: Were you ever concerned that you might get into trouble having not gone to the police right from the beginning?
Dawn Beasley: Sure. Yeah, of course.
Dawn says she worried, yet life proceeded, mostly, as if nothing had happened. Dawn and Jeff would have another child. Her growing family eventually made her think of Tracey’s daughter, Carolyn.
Dawn Beasley [crying]: I should have been sorry for Carolyn and I was sorry for me.
Even after Jeff was arrested again, in 1991 for burglary, and spent 5 years in prison, Dawn kept the secret, wanting her family life to be normal when he got out.
Dawn Beasley: Jeff comes home from prison … But very quickly I realize that this is not going to be what I anticipated it was going to be.
Dawn claims Jeff became abusive. After 13 years of marriage and four children, she and Jeff divorced. And as time went on, she did think about ways to tell authorities what she knew.
Dawn Beasley: Maybe I do it on my deathbed. Maybe I make an anonymous phone call. Maybe I write a letter.
But, she says, the fear of upending her own children’s lives always stopped her. That, however, changed with Jordan’s insistence that she testify at Carl’s murder trial. She dreaded what she had to do — tell her adult children that their father killed someone, and that she kept it quiet for 30 years.
Dawn Beasley: The only thing I was ever afraid of was how they were going to respond, and they responded with support and love and understanding.
Meanwhile, the prosecutors, on the Friday before the start of the trial, were also processing what Dawn had just told them.
Kirke Adams: I knew we couldn’t have a trial Monday because we had to figure out what’s going on here.
Jeff Beasley’s name, until they spoke to Dawn, was unfamiliar. But they did remember something from that trip to the river where Tracey’s body was found.
Kirke Adams [at the bridge]: While we were here, we were looking under the bridge. And in big, huge spray paint letters was the last name Beasley.
Kirke Adams: But it doesn’t mean anything at that time because on the statement Dawn’s name was Dawn Hulbert. It didn’t even say Beasley.
Prosecutors do not know why or who spray-painted the name “Beasley” under the bridge.
Carl Harris’s trial was put on hold. Police tracked down his old friend Jeff Beasley, who was living in Ozark, working as a trucker, and brought him in for questioning.
JEFF BEASLEY [Interrogation]: I’m being accused of, of, of murder, of, of taking someone’s life — I couldn’t. I wouldn’t.
THE REAL KILLER EMERGES
Kirke Adams: Can we really do this? Can we really solve this for Carolyn? Can we really give her peace?
Prosecutors Kirke Adams and Jordan Davis spent more than three delay-filled years putting together their case, seeking justice for Tracey Harris. Now, with Dawn Beasley’s revelation that her ex-husband Jeff told her that he killed Tracey, they hoped to learn the truth.
INVESTIGATOR: Did you hurt Tracey in any way?
JEFF BEASLEY: No.
Jeff Beasley had not only agreed to talk to investigators, but also, to take a lie detector test:
INVESTIGATOR: Are you the person that caused the death of Tracey Harris that night?
He maintained his innocence, even after being told he failed the polygraph.
JEFF BEASLEY: I didn’t, I didn’t do this. This was not me.
For more than four hours, Beasley insisted he had nothing to do with Tracey’s death:
JEFF BEASLEY: It seem like you guys are wanting me to say I did something, when I didn’t …
INVESTIGATOR: I’m not, I’m not going to put a word in your mouth. Only you know. And that’s what I need.
JEFF BEASLEY: I don’t know …
JEFF BEASLEY: I want it done.
He confessed, claiming he and Tracey were having an affair.
JEFF BEASLEY: We went down to the river.
JEFF BEASLEY: She said she was leaving Carl and wanted me to leave Dawn and I wouldn’t. And said she was telling Dawn.
Jeff said he and Tracey had been wading in the river.
JEFF BEASLEY: And we got into an argument. We was in the river.
INVESTIGATOR: So, tell me what happened.
JEFF BEASLEY: She went down and didn’t come back up.
But some things in Beasley’s story were not adding up. Dawn said Jeff had told her that Tracey and he fought at the Harris home. And those who knew Tracey, did not believe she was having an affair.
Kirke Adams: Not one witness we had ever mentioned that she was possibly seeing someone else because it was clear from the witnesses that Carl wouldn’t allow that.
Dawn Beasley: I cannot imagine that she was cheating, with Jeff or anyone else. … He told me it was an accident, you know? But … Now, sitting here … I think that … maybe he hit on her, maybe she rebuffed his advances, maybe she said, “I’m going to tell her.” … And maybe he freaked out and made sure she wasn’t going to ruin his family.
And there was the issue of why Tracey, known to be terrified of water, would voluntarily go in the river.
INVESTIGATOR: Everybody in the case who knew Tracey says she was scared of water.
JEFF BEASLEY: No, we went to the river a couple of times.
They also wanted Jeff to explain those bruises the autopsy noted on Tracey’s neck — marks authorities felt were consistent with strangulation.
INVESTIGATOR: One of the pathologist’s reports said that she was possibly strangled.
JEFF BEASLEY: I didn’t strangle her. … I remember taking her, pushing her under water …I mean if the autopsy says it, I don’t, I guess …
INVESTIGATOR: Was it an accident?
JEFF BEASLEY: Yeah. I would hope. Yeah.
But police and prosecutors did not believe it was an accident, and Jeff Beasley was charged with the murder of Tracey Harris.
Kirke Adams: He confessed … in a way that matches the evidence … I don’t know how many times that happens — when you get a confession from the real killer technically 17-18 hours before trial.
The DA’s broke the news to Carolyn.
Carolyn Aznavour: Jordan called me to come to the police station, that they had to tell me something. … And I broke. … We finally did it. We finally found out who killed my mom.
Kirke Adams: You could just see so many emotions going through her … she’d been told all her life, “your dad did this” … But to find out he didn’t do it, you could tell not only was she relieved … but you could tell she was so grateful that somebody had solved this case.
On January 13, 2020, the day prosecutors had planned to be in court starting Carl Harris’s trial, instead, they held a press conference.
DA KIRKE ADAMS [to reporters]: – I have dismissed the murder case against Carl Harris. … An arrest has been made of 54-year-old Jeff Beasley of Ozark with the murder of Tracey Harris.
Kirke Adams: It hurt our pride that we had the wrong person … you’ve got to, you know, check your ego at the door, because what’s important is the right person got charged.
Carl Harris heard the news that he was a free man from his attorney.
Carl Harris: It just blows my mind. … I was happy that I was standing my ground and I was telling the truth the whole time and they finally caught the boy who did it.
Beasley pleaded guilty and received a 30-year sentence.
Maureen Maher: Did you ever consider filing charges against Dawn?
Kirke Adams: No.
Maureen Maher: There are a lot of people who are going to say, maybe she should be charged with something.
Jordan Davis: I think it was extremely difficult for her to come forward. … But the fact is she could have kept that secret for forever. She could have come up here and — she could have lied on the stand.
Kirke Adams: The goal was to find the truth and to seek justice for Tracy Harris, and ultimately Dawn did that.
Maureen Maher: Was there any relief for you after all this time?
Dawn Beasley: It was extraordinary relief
For Carl Harris, his relief is mixed with anger. Along with his attorney David Harrison, they held their own press conference.
DAVID HARRISON [to reporters]: I think it’s negligence. I think its incompetence … We’re talking about an innocent man.
Alleging that police fabricated information, like that investigator’s report describing how Carl killed Tracey, Carl filed notice that he plans to sue the City of Ozark for $6 million for damages including false imprisonment, and pain and suffering. “48 Hours” wanted to ask Ozark police about the investigation, but they declined, citing the pending claim.
Jordan Davis: We were mortified that we were that close to putting the wrong man on trial. … we were very confident that we would be able to get a conviction in this case. … I do think about that all the time. And that’s kind of nauseating, to be honest, that we were that close. … And I think we definitely learned a lesson with this case.
Tracey Harris’s murder more than 30 years ago has left many wondering what might have been — especially Carolyn. She still has no relationship with Carl.
Carolyn Aznavour: Carl has not come forward and actually been truthful to me about the abuse. And I can’t forgive him if he can’t be man enough to look at me and tell me what he did and that he’s sorry for it.
Carolyn’s focus remains on the mother she never had the chance to get to know.
Carolyn Aznavour [in tears]: Everybody I’ve talked to said that she was so quiet. She was so modest. She was the sweetest person that they’ve ever met.
Maureen Maher: Do you wonder what your mom would be like today?
Carolyn Aznavour: Every day. Every day.
On August 19th, 2021, Carl Harris filed his lawsuit against the City of Ozark
Produced by Ruth Chenetz. Michelle Sigona is the development producer. Kat Teurfs is the associate producer. Richard Barber, Ken Blum and Michelle Harris are the editors. Lourdes Aguiar is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.