Episode 092: Unique Harris

September 18, 2023

Children awaken to find that their mother has vanished, sparking a decade-long search for answers. What happened to Unique Harris?

Episode Media
Unique RaQuel-Leona Harris (Facebook)
Unique with her boys (Facebook)
Unique’s apartment building on Hartford Street (Google Maps)
Isaac Moye (Metropolitan Police)
Moye’s GPS monitor data from 10/9/2010-10/10/20 (NBC Washington)
Map of locations in Unique’s case (Google Maps)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you a case that began over a decade ago and has just now found justice through the tireless work of investigators and devoted family members. This episode discusses sensitive topics, so listener discretion is advised.

Unique RaQuel-Leona Harris grew up in Richmond, Virginia. Her mother Valencia was just 19 when she gave birth to Unique, and in many ways, the two grew up together. For years, they faced the world together, just two peas in a pod. Eventually, Unique became a big sister to Varndell and Ashley, and she loved her siblings dearly. She was the typical oldest daughter, making sure everyone around her was safe and cared for, taking charge when things got hard. Unique was kind and smart, a social butterfly who loved her family and her friends.

Unique graduated from John Marshall High School in 2004, and like many new graduates, she was excited to begin the next phase of her life. But life sometimes throws a curveball, and Unique soon discovered she was pregnant. In 2005, she gave birth to a beautiful little boy that she named Richard after her grandfather. According to her family, Unique loved being a mother, and Richard was her whole world. When her second son, U’Andre, came along two years later, Unique was overjoyed.

By this time, Valencia had moved from Richmond to Washington, D.C., about a 2-hour drive north. Valencia and Unique were still in constant contact, but they missed being close by. Finally, in the summer of 2010, Unique decided to make the move herself. She and her boys’ father had recently separated, and she really wanted a fresh start. Richard was getting ready to start kindergarten in the fall, and Unique wanted to focus on her own education too.

Valencia and Unique worked together to come up with a plan. Unique applied to Centura College where she would take classes in massage therapy. While she was at school, Valencia would watch the boys. Money would be tight for a while – being a single mom in a new city wouldn’t be easy, even with financial aid from the college – but Unique was ready for the challenge. She had even found an apartment in Garfield Heights, just off the freeway.

But Valencia was hesitant – Garfield Heights was known for being a particularly rough neighborhood, and Valencia worried about Unique and the boys’ safety. She begged her daughter to just move in with her while she got on her feet, but Unique had an independent streak a mile long. She would be just fine. There was a police station just a few blocks away, and she would only be a five-minute drive from Valencia. She was determined to do this on her own, and Valencia eventually had to give in.

Unique and the boys quickly settled into a routine, and Valencia tried to calm her own fears. The mother and daughter saw each other every day and talked on the phone constantly. Unique was happy, the boys were healthy, and everything seemed to be going just right.

In early October, Valencia’s father – Unique’s grandfather – was in town visiting. Grandpa Richard was glad to see his family, and when Unique asked him to cut her boys’ hair, he happily agreed. On Friday, October 8th, Unique brought the boys over to Valencia’s apartment after school. While Grandpa Richard and the boys were busy with haircuts, Unique and her mother chatted, catching up on the latest news. As night fell, Grandpa Richard drove Unique and the boys back to Unique’s apartment, waving goodbye as he watched them go inside.

On Saturday night, Valencia and Grandpa Richard called Unique to see what she and the boys were up to. They could hear the boys playing rambunctiously in the background as Unique told them that they were having a weekend sleepover with their 9-year-old cousin Talaya. Unique was popping popcorn, and they were about to put on a movie. Grandpa Richard talked to the boys on the phone for a few minutes, then they all said goodnight, promising to talk again tomorrow. They had no way of knowing that it would be their last conversation.

Around 9am on Sunday, October 10th, Tiffannee Reed got a phone call. Her daughter Talaya was on the other end, and she sounded frantic. Talaya said that she couldn’t find Unique, that she had just woken up and she was gone.

Concerned but not panicked, Tiffannee tried to calm her daughter. She told Talaya that Unique had probably just walked down to the corner store to get something for breakfast; she would be back in just a few minutes. She told Talaya to keep an eye on the boys and she would try to call Unique. But when she did, Unique’s phone just kept ringing.

By this point, Tiffannee was getting more and more worried. She knew Unique would never leave the kids on their own, and it was definitely strange that she wasn’t answering her phone. If she had just stepped out for a minute, she would have been back by now. Unfortunately, Tiffannee was stuck on the other side of the city and wasn’t able to get to Unique’s apartment right away, as much as she wished she could. Instead, she just kept calling Talaya every half hour or so to check in, to make sure she and the boys were safe.

Tiffannee tried to reassure Talaya – and herself – that Unique would definitely be home by 3:00. That was their scheduled pick-up time, and Unique would have let her know if anything had changed. But when Tiffannee was finally able to get across town to Unique’s apartment, Unique was still not home.

Now Tiffannee knew something was wrong. She called Valencia and told her what was happening. Valencia was laid up with a broken foot, so Grandpa Richard drove to Garfield Heights to pick up the boys until they could figure out where Unique had gone. He spoke briefly to Tiffannee and Talaya, but neither of them had any more information. All Talaya could remember about the night before was that they had gone to bed around 9:30, and she had woken up to find Unique gone. She didn’t remember hearing any strange noises that night except maybe the television.

Grandpa Richard decided to take the boys to Valencia’s so she could watch them, then he headed back to Unique’s apartment to gather some clothes and toys for them. But this time, he took a closer look around the apartment, and what he saw was alarming.

Unique’s purse hung on the back of a dining room chair, her wallet and bank card still inside. Grandpa Richard didn’t see her cell phone or house keys anywhere, but it seemed strange that Unique would leave without taking her whole purse like she usually did. Besides, she didn’t have a car, and she would need money to ride the bus.

In the living room, the sofa looked like it had been cut up; there was a large hole in the fabric and some of the foam insides had been taken out. That didn’t seem like something Unique or even the boys would do.

Then, Grandpa Richard entered the main bedroom and saw Unique’s glasses folded up and sitting on her pillow. This was the most alarming of all – Unique was legally blind; she wouldn’t – and couldn’t – have gone anywhere without her glasses.

Grandpa Richard grabbed his cell phone and called his daughter. “Valencia, honey, it doesn’t look good at all.”

Right away, Valencia called the Metropolitan Police Department and reported her daughter missing. According to the Washington Post, reports of missing adults in D.C. are automatically assigned to the missing persons unit and determined to be either voluntary, involuntary, or endangered missing. But shortly into the investigation, Unique’s case was reassigned from the missing persons unit to a criminal unit.

Police Commander Joel Maupin told the Washington Post that they believed Unique had not walked away on her own. She didn’t have any family issues or drug problems, and there had been no signs of her wanting to leave. “We felt it would be very odd that she would disappear… You do have cases where people just leave, but we didn’t feel like that was the situation here.”

In fact, Unique had a lot of reasons to not disappear. She had just gotten her official acceptance letter from Centura College and was scheduled to begin classes in a few weeks. She also had an upcoming court date to work out some issues with the boys’ child support payments. She had found a church she liked and had a new boyfriend who treated her well. It just didn’t make sense that she had suddenly vanished.

Investigators questioned everyone in Unique’s life, including her family members and friends. The boy’s father was cleared after passing a polygraph exam, and Unique’s new boyfriend had a solid alibi – he lived in Richmond and was there the entire weekend. He also passed a polygraph and was cleared of suspicion.

The children didn’t recall anything out of the ordinary happening at their sleepover. Talaya did remember hearing a man’s voice, but she thought it was from the television or maybe even a neighboring apartment. Five-year-old Richard and three-year-old U’Andre slept through the night and didn’t have any memories to share with investigators.

Valencia was concerned that a stranger had broken into the apartment and had taken her daughter. She told the Huffington Post that just a few days before Unique disappeared, there had been a murder in the apartment complex. “She witnessed it. She called me just emotional about what was unfolding and when she told me that she was looking out of the window, my immediate response to her was, ‘Get away from the window! Get away from the window!’” Although police didn’t believe the murder was connected to Unique’s disappearance, it was just another sign of the danger lurking in the area.

According to the Charley Project, not only was Unique’s apartment in a dangerous neighborhood, her actual building was not secure. The main door leading into the building had a security intercom, but it didn’t work, and the doors to each apartment were not in good shape. It seemed possible that someone could have gotten in fairly easily.

But other than the strange hole in the sofa, there wasn’t any obvious sign of a struggle in Unique’s apartment. The door hadn’t been forced open, and none of the furniture had been knocked over. Was it possible that Unique had willingly let someone inside who had then turned on her?

Crime scene investigators processed the apartment, gathering what little forensic evidence they could and sending it off to the lab for analysis. And even though Unique’s cell phone was missing, they were able to pull her phone records, which gave them some more leads to follow. But soon, the case went quiet. It was still being actively investigated, but there just wasn’t anything new to report.

Of course, Unique’s family wasn’t going to just sit around and wait. They wanted to help any way they could. They hung flyers and held fundraisers, wearing shirts with Unique’s picture on the front. Every few months, they had a candlelight vigil outside the apartment building where Unique vanished. They wanted people to remember, to keep looking.

But it was hard. As the days and weeks went by, Valencia became more determined, but also more desperate. In October of 2011, she told the Washington Post, “I have never in my life not known where my child is. For 24 years, I spoke with her every day, and now… My daughter was where she was supposed to be, doing what she was supposed to be doing, and… It only took me five hours to bring her into this world, and now I have spent a year…”

Valencia soon found support with the Black & Missing Foundation, a non-profit organization based in D.C. that provides resources to families of missing persons of color. Derrica Wilson, one of the co-founders and a former police officer herself, told the Washington Post that the longer a person is missing, the less likely they are to be found. “You want to remain hopeful and prayerful. But we all know that every day the chances are getting slimmer and slimmer.”

But Unique’s family continued to hold on, even as one year turned into two and two turned into six. Valencia stayed in contact with the Metropolitan Police, following the case closely even as it changed hands over and over again. In 2017, Valencia told NBC12 that she would never stop fighting for her daughter. “I will look for her with the last breath in my body. The last 6 years of my life are a testament to that. Hold on until Momma finds you. Because I am going to find her. I am turning this world upside down.”

Valencia also made a plea to the public. “Somebody has probably been holding this on their conscience for the last almost 7 years now… I know there’s someone out there that knows exactly what happened to my daughter. My appeal to them is, release your soul from this demon because only God knows at this point where my daughter is and what happened to her and who did it to her.”

In October of 2018, a D.C. Superior Court granted a petition for Unique Harris to be legally declared dead and issued a death certificate. This was obviously a heartbreaking decision for Unique’s family, but it provided investigators with more resources now that the case could officially be labeled a homicide. Even so, it would be another two years before there were any real answers.

Finally, on December 19, 2020, Metropolitan Police announced that they had made an arrest – 43-year-old Isaac Moye was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Unique Harris.

The name was new to the public, but not to investigators, and not to Valencia.

According to the arrest records, Valencia had learned about Isaac Moye way back in 2011. Someone had told her that a man nicknamed “Iceberg” may have had something to do with Unique’s disappearance. She passed the tip onto the police, who already knew about this Iceberg – Isaac Moye had a long record, including multiple arrests for assault. Investigators interviewed Moye several times over the following years, and each time he had a different story. He claimed he didn’t know Unique, he hadn’t been in her apartment. Then he claimed that he did know her, but he hadn’t seen her the day she went missing. After failing a polygraph exam, Moye admitted to having had sex with Unique. Over and over again, police questioned him, building their case piece by piece.

But for a long time, that case was purely circumstantial. Then, in 2017, a new detective took over the investigation. Detective Michael Fulton started by re-interviewing witnesses, including the children who had been in the apartment that fateful night. According to the Charley Project, Unique’s oldest son – just five at the time of his mother’s disappearance – now told investigators that he did remember something from that night. He had gotten out of bed in the middle of the night and opened his bedroom door. He had seen a man he knew as “Iceberg” in the apartment with his mother. They had argued, and Richard heard his mom scream, “Get out! Get out!”

