Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Maintenance man charged with killing, raping Drexel grad

Cops said James Harris, 56, brutally murdered Jasmine Wright, 27, in her apartment.

James Harris and Jasmine Wright
James Harris and Jasmine WrightRead more

IN MARCH, James Harris left a comment on Jasmine Wright's Facebook page, words forever branded on her public, electronic memorial.

"All in," he posted, with a picture of a dozen roses that said: "For you."

Under other circumstances, it would have been an innocuous gesture. But with Friday's news, it twists into something ominous and morbid.

Harris, a/k/a James Camp, has been charged with allegedly raping and murdering Wright, 27, on July 15 inside her apartment in the West Philly building where he had been the maintenance man, police said.

Homicide Capt. James Clark said at a news conference that Harris was fired from his job a week before Wright's slaying, but his former employer didn't confiscate his keys, which gave him access to the apartment building.

Clark said Harris - whom he twice described as a "monster" - was seen entering the building 30 minutes before Wright came home. It's unclear if he had a copy of the key to her apartment, but he managed to get inside, and pounced when the moment was right.

"She was on the cellphone, talking to her mother, who lives in Virginia," Clark said. "At that time, he attacked her. We know that because the phone goes dead."

Wright, a graduate of both Drexel and Penn State universities who once traveled to West Africa to bring health care to remote villages, faced horrific violence in her final moments.

Clark said Harris allegedly beat and strangled Wright on the floor, and then placed her body on her bed. He allegedly tried to cover his tracks by using bleach to wash away possible evidence.

"The Crime Scene Unit and the chem lab did a phenomenal job of gathering prints and DNA from the scene and matching those prints and the DNA to our killer," Clark said.

Harris hasn't shed any light on a possible motive. Thus far, he's refused to talk to investigators.

"Like I said, he's a monster," Clark said. "He's a career criminal. He's probably not going to tell us anything."

Wright had been friendly toward Harris, as she was to pretty much everyone else in her building. Clark said it's possible that Harris became infatuated with his victim.

Harris has been in custody since July 19, when he was arrested and charged with robbery and criminal trespass, police said.

This was far from the first strike against Harris: He has been arrested several times for a variety of crimes, including the murder of his own father, James Washington.

Court documents show that Harris was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the 1982 slaying.

Washington was found dead in his South Philly home by Harris' brother Dwayne, the Daily News reported at the time. The 52-year-old had "suffered a severe beating before being shot twice in the head," police said.

Harry Harris, James' brother, confirmed to the Daily News on Thursday that his brother killed their father, whom he alleged was abusive to his sons and wife. He said James served about five years for the slaying.

Harris' criminal record also includes two convictions for burglary, as well as convictions for assault, theft, trespassing and drug and gun offenses.

One arrest, in 2002, was for statutory sexual assault, rape, corruption of a minor and related offenses. The charges later were dismissed.

Most recently, Harris was convicted of drug and gun offenses in 2007. He served a four-year sentence in that case, according to a spokeswoman from the state Department of Corrections.

Hours after police found Wright's strangled body on July 16, residents on the block interviewed by the Daily News said they suspected that Harris had played a role in her violent death.

For one thing, they said, he made it known that he held onto a set of keys to the building, even after leaving his job there.

It was a glaring detail, given that police said Wright's apartment showed no signs of forced entry.

"Something just seemed off with him," said a woman who lived below Wright in the building, on 50th Street near Locust, who spoke with the People Paper on the condition of anonymity. "I see myself as a pretty good judge of character."

Chalk one up to intuition.

The woman said she had felt uncomfortable around Harris, who openly spoke with her about his time in prison and volunteered that he had been locked up for killing his father.

He had introduced himself to her when she moved in, mentioning that he still had access to all of the apartments. He was a handyman, he told her, hired by the building's owner to do odd jobs around the place.

He offered to help her with repairs or renovations. She had her locks changed a few days later.

Harold Murray, the owner of the building that Wright lived in, allegedly hired Harris to take out the trash, clean the yard and perform minor maintenance, according to Harris' brother, Harry.

Clark said Harris was fired because he simply didn't do his job.

A woman who answered the door at Murray's home in North Philly told a reporter on Wednesday that he "wasn't available."

Murray did not return a call for comment.

Harry Harris claimed his brother stopped working for Murray after they got into an argument. He said, as far as he knew, his brother had given his keys to the apartment back to Murray and didn't have any spares.

"If he did, how would I know?" Harris asked.

A longtime resident of the block, whose name the Daily News is withholding at her request, said she met James Harris when he lived in another building on the block with Harry.

His mother had recently died and he was hard-up for money, she said.

She last saw him the day before Wright's body was found - walking out of the apartment building where he, supposedly, no longer worked.

After that, Harris was gone from the block, she said.

So was Wright.

On Twitter: @Vellastrations