During its annual tour escorting Santa around town to pass out candy canes to area children, the Byram Township Fire Department discovered a number of suspicious items off Ross Road: paperwork, an umbrella, sneakers, a disposable food container and what appeared to be blood.
After discovering the debris, at around 2 p.m. on Saturday, the fire chief contacted the Byram Police Department. Sergeant Thomas Dellicker, Patrolman Todd Sodano and Patrolman Christopher Spaldo arrived to investigate and discovered the body of Fort Drum soldier Corporal Hayden Harris, 20, about 200 yards into the woods, and mostly buried by snow.
Harris had been reported missing. He was last heard from between 8 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 17, and 6:30 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 18, according to a news release from the Army Criminal Investigation Command on Sunday.
Harris and suspect Jamaal Mellish, also a U.S. Army soldier, met in Watertown, N.Y., for a vehicle transaction. Mellish and Harris were supposed to exchange vehicles, a Ford Mustang for a Chevy pickup truck, according to a press release from the Byram Police Department.
The police investigation revealed paperwork that included the names of both the victim and the accused from a previous vehicle transaction.
Mellish is currently in custody in New York on charges of kidnapping pending formal charges. It is anticipated that he will be extradited to New Jersey. A juvenile under the age of 18 is also under investigation in connection to the crime.
Investigators from the Byram Township Police department, the Sussex County Prosecutors Office, and the New Jersey State Police crime scene unit are currently in Watertown continuing the investigation.
The Byram mayor, Alex Rubenstein, told The New York Times that residents are “mystified” by the crime, and that the township had not seen a murder case in at least 100 years.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct an error: Byram has not seen a murder case in at least 100 years, not 15, as the story originally stated. The Township Journal regrets the error.