Home » Kelly Harris, 13: Stepfather Confesses To 1984 Murder 22 Years Later
It would take 20 years before someone would confess to the tragic crime of murdering Kelly Harris. The 13-year-old went missing from Jackson, Michigan, and for decades, there were questions about what could have befallen the bright teen. Reports state that initially, Kelly grew up in Maryland with her father, but she traveled to Michigan in 1984 to spend the summer with her mother, Carol Hugall, and stepfather, Leonard Hugall. Following the visit, Kelly was slated to move to California where she would reside with her great-aunt, but unfortunately, the young teen would vanish on August 10.
According to reports, on that day, Kelly Harris was miffed at her mother and stepfather because they wouldn’t allow her to attend a local county fair. When Carol was leaving for work that day, she noticed that Kelly left her bicycle in front of the house. Carol told her daughter to place it in the backyard and Kelly said to her mother, “I love you, mom. Have a good day.” When Carol returned home around 2:00 p.m., she was confused when she couldn’t locate Kelly. Then, the worry set in.
“I remember going to my mom’s house crying and acting like a wild woman, a panicked mother,” Carol told MLive in 2019.
Unfortunately, police initially treated this case as a runaway. On the day she vanished, Kelly’s bike was located at Ella Sharpe Park, about a five-minute drive from where she lived. The Charley Project stated that authorities learned Kelly bought herself a bus ticket to Detroit, a little over an hour away from Jackson, and a witness claimed to have seen the teen making her way onto a bus.
Carol was active in the investigation and questioned at length by investigators, with the stepfather, Hugall, being less cooperative. He reportedly told authorities that it was his belief that Kelly Harris ran away, but police would uncover that Hugall had a documented history of child molestation and acts of violence prior to this case. Hugall quickly became a person of interest after investigators finally began looking into the disappearance as foul play and not a runaway. Four years after Kelly went missing, Carol had a final confrontation with her husband and asked him directly if he had anything to do with her daughter’s case.
“I looked Len straight in the face and asked, ‘What did you do to her?'” she said. “All he did was bend down and tie his shoe. He got in the car and drove off like a bat out of hell.” Carol left him, but their divorce wouldn’t be finalized until 1994. Carol admitted that her daughter’s relationship with Hugall was a difficult one and reportedly believed for decades that her husband murdered Kelly.
By 1993, Hugall was once again in trouble with the law and was convicted of sexual battery, burglary, and other related charges. For that case, Hugall was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the rape and murders of a five-year-old girl and her mother in Florida. Hugall was repeatedly—and continuously—asked about Kelly Harris for over 20 years, and it wasn’t until 2006 that he reportedly gave details of what happened to the 13-year-old. According to Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office investigator Mel Hartman, Hugall confessed to authorities that he told Kelly that he would take her to that county fair but that wasn’t the case. He would instead kidnap the 13-year-old and take her to his place of employment, St. John School, where he would sexually assault her. He then claimed to have placed her in the trunk of his vehicle, drove out near Jackson Community College, and then stabbed her to death. Hugall claimed he buried her, but when police took him to the location to find Kelly’s remains, investigators were unsuccessful.
It has been reported that blood evidence later confirmed Hugall’s story but it is unclear what exactly was found and tested. Hugall is currently incarcerated in Florida and is scheduled for release between 2033 and 2035. He will be around 90-years-old and at that time if he is still alive, he will be extradited to Michigan and formally charged with the murder of Kelly Harris. Investigators are not under the impression that Kelly’s remains can be recovered after this length of time as environmental elements and wildlife may have destroyed or scattered her remains.
“I just remember shutting myself in the bedroom and I didn’t care if I ever came out,” said Carol. “I tried drinking but thought it was not going to bring her back. It was like I was in a world all alone. My daughter was gone.” Kelly has been acknowledged at The Fallen Victims of Homicide Memorial where Carol often visits. “I go there and I sit and think and cry. I just look at her picture. Her picture shouldn’t even be up there. This shouldn’t have happened for her picture to be up there.”
At the time of her disappearance, Kelly Harris stood 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 100 pounds. She had black/dark brown hair, brown eyes, and is biracial (Black and white). Kelly was last seen wearing an orange blouse with gray stripes and black shorts. Her middle name is “Jean.” She had a gap between her upper front teeth. Kelly’s dental records and DNA is on file, but the Doe Network reported that it was unknown if her DNA was secured. She wore prescription glasses, occasionally, but it is unclear if she had them the day she went missing.
Anyone with information about this case or Leonard Hugall is urged to contact the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office at (517) 768-7900 or their local authorities. The agency case number is 77-9684.
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