Episode 070: Ivanice Harris

February 27, 2023

When a young woman celebrating her birthday in Hawaii is found dead, investigators must piece together a timeline of her last moments and answer the question: Who killed Ivanice?

Episode Media
Ivanice Jo’Ruth Harris (ID)
Ivanice in Hawaii (Facebook)
Jillian, Mark, and Ivanice (ID)
Kelley O’Neil’s bar in Waikiki (Google Street View)
Walking distance between Kelley O’Neil’s and Aston Waikiki Beach (Google Maps)
Nathaniel Cosby (US Marine Corps)
Ivanice Harris and Nathaniel Cosby in the elevator at the Aston hotel (ID)
Driving distance from Waikiki to Makua Cave near where Ivanice’s body was found (Google Maps)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you a case of a woman whose vacation with friends ended in tragedy and the journey towards finding justice. This episode discusses sensitive topics, so listener discretion is advised.

In May of 2013, Ivanice Harris was on her way to Hawaii to celebrate her 29th birthday. It was an annual tradition; Ivanice and her boyfriend Mark and best friend Jillian had traveled there together for the last few years, partying on Oahu before heading home to Oregon.

On Wednesday, May 15th, Ivanice, Mark, and Jillian went out to breakfast in Waikiki and spent the rest of the day at the beach. Ivy posted a picture of the beach on her Facebook page, then texted her mom back in Portland, telling her that she was having a great time. Later, the group went back to their hotel to rest and freshen up for a night out on the town.

Around 1am, Ivanice got tired of waiting for Mark and Jillian to be ready and told them that she was going to head out on her own. She said she was going to Kelley O’Neil’s, a popular bar in Waikiki, and would meet up with them later. But later never came.

Jillian told KITV News that they had texted back and forth for a while, making plans to meet. At 3:43am, Ivanice texted Mark to say that she was going to the Aston, but then the messages stopped. When hours passed and Ivanice still wasn’t responding, and their calls were going straight to voicemail, Mark and Jillian knew something was very wrong.

Mark called Ivanice’s family back in Portland to let them know what was going on, while Jillian started calling around to the local jails and hospitals, hoping that someone had seen her friend. Finally, they called the Honolulu Police Department and reported Ivanice missing.

Detective Dru Akagi was assigned to the case. Right away, he brought Mark and Jillian into the station for questioning. Since they were the closest to Ivanice, they might have valuable information that could help them find her more quickly. But the detective was surprised by what he learned.

The trio’s relationship was complicated. In an interview with the tv show See No Evil, Jillian described a sort of love triangle. She and Ivanice were best friends, as close as sisters, but they were both in love with the same man. And Mark considered both of them his girlfriends, which sometimes caused tension between the two women.

Naturally, investigators wondered if this tension could have led to Ivanice’s disappearance. Had a bout of jealousy gotten out of hand? Had Ivanice walked away from the situation? But both Mark and Jillian were forthcoming with information, and Mark voluntarily submitted to a polygraph exam and passed. It was clear that they truly just wanted to know what had happened to Ivanice. In Jillian’s words, “We were always there for each other no matter what.”

But a polyamorous relationship wasn’t the only bombshell dropped on detectives. Adding to the complicated nature of their relationship was the fact that Ivanice and Jillian were both engaged in sex work, and Mark served as their procurer.

According to The Oregonian newspaper, Ivanice and Jillian worked as traveling escorts, posting ads online to set up clients in various cities. On May 11th, just days before Ivanice disappeared, the women posted an ad marketing their escort services in Waikiki. For investigators, this opened up a whole new world of suspects.

Detective Akagi immediately began tracing Ivanice’s last steps, starting with Kelley O’Neil’s. He spoke to employees, but no one remembered seeing her in the bar, so he asked for access to their outdoor surveillance camera. Scrolling through the footage, he spotted Ivanice walking up to the bar around 3am on May 16th. She hung around outside for nearly half an hour, almost as if she was waiting for someone. At 3:28am, a white male with sunglasses on his head exited the bar and passed Ivanice on the sidewalk. But almost immediately, he stopped and turned back, approaching her and striking up a conversation. It was clear on the video that the man was trying to play it cool, leaning in to talk with one arm against the wall. The man only spoke with Ivanice for a minute before the two of them started walking together down the street.

About 15 minutes later, Ivanice texted Mark that she was going to the Aston. This was a regular practice for them; whenever one of the women got a client, they would let Mark know which hotel they would be at. The problem was that there were multiple Aston hotels in the area – which one had she gone to?