Obviously, an old memory from a traumatized child wouldn’t be enough for an arrest, but it certainly confirmed to investigators that they were on the right track. They retested the evidence from the apartment and discovered that DNA from semen found on Unique’s ripped up sofa was a match to Isaac Moye.

But again, not even that was enough for an arrest. Unique knew Isaac Moye, and he had certainly been in her apartment before. He had even admitted to having sex with her. Detectives needed more evidence.

Then, they found it.

In October of 2010, Moye had just been released from prison after serving a five-year sentence for assaulting a woman. A condition of his release was that he would need to wear a GPS monitoring device. That device tracked his every movement, and it definitively placed him at Unique’s apartment on the night she disappeared. They finally had proof that Isaac Moye had killed Unique Harris.

When the case went to trial in June of 2023, prosecutors laid out the timeline of events.

Isaac Moye had met Unique Harris shortly after being released from prison. According to detectives, he had a major crush on Unique, and he didn’t care that she already had a boyfriend. He seemed to think that she would eventually fall in love with him if he just kept trying.

On October 9, 2010, phone records showed that Moye had spoken to Unique on the phone thirteen times throughout the day. Later that night, after Unique had put the children to bed, Moye called again. Minutes later, he showed up at the apartment, the GPS monitor placing him there at 10:39pm.

According to the prosecution, Unique and Moye hung out at her apartment that night, but phone records showed that Unique had been talking on the phone with her boyfriend at the same time, their last call being at 3am on October 10th. Prosecutor Vinet Bryant painted a picture of jealousy for the jury, saying, “All the while, the defendant sat there, feeling ignored, feeling jilted.”

The physical evidence suggests that while in the apartment, Moye tried to have sex with Unique. Bryant told the jury that when Moye came on to Unique, she turned him down, which enraged him. He then sexually assaulted her, leaving his semen on the sofa, and killed her right there in the apartment. Bryant said, “He was waiting for her to choose him over her boyfriend — and when she didn’t, it cost her her life.”

Moye then had a dilemma – he had a dead body in the living room just feet away from where three children slept unawares. The GPS data showed that he stayed in the apartment all night, likely trying to cover his tracks. He cut out a section of the sofa, perhaps a piece that may have had blood on it, then came up with a plan for disposing of Unique’s body.

At 7:20am, just after sunrise, the GPS monitor tracked Moye leaving Unique’s apartment building on Hartford Street and walking one mile back to his own apartment on Good Hope Road, which bumped up against a large wooded area. Investigators believe that Moye used the quiet morning hours to his advantage, transporting Unique’s body to a more familiar area and burying her in the forest. He then sat with the knowledge of what he did for over a decade.

Moye’s defense argued that he was innocent. He hadn’t killed Unique – she had chosen to walk away from her life. The prosecution hadn’t presented any real evidence that Unique was dead or that Moye had killed her. And if she was dead, the police had gotten the wrong man.

But in the end, the jury found Isaac Moye guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Unique Harris. In a statement to the press, U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves said, “More than a decade ago, two children lost their mother to a killer who had no regard for anyone’s needs but his own. Thanks to dogged police work by the Metropolitan Police Department detectives who worked this case, and the dedicated, tireless efforts of the prosecution team, a jury held this defendant accountable for this heinous murder.”

Unique’s family was overjoyed by the verdict; they were finally getting justice. Valencia told ABC7, “The wheels of justice may turn slow, but it’s one brutal lesson I’ve had to learn… It turns slow, but justice delayed is not justice denied. We just gotta keep fighting for ours.”

On September 15, 2023 – just days before this recording – Isaac Moye was sentenced to 35 years in prison. In addition, he is required to serve a five-year supervised release and receive mental health treatment while incarcerated.

The final piece in this tragic case will come when Unique’s remains are finally found. Her family continues to hold out hope that that day will come soon.

If you have any information that could lead to the recovery of Unique Harris, please contact the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department at 202-715-7300.