On October 9, 2010, 24-year-old Unique Harris made popcorn for her two little sons and her kid cousin. They were having a sleepover / movie night. Unique’s grandfather (the children’s great grandfather) called Unique before they started the movies and told everyone goodnight. He could hear the children laughing and playing in the background. After the movies, Unique tucked the children in to bed in the next room over from her own.
The next morning, the children woke up and searched for Unique to no avail. They waited for her to return. After a few hours had passed, the 9-year-old cousin called her mother who was on the other side of town. The cousin’s mother, convinced that Unique had just stepped out for a moment, called Unique’s mother (who only lived a few minutes away) to go check on the kids.
Unique’s mother and her grandfather quickly arrived at her apartment to sort out the confusion. They began to panic upon realizing that Unique’s prescription glasses (which she wore constantly) were folded neatly on her still-made bed. According to reports, Unique had “very poor vision and wore her glasses everywhere.” Her purse, money, and identification were also left in the apartment; however, her cell phone, apartment key, and a key to her mother’s house were all missing.
According to reports, police “scoured her apartment, canvassed the neighborhood, and polygraphed ex-boyfriends, but found no evidence of foul play.” There was no evidence of forced entry into her apartment. Authorities, however, do believe that Unique could have been abducted from the home while the children slept. As the investigation progressed, no evidence was discovered and no further details were released by investigators.
However, a shocking event in the weeks preceding Unique’s disappearance stands out to her mother as one of the few possible reasons for her disappearance. Unique had witnessed a (still unsolved) murder in a park across the parking lot from her apartment window. Had the killer returned to take care of the one and only witness? Who was murdered and where did that investigation lead? What happened so quietly on that October night that the children slept through it? And, most importantly, where is Unique?
Constantly Searching Without any Leads or Answers
One of the most frustrating aspects of Unique’s case is that there have been no real developments and no further information released, or requested from the public, by authorities.
It is extremely difficult to believe that there would still exist such a lack of information and national media coverage if a different woman had, quite literally, disappeared into thin air from a nice area- one with a reputation for being prosperous and safe.
But, the entire situation is absolutely rare and bizarre, and in need of major media coverage and investigation. Unique was a devoted, single mother who, by all accounts, would not have left the children. She had moved to southeast Washington, DC to be closer to her family while she pursued a degree in massage therapy. Unique never had any known drug problems, depression history, or health issues. She was not accustomed to living in crime ridden areas, and came from Richmond, VA. Her mother had begged her to not move into the rough, yet-affordable neighborhood, “but Unique’s independence won out.” Her mother has expressed her frustration, stating:
“My daughter was where she was supposed to be, doing what she was supposed to be doing, and . . .”
The unanswered questions surrounding Unique’s disappearance abound:
- Was Unique’s cell phone ever traced? Where are her cell phone records or a list of her cell phone pings? Who was her last call with, and could it have been related to her disappearance?
It is reported that “the last time the phone received a call was at 3:00 am on October 10.” Who called Unique, why did they do so at 3:00 am, and what exactly is their alibi for those early morning hours and the next day? If this person did not have anything to do with her disappearance, do they have any information relating to Unique’s mindset on or the happenings of that night?
- Are there any records of Unique’s internet access? Did she have a computer? Were there any instances of her using match-making sites or Craigslist-types of communication before her disappearance?
- What murder did she witness? Does it have connections to any of her neighbors, friends, or acquaintances? Was the murderer ever caught? Were police called?
- Did Unique know any of her neighbors? Did any neighbors see or hear anything? Were they interviewed by police?
In a heart-wrenching article from The Washington Post, the desperation that Valencia experiences is described accordingly:
“On her worst days, Valencia has pulled her car over to the side of the road and taken out a pair of the latex gloves she carries for her job as a home health-care aide. She has torn open black trash bags that people have dumped from their cars. She has torn the open trash bags wondering whether they might contain her daughter.
When people die, there is a horrible finality. When people are missing, it’s the hope that’s unbearable.”