Detective Akagi began calling every Aston hotel on the island, hoping that someone would recall seeing Ivanice or the man she was with. But most of the hotels required a subpoena to get access to their surveillance footage, which would take at least 24 hours. However, this didn’t deter the detective; he eventually got a judge to issue a subpoena, and investigators began combing through hours of video footage from every Aston hotel.

Finally, they got a break. At 3:41am on May 16th, Ivanice and the man were spotted in the lobby of the Aston Waikiki Beach. They were seen kissing in the elevator before getting off on an unknown floor. That was the last time Ivanice Harris was seen alive.

On Monday, May 20th, a 911 call came in to the Honolulu Police Department. A young boy had stumbled upon a body in a remote area near Yokohama Bay on the western tip of the island. According to news reports, the body lay at the bottom of a hill by Makua Cave, almost entirely concealed by thick brush. When investigators arrived at the scene, they found the decomposing remains of a young black woman. She had been left in the dirt, naked and exposed to the elements. Detective Akagi recognized her tattoos, and fingerprinting later confirmed what he already knew: they had found Ivanice Harris.

The news was absolutely devastating to Ivanice’s family and friends. They held candlelight vigils in Waikiki and Portland, sharing their grief across an ocean. Mark spoke to a local news station, saying, “She was my world, she was my best friend. We did everything together.” Friends shared memories of Ivanice, remembering her as a bright, independent woman who wanted more for her life. Before her trip to Hawaii, Ivanice had enrolled at Mount Hood Community College and was planning to move in with her mother to focus on school. She wanted to leave sex work and was taking steps to make that happen. She had also recently learned that she was pregnant, and it was further motivation for her to make a change. Sadly, she would never get that chance.

While her family mourned, investigators continued to gather information. Mark and Jillian decided to stay in Hawaii to assist investigators while they awaited the results of Ivanice’s autopsy. Jillian told Hawaii News Now, “Nothing else matters. Who killed my friend? Period. That’s all that matters at this point, to get her home and find who did it.”

When the autopsy results were released, they confirmed what detectives suspected. Ivanice had died from an injury to the neck. Because of the decomposed state of her body, the medical examiner couldn’t be more specific, but it was clear that her death was no accident. They were now officially hunting a murderer.

Detectives knew that Ivanice had entered the hotel with a man at 3:41am on May 16th, and she had never left. Every entrance and exit at the Aston had surveillance cameras, so there was no way she had just walked out without anyone noticing.

As they watched hours of camera footage, detectives spotted something unusual. At 5:58am on May 16th, a man entered the hotel elevator with a large rolling duffel bag. He seemed to struggle with it, getting stuck a few times before finally maneuvering it into the elevator. But what stood out even more was the man’s clothing – jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, and a floppy bucket hat with a wide brim, the tag still hanging off the back. This was definitely not normal attire for Hawaii in the summer. They also noticed that the man kept his back to the camera the entire time, facing the corner of the elevator instead of the door.

Intrigued, detectives followed his movements from camera to camera. After exiting the elevator, the man walked to the valet parking area where a white SUV was waiting. On the video, a valet clearly offered to help the man with his bag, but the man waved him off. He then attempted to lift the bag into the trunk of the vehicle, but he struggled with the obvious weight of it, and it took him a few tries to get it in. When he eventually did get it, the car visibly sagged underneath its weight. The man then closed the trunk, climbed into the driver’s seat, and drove off.

Three hours later, he was back. At 9:14am, the man entered the hotel elevator, still wearing the jeans and long-sleeved shirt from before, the bucket hat shielding his face from the cameras. But this time, there was no duffel bag in sight. Instead, he was carrying a small white towel and nothing else. The man got off the elevator, then returned 10 minutes later dressed in military fatigues. He left the hotel in the same white SUV as before. He didn’t return until after midnight, this time pulling the duffel bag behind him. It looked much lighter than before.

Investigators now had a solid lead, but they still needed to figure out who this man was and what he had done with Ivanice. The video footage was too grainy to see the name on his military fatigues, so Detective Akagi pulled reservation records from the hotel and began narrowing down the search. In an interview with See No Evil, he said that he assumed the man would have checked in alone if he was planning to hire an escort, and he likely would have declined housekeeping to avoid getting caught. Sure enough, there was only one reservation that fit the bill – Nathaniel Cosby in room 924.

Now that they had a name and a room number, detectives went back to the cameras. They found Cosby checking into the hotel carrying the same rolling duffel bag, sunglasses on his head. They compared all of the images they’d gathered so far, and it was clear that he was the same man who had been with Ivanice.

Detective Akagi contacted the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and shared what he knew. But to his dismay, they told him that his number one suspect had already left the island.

