JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Sheriff's Office investigators needed one more piece of the puzzle to solve the 1993 disappearance of 23-year-old Bonnie Haim. They got it with the December 2014 discovery of her remains in the backyard of the home where she lived with her husband and son 22 years ago.
Her husband is now charged with her murder.
Michael Haim was arrested Monday in Waynesville, North Carolina, where he has been living with family, police said.
"That was the piece of the puzzle that we really felt we were missing," JSO Director Mike Bruno said of identifying Bonnie Haim's remains. "There are so many unsolved or cold cases that are in this same situation of we just need that one clue, that one tip, that one piece. Here, we were able to get it, and to start that piece of closure."
Bonnie Haim's son, Aaron Haim, was 3 years old when she disappeared. Police said he was the primary witness in the case. In April 2005, Aaron Haim, who now goes by Aaron Fraser, won a $26.3 million wrongful death lawsuit against his father. At the time, his mother's remains had not been found.
That changed in December 2014 when workers digging out an old pool in the backyard of the Dolphin Avenue home where Haim lived 22 years ago found what appeared to be a skull. Investigators spent at least two days sifting through the dirt for more evidence.
The man who now lives in the couple's former home said he became curious when his dog would always bark in one part of the yard.
Weeks later, the remains were confirmed to be human. This month, they were confirmed to be Bonnie Haim.
"We'd love to have (the DNA confirmation) faster, but we definitely want to have it right," Bruno said.
IMAGES: The cold-case disappearance of Bonnie Haim
COURT DOCUMENT: $26.3 million judgment against Michael Haim
VIDEO FROM THE ARCHIVES: January 1993: Bonnie Haim missing |
January 1993: Mary Bear interviews Michael Haim |
April 2005: Haim's sister on judgment against Michael Haim
An arrest warrant was issued for Michael Haim on Aug. 21, and he was arrested with the help of the U.S. Marshals Service on Aug. 24. He will be extradited back to Jacksonville to face the murder charge.
"We are now at the point where we believe we can seek justice with a murder charge and we intend to proceed on what -- as you are probably aware -- will be circumstantial case, but one that we will work diligently to prosecute in court," State Attorney Angela Corey said Tuesday. "I think this shows that our cold case unit is just a vital part of what we do in law enforcement and they will always have the support of the State Attorney's Office."
Corey said it was gratifying to have a cold case that she had been part of for more than 20 years solved. She said she worked the case with former JSO Detective Robert Hinson, who is now an investigator with the State Attorney's Office.
She said when leads would run out, Hinson would put notes in her office, encouraging her not to forget the case.
"I'm very thankful to be able to be here and see this come to a conclusion," Hinson said Tuesday. "We used every resource we could to try to bring it to conclusion. I've always been proud to be part of the Sheriff's Office, and I'm just very thankful and grateful that the good Lord let me see this to its fruition."
On Jan. 6, 1993, Bonnie Haim was supposed to meet her husband's aunt at her home. She called to say she would not be coming. Neither Bonnie nor Michael showed up for work the next day. Bonnie Haim was never seen again.
Michael Haim said his wife had driven away after the couple had an argument the previous night. He said he did not know her whereabouts, but he had searched for her in vain.
On Jan. 7, 1993, the missing woman's purse was found behind the Red Roof Inn near Jacksonville International Airport, about 5 miles from her residence. Her car was discovered in a long-term parking lot of the airport. She was declared dead in 1999.
Michael Haim was a person of interest in his wife's disappearance from the beginning, but he was never charged until Aug. 21. Police seized the Dolphin Avenue home from him as part of a civil judgment and it was sold at auction years later.
Michael Haim has maintained his innocence, but he was found liable for Bonnie's death in a civil suit and he was ordered to pay $15.3 million to Aaron Haim and $11 million to Bonnie Haim's estate.
In the final civil judgment, Circuit Judge Brad Stetson wrote: "There is clear and convincing evidence Michael Haim murdered his wife."
Michael Haim also lost custody of Aaron in 1999.
Despite being 3 years old at the time his mother disappeared, Aaron Haim's story about what happened has never changed.
His aunt, Elizabeth Peak, who is Bonnie Haim's older sister, said that from the beginning, Aaron said that Michael Haim "shot mommy."
Investigators said that Aaron Haim told police where
Detectives found Michael Haim's shoe print in Bonnie Haim's abandoned car. They found unexplained sand and plant mix on Michael Haim's shoes and found a shotgun in a nearby river, after Aaron Haim told them where to look.
"This case involved just hundreds of individual circumstances, spanning over the last 20 something years that we will put together and put in front of a jury to seek justice for Bonnie Haim and for her son, Aaron," Corey said.
It's unclear how quickly Michael Haim will be extradited to Duval County. Corey said the murder trial could get underway within a year.