JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A woman vanished 21 years ago and her body has never been found. There was a possible break Tuesday in the highly publicized cold case of missing 23-year-old Bonnie Haim.
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office confirmed the remains found in the backyard of Haim's former home are in fact human remains.
It will take significantly longer to confirm the identity of the remains, if it is even possible.
The sister of the woman last seen in January 1993 hopes it is eventually determined to be Bonnie's remains so the family can get some closure and it might give police evidence they need to file charges against Bonnie's husband.
"I think it is all going to be all better soon," said Elizabeth Peak. "We will have closure."
Workers on Sunday digging out an old pool in the backyard of a home where 23-year-old Haim lived 21 years ago found what appeared to be a skull. Jacksonville Sheriff's Office detectives were dispatched to the home on Dolphin Avenue on Dec. 14 after the workers called 911.
Investigators spent at least two days sifting through the dirt for more evidence.
"The (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) is going to compare what they have to the records of Bonnie Haim, and if they have any form of dental records or something was saved of hers from the time period," said local attorney Gene Nichols.
Michael Haim was a person of interest in his wife's disappearance but never charged. Police seized the home from him as part of a civil judgment and it was sold at auction years later.
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 |
April 2005: Haim's sister on judgment against Michael Haim
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. Bonnie Haim's car was discovered in a long-term parking lot of the airport. She was declared dead in 1999.
Michael Haim has maintained his innocence. In September 2004, he was found liable for Bonnie's death in a civil suit and he was ordered to pay $15.3 million to the couple's son, Aaron, who was 3 years old at the time, and $11 million to Bonnie Haim's estate.
In the final civil judgement, 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. He later moved to Tennessee. He has not returned a message left for him to comment.
The son is now in his mid 20s. He still lives in Jacksonville and his aunt said he's grown up to be a great young man. He is aware of the developments of the case but won't comment unless the remains are confirmed to be his mother's.
Peak said the family knew there were major problems in the marriage.
"We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mike did it," Peak said. "There were a log of problems. He was very abusive."
Back in 1993, then Sheriff Jim McMillian confirmed that Michael Haim was the prime suspect.
"We have witness information that indicates him. We have some physical evidence," McMillian said.
After two decades of hoping for closure every time bones were found in the area, Peaks hopes this will finally be the break investigators need to close the case.
"If it is Bonnie's body, then yes, I think that Angela Corey will certainly prosecute to the fullest extent," Peak said. "We want to see closure; we want to see an end. The fact that her murderer is out there running around free doesn't sit well. We want this done."
Nichols said if the remains are in fact Bonnie Haim's, the State Attorney's Office will likely move fast in prosecuting the case. He said the bigger question is whether police searched the backyard during the initial investigation, and if not, why?
"I'd be surprised if we find out that a warrant was overlooked," Nichols said. "My guess is it never rose to the level of being able to get a warrant to get in the backyard or it was never looked at in the first place."
Nichols said if the remains are human, one key will be determining how the person died.
"If they can make that determination, some blunt-force trauma or something to lead us all to believe that the person died from some kind of unnatural cause, then it should give Ms. Corey enough to at least take the case to the grand jury," Nichols said.
News4Jax followed up with Joey Jenrette, who rented the Haims' home for a few years in the late 90s. He said his dog, Bandit, constantly barked and clawed at the area around the pool deck and shed in the backyard. Jenrette told News4Jax that this new information shows him that bandit was trying to send him a message.
"They say that dogs got like a sense. They can sense when people are supposed to have a stroke, or a seizure. I just wish I would have acted on it now. I just always had that gut feeling," said Jenrette.
With a hurry-up-and-wait game for results from forensic experts, Jenrette said he has a wish for the Haim family.
"I hope that they'll have peace and closure," he said.
Nichols said it's unlikely that Michael Haim has been detained at this point, but that doesn't mean he isn't being watched by the State Attorney's Office. He said Angela Corey's office is in touch with local law enforcement and is tracking his whereabouts.
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