Thirty-eight-year-old Master Sergeant Nathaniel Cosby was an explosive ordnance disposal technician with the United States Marine Corps. He was on temporary assignment in Hawaii, but was permanently stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan. If Cosby had already left the country, the Honolulu Police Department didn’t have the authority to arrest him on foreign soil.

While they waited for Cosby to hopefully return to the United States, investigators continued to gather evidence. They served a search warrant on room 924, but the room had been cleaned, and the small amounts of DNA they were able to find did not produce conclusive results. The next step was to track down the white SUV. They linked it to a local rental agency and saw that Cosby had put over 400 miles on the vehicle in the span of five days, difficult to do on a small island. They theorized that Cosby had driven around the island searching for a location to dump Ivanice’s body.

From there, they pulled his bank records and cell phone data. Video footage from an ATM near his military base showed Cosby making a withdrawal the day before he left the island. On the video, Cosby had a large mark above his right eyebrow, and investigators wondered if it was a wound left from his struggle with Ivanice. Her fingernails had been broken prior to her death; she had been fighting for her life.

One of the most critical pieces of evidence came from Cosby’s cell phone, a pay-as-you-go device that he had purchased recently. At 8am on May 16th, his phone pinged off a tower on the Waianae Coast just a few miles from where Ivanice’s body was later found. It pinged again in the same location later that night. Investigators believed that Cosby had driven to the location twice – once to scout it out, and once to dispose of the body.

Finally, on June 5th, detectives received word that Nathaniel Cosby was headed back to Hawaii. They met him at the airport and brought him in for questioning.

During the interview, Cosby admitted to picking up Ivanice outside the bar and taking her back to his hotel room. But he claimed that he couldn’t remember what happened in the room that night. According to him, he woke up the next morning and Ivanice was gone. He thought that meant he was late to work, so he jumped out of bed, then tripped and fell, knocking his head on the nightstand, giving him a gash above his right eyebrow. Then he realized he still had several hours before he had to be at work at 9am, so he just went back to sleep.

Of course, this did not match up with the surveillance footage. Detectives knew that Cosby had left the hotel at 6am with the duffel bag and had returned after 9 without it. When they showed him the video, Cosby said he was done talking.

Nathaniel Cosby was arrested on suspicion of murder and was facing a military hearing to determine whether he would be court-martialed. But the next day, the prosecutor’s office announced his release, citing the need to wait for test results. They only had 48 hours to charge Cosby after his arrest, and they knew that it would be much longer than that before the DNA evidence was ready.

The Marine Corps released a statement, saying, “The U.S. Marine released today by the Honolulu Police Department has been temporarily reassigned to a unit on Marine Corps Base Hawaii. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service continues to support the investigation. The Marine Corps and its commanders take all allegations of criminal misconduct involving Marines seriously and are fully cooperating with the investigation.”

Three long months later, the results were in. DNA swabs taken from the inside of Cosby’s duffel bag were a match to Ivanice Harris. Inside the bag, they also recovered fragments of Ivanice’s fingernails and strands of hair from her wig.

On September 23, 2013, Nathaniel Cosby was officially charged with the murder of Ivanice Harris. His trial by court-martial began in April of 2014. Cosby’s lawyers claimed that he had killed Ivanice in self-defense, that she had slashed him with a lipstick knife and he had defended himself by stabbing her in the temple. Realizing what he had done, he had panicked and left her body along the coast.

But the prosecution countered that argument with evidence. Ivanice had not died of a stab wound; she had been strangled by Nathaniel Cosby, and she had fought back, leaving her mark on his face and her DNA in his bag. Cosby had driven around the island for hours looking for a place to dispose of Ivanice like garbage. She deserved better than that. She deserved justice.

A military jury convicted Nathaniel Cosby of murder and obstruction of justice. He was dishonorably discharged and given a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Ivanice’s boyfriend, Mark Miles, also served prison time. In 2014, he pleaded guilty to federal charges of human trafficking, admitting that he transported Ivanice over state lines to engage in sex work. After being released from prison, Mark wanted to turn his life around. Mark and Jillian married in 2016, and together they started a nonprofit organization, Ivy’s Angels, dedicated to helping women get out of the sex trade. It operated in the Portland area for several years before dissolving in 2019.

Ivanice Harris deserved to live a long, full life, but it was taken from her far too soon. Her choices in life and in her career did not exclude her from deserving love and joy. She deserved to live.

I’d like to end this episode with a beautiful tribute written by Ivanice’s family. They say it better than I ever could.

“Ivanice was a strong woman, with a beautiful spirit, a huge heart and a captivating presence. She will be remembered for her boisterous laugh, illuminating smile, sarcastic comments and comedic expressions. She was loved by so many and has touched so many lives that she could never be forgotten. May we all keep her in our hearts and cherish her memories forever.”