The Mysterious Murder
The area of Washington, DC in which Unique lived with her sons in was especially crime-ridden. Per the Crime Map data provided by the DC Metropolitan Police Department, there were 36 violent crimes and 52 property crimes (88 crimes total) reported within only 1,000 feet from Unique’s apartment in the year 2010.
According to her mother, Unique witnessed a murder from her upper floor apartment window. Valencia recalled the following:
“[Unique] 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!’”
In her interview with Lisa Ling, Valencia actually points to the location where Unique saw the murder happening. It seems as though the altercation took place across the parking lot from Unique’s apartment building, and that Unique’s apartment had been in an upper floor of the building. The attacker involved was unlikely to have seen or known exactly who was watching from the large apartment building. However, Unique may had mentioned the traumatic event to a friend or neighbor that, perhaps unknowingly, shared the detail with someone involved in killing.
Many internet commentators have echoed the sentiment that “solving that murder will probably lead to Unique’s abductor/s.” However, that is easier said than done by those not in law enforcement. A Reddit user lamented the difficulty of pinpointing the referenced murder by detailing that:
“… it’s difficult because there were 131 murders in that [overall] area in 2010. It’s a really bad part of town. Because there were so many I’m still looking through news stories trying to find the right one. It would have been a Murder in October 2010 that took place at or near the 2400 block of Hartford Street SE.”
A shooting on September 12, 2010 fits the basic location and criteria of the murder that Unique witnessed. However, according to reports, “Unique had moved into [the apartment] complex only five weeks before” her disappearance, so this shooting would have taken place a week before she moved in.
It is virtually impossible to identify what Unique witnessed exactly, especially without the specific dates, concerning when she moved into the apartment and when she called her mother about the murder. Regardless, it is hard to imagine that such a shocking event is unrelated to her subsequent disappearance.
Evidence and Speculation
The only concrete pieces of evidence in Unique’s disappearance are comprised of the following:
- Unique left her glasses, which she needed and wore constantly, on a pillow on her bed.
- The bed did not appear to have been slept in.
- Her cell phone was missing.
- Her apartment key and a key to her mother’s house were missing. (The keys may have been on the same key chain.)
- Unique was new to the neighborhood, had recently witnessed a murder, and seemed very affected by the event. In other words, she did not seem as though she would have been extremely comfortable going outside at night by herself.
Unique did not have a vehicle and could not have driven or traveled very far without wearing her glasses. So, it is practically impossible that she left alone and disappeared of her own accord. Authorities and family alike agree that Unique is missing “under suspicious circumstances.” Based on the facts available, it is impossible to conclude, but seems likely that Unique was quietly abducted by someone who hurt her.
It is improbable that Unique would have opened the door to a stranger, much less so, while not wearing her glasses. Another detail that supports this theory is that there were no signs of struggle. It seems unlikely that Unique would have left her apartment at night to go out into the rough neighborhood. If someone abducted Unique, it was most likely someone that Unique was acquainted with and trusted well enough, at least, to unlock and open the front door.
However, the fact that her cell phone and keys were never located is troublesome to this theory. The absence of her cell phone and keys seems to support the idea that Unique may have stepped out quickly for some mundane reason, such as taking the trash out or to smoke a cigarette. (No evidence or statements could be found regarding whether Unique smoked cigarettes or not.)
But, this line of reasoning leads directly back to the fact that her much-needed glasses were left in the apartment. Unique’s eyesight is described as so bad, “she could barely read a bedside clock.” Her mother declared adamantly, that “[Unique] could’t have seen her way down the first flight of steps of that building. Let alone all the other flights of steps and out the building without her glasses.”
It is also mentioned in the Washington Post article that “[Unique] slept with her glasses next to her on a pillow.” This simple detail signifies two things:
- Unique wore her glasses constantly, taking them off only to sleep, and even then, keeping them close enough that she would have them immediately upon waking.
- The fact that they were folded on the pillow of a still-made bed suggests that she was preparing to go to sleep.
Perhaps, Unique’s cell phone and keys were simply in the pockets of her sweatpants when she was abducted.
Another piece of potential evidence is that Unique’s little cousin “said she thought she might have heard a man’s voice, but that it could have been from the television or the next apartment.” However, this was impossible to really follow up on, and the young girl was uncertