A Love Rectangle Turns Lethal
(‘Buried Treasure,’ Forensic Files)
What could be more innocent than a square dance? No grinding, no twerking, just wholesome family-friendly fun.
Unfortunately, at just such an event in 1984, a couple of participants from Franklin County, Pennsylvania got a little too friendly amid the do-si-dos and allemande lefts.
Their ensuing affair eventually led to hurt feelings, homicide, and imprisonment.
The story is unusual for another reason as well. Most Forensic Files murders involving people who know each other are motivated by greed, a financial crisis, or a child-custody dispute. Ron Harshman, on the other hand, acted out of jealousy and resentment that led him to turn Melvin Snyder into a missing person in 1985.
For this week, I looked for more details about the love rectangle that spurred the killing, so let’s get going on the recap of “Buried Treasure” along with extra information from internet research:
Melvin and Joan Snyder and their son, Ron, lived on a farm near Gettysburg. It’s not clear how much the farm contributed to their income, but Melvin and Joan both had outside jobs.
On Saturday, May 25, 1985, Joan returned home around noon from her shift at the Sunnyway Diner, where she baked pies.
Melvin, age 42, and his Chevrolet truck were gone.
The normally tidy Melvin had left his tools scattered outside. A .25-caliber shell casing lay on the floor of the Snyders’ barn on Grant Shook Road in Greencastle.
Two days later, Joan filed a missing person report.
By this tune, Melvin’s white pickup had turned up 60 miles away in a shopping center parking lot in Reisterstown, Maryland. It appeared that someone had wiped the interior clean of fingerprints. Because Melvin’s wallet, checkbook, and loaded 22-caliber rifle were left in the car, police didn’t suspect robbery.
But Melvin’s recent past served as a clue. Joan and Melvin Snyder and another couple, Teresa and Ronald Harshman, had begun taking square dance lessons in Hagerstown in 1983.
Melvin, and Ronald worked at Grove Manufacturing, a maker of mobile hydraulic cranes. It’s not clear whether or not the two men already knew each other from the factory—the company at one time had as many as 1,000 employees—but it was at the square dance lessons that the couples became close friends.
At one of the dances, Melvin told Teresa that he had feelings for her, she would later testify. “One thing led to another,” Teresa said. “But we didn’t have a sexual relationship until May 1984.”
As Forensic Files commenter @robertrouzaud9814 wrote on YouTube, “When the square dance caller called ‘Change partners,’ Mr. Snyder and Mrs. Harshman took it too literally.”
Although media sources vary as to the sequence of the following events, they all seem to agree that they happened:
Melvin thought his new relationship with Teresa might have staying power and told his boss, John Carmack, that he planned to go to Montana with her and possibly stay there permanently.
One day, while still in Pennsylvania, Melvin was on his way to pick up Teresa for one of their trysts — when Ron caught up with him and deliberately banged his vehicle into Melvin’s truck and fired a gun at him.
Neither man got hurt, and Melvin chose not to press charges of reckless endangerment.
But the incident frightened Melvin enough that he began carrying a gun with him at all times — and it spurred him and Teresa to leave their jobs and families and flee 1,800 miles away together, to Billings.
In the meantime, the two abandoned spouses did a little promenading of their own. According to Forensic Files, Ron and Joan had a full-blown affair.
But they didn’t have much time to test its strength. After approximately three weeks, Melvin and Teresa realized they had made a mistake. According to court papers cited in the Evening Sun, Melvin said he feared something horrible would happen if they didn’t return to Pennsylvania.
Melvin and Teresa came back from Montana and moved in with their original spouses.
On the surface, things seemed to go back to normal for the Snyders and Harshmans, or as normal as things can get after two married couples from small town U.S.A. suddenly switch partners and then switch back.
But the Harshmans’ reunion was more difficult than the Snyders’. Teresa eventually served Ron with divorce papers and moved away. They sold the farm.
Ron was bitter.
On the one-year anniversary of the start of Melvin and Teresa’s affair, Melvin disappeared.
Forensic Files described Melvin as someone who wouldn’t just desert his wife and son — an assertion that many viewers mocked: “Melvin ‘wasn’t the type of guy to just run away,’” commented @angeesteiner8493 on YouTube. “Isn’t that literally what he did with the other woman?”
Shortly before Melvin disappeared, Ron had purchased a .25-caliber handgun from a Western Auto Store. Ron said he no longer had the gun because Teresa took it, a contention she denied.
A neighbor reported seeing a two-toned brown truck — that looked like one Ron owned — parked near Melvin’s pickup on the day Melvin disappeared.
But investigators couldn’t find Melvin’s body or prove that he had died, and the case went cold.
Joan had Melvin legally declared dead in 1993. She remarried and was then known as Joan Snyder Hall, according to court records, as reported by the Echo Pilot.
Interest in the case revived in 1999, when an unlikely hero emerged in the investigation: Donald Hinks, a Civil War buff who owned Gettysburg Electronics, a store specializing in metal-detecting equipment. Metal detectors might make you envision retirees combing Florida beaches for lost coins or pawnable jewelry, but Forensic Files said they are often used to find military artifacts.
Investigators knew that Ron Harshman test-fired his gun (the one he denied owning anymore) on his property shortly before Melvin disappeared, and worked with Hinks in an effort to find evidence.
Just 90 minutes into the search of the Harshmans’ former property, Hinks unearthed a shell casing that matched the one found in Melvin Snyder’s barn 15 years earlier.
Investigators believe that on May 25, 1985, Ron went looking for Melvin, found him in the barn, and shot him with his new .25-caliber gun.
Then, they believe, he disposed of the body at an undetermined location. Later, Ron went home, got his motorcycle, and rode it to Melvin’s, put the motorcycle in Melvin’s truck, and left the truck 60 miles away in Maryland. Then, Ron drove home on his motorcycle.
Here’s the part of the story that the show didn’t include. Joan — who said that she and Ron spoke by phone on the day Melvin disappeared — admitted that she saw Melvin’s dead body at Ron Harshman’s home.
And, back in 1980s, she had been angrier about Melvin’s affair than she let on. According to The Evening Sun, Joan told police that she wanted Melvin dead.
In March 2000, District Attorney Jack Nelson charged Ron Harshman with murder in the first degree and conspiracy to murder in Melvin Snyder’s disappearance.
Nelson charged Joan as well. In what must have been a shocking scene for diners, police arrested Joan in the Sunnyway Diner.
Ron and Joan both went free on $100,000 bail.
Joan’s lawyer argued that a trial shouldn’t happen. “How can anyone say he was murdered if there’s no body?” Patrick Redding said.
The legal proceedings continued nonetheless, but Nelson relented on the case against Joan. He decided that Joan was an unwitting participant and lacked genuine intent. She faced no charges.
During Ron Harshman’s trial, former wife Teresa — then living in Orrstown with a new husband and known as Teresa Young — admitted to her affair with Melvin and said that she and Melvin were both afraid that Ron Harshman would kill them.
The prosecution rolled out a series of jailhouse snitches. One of them, Randi Kohr, testified that Ron told him he had killed a man by shooting him five times and that the body wouldn’t be found.
Members of Melvin’s family contradicted the defense’s contention that Melvin, 15 years after his disappearance, could be alive and well in parts unknown
“We wouldn’t have gone this long without talking to each other,” said Wanda Hann, Melvin’s sister. It was noted that Melvin normally visited his mother often and helped her around the house — but he didn’t materialize when her cancer returned or when her funeral took place in 1994.
The Snyders’ son told the court that shortly after the lovers ran away to Montana, Ron Harshman told him that Melvin would pay for what he had done if he ever came back to Greencastle.
Ron Harshman’s defense lawyer, David Keller, played the no-body card, saying Melvin Snyder might have left the area voluntarily — despite testimony from the president of CBA Credit, who told the court that there had been no activity on Melvin’s credit cards for years.
In July 2001, after deliberating for less than four hours, the jury convicted Ron Harshman of murder. He got a life sentence.
“It was a difficult case because we had no body and no weapon,” Nelson told the Public Opinion of Chambersburg as reported by the AP. “It’s a rewarding feeling to have achieved justice. The case very easily could have been buried years ago.” He said that the case had gnawed away at him over the years.
Ron Harshman went off to prison.
After Ron spent a dozen or so years behind razor wires, things started going his way.
In 2012, a witness named Keith Granlun recanted his testimony that Harshman told him where he disposed of Melvin’s body.
Chief Judge Christopher C. Conner declared that Ron deserved a better opportunity to challenge the motives and veracity of jailhouse witnesses crucial to his conviction.
Ron’s supporters accused DA Nelson of offering those witnesses incentives to testify. Nelson had written a letter to the parole board asking its members to keep in mind the testimony that Randi Kohr gave toward Ron Harshman’s conviction. (Nelson wasn’t around to defend himself — he died in 2009.)
He later pleaded no contest to third-degree murder.
Following the no-contest plea, Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas Judge Edward Guido resentenced Harshman, to 10 to 20 years in prison. He received credit for time already served.
Today, Ronald Harshman is free and has a presence on social media.
As for Joan Snyder Hill and Teresa Harshman Young, they have kept out of the public eye.
Melvin Snyder’s body was never found.
That’s all for this post. Until next time, cheers. — R.R.
Watch the Forensic Files episode on YouTube.