DNA leads to arrest in San Mateo cold case rape, stabbing

John Harris, Jr. a 55-year-old Manteca, Calif. resident was arrested for attempted murder (664/187 PC) in Manteca on Wednesday, February 24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of San Mateo Police)

A man suspected of a brutal rape and attempted murder 32 years ago was arrested Wednesday after investigators used DNA evidence to link him to the crime, according to San Mateo police officials.

Officers arrested 55-year-old John Harris, Jr. in Manteca in San Joaquin County near his work and booked him into San Mateo County Jail on one charge of attempted premeditated murder and one charge of aggravated mayhem, both of which carry possible life sentences.

Investigators, prompted in part by the victim's decades-long push for justice, regularly re-submitted DNA evidence collected at the scene of the crime for analysis as technological advances made such efforts more likely to bear fruit, according to police. 

"At the time, possible suspects were identified by San Mateo investigators, however all were determined to be unrelated (to the crime) and we met dead end after dead end," Chief Ed Barberini said at a news conference Thursday.

"Submission after submission of DNA evidence led us to where we are today," said Barberini, adding that his officers worked closely with the FBI, the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office and Manteca Police on the case.

Photo of a younger John Harris Jr. taken around 1989. Harris, now a 55-year-old, Manteca, Calif. resident was arrested for attempted murder (664/187 PC) in Manteca on Wednesday, February 24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of San Mateo Police)

The crime, which investigators described as "grisly" and "heinous," occurred on Feb. 4, 1989 at 4:15 a.m. when Harris allegedly got into the victim's apartment in the 3100 block of Casa De Campo, police said.

He allegedly took a knife from the kitchen, went into the bedroom where the victim was sleeping, put the knife to her throat, raped her, strangled her and stabber her multiple times in her upper body, police said.

He then allegedly slit her throat, narrowly missing her jugular, all while she was fighting back and negotiating with him to leave, which he eventually did, according to police. 

She then was able to call for help.

After the case went cold, the victim kept in touch with investigators, who routinely submitted DNA evidence for review, police said.

"Understandably she's relieved and appreciative of the news," Barberini said. "Our hearts go out to her. She's lived 32 years with something I can't imagine and I don't think any of us can."

Harris, who had no prior relationship with the victim, was arrested near his job as a security camera installer, police said.

Barberini said investigators are looking into whether he might have committed similar crimes in Manteca or other places he's lived over the years, including San Mateo, San Francisco, Alameda and San Joaquin counties, as well as Arizona.

"We're here today to ensure that there are no other victims that have been victimized by our suspect who have not been brought to the attention of law enforcement," Barberini said Thursday. 

Harris, who is scheduled for an arraignment Friday at 1:30 p.m. in San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City, was not charged with rape due to the statute of limitations.