Susan Hurley Harrison, the Ruxton woman whose skeletal remains were found last month in rural Frederick County, died of head injuries, the state medical examiner said yesterday in ruling her death a homicide.
But even with the autopsy results, investigators acknowledged that they still do not know where she was killed or what weapon was used.
"We always felt this was a homicide, and we have operated that way since the beginning," said state police spokesman Michael J. McKelvin. "This is another piece of the puzzle."
The next big question for investigators is where Harrison, 52, was killed. When two hikers found her remains off a dirt road in Wolfsville on Nov. 29, she had been missing 2 1/2 years. She was last seen alive at her estranged husband's Timonium home about 10 p.m. Aug. 5, 1994.
"Once we have found the murder scene, we can start placing people in it or around it," McKelvin said.
State police have returned several times to the wooded area where Harrison's body was found, looking for anything -- including a murder weapon -- that might help them find the killer.
"The investigation is really focusing up here," said Frederick County State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle. "We are questioning people and looking for anyone who may have seen her after 10 p.m. Aug. 5, or her car or a similar car."
Molly Hurley Moran of Athens, Ga., was not surprised that her sister died of head injuries. Family members "always suspected it was a violent death," she said.
She is relieved that a cause of death has been established, so the prosecution phase of the investigation can begin.
"And the animal who killed her will hopefully meet his just reward," she said. "I feel very strongly in favor of the death penalty. I used to be ambivalent about it. But when something like this happens in your family, it changes a lot of your feelings about that issue."
Harrison's disappearance was considered suspicious because it occurred on the eve of a trip she had long planned with her younger son, Nicholas Owsley. The two were to leave for Boston, but Owsley never saw her after she went to visit James Harrison Jr. in the home they once shared in the 600 block of W. Timonium Road.
Her dark-green Saab convertible was found by police more than three weeks later at National Airport near Washington. The keys were in the car, and detectives determined that it had been there since the weekend she disappeared.
Susan Harrison's marriage to James Harrison, retired chief financial officer of McCormick & Co., had been a violent one, friends and relatives say. She filed for divorce in January 1994, according to court records, but continued to socialize with him.
Authorities questioned him for several hours after her remains were found, and although they privately say Harrison is their prime suspect, he has not been charged.
Yesterday, he said he was surprised to hear that his estranged wife was murdered.
"Oh, how horrible," he said at his home. "Somebody hit her, is that what they said happened? It doesn't make any sense to me that she was murdered."
He has said detectives told him he is a suspect, but he maintains his innocence.
He says that he and his wife had traveled to the Frederick area to look at autumn leaves, but that he has never been to Wolfsville.
Harrison says he and his wife planned to reconcile. He has said she was manic-depressive and argued with him the night she disappeared.
"I never hit her, all I ever did was try to hold her back," he said. "When Susan went manic, she would hit people, run and fall down or trip and fall down. But she was very OK the night she left here."
Pub Date: 12/21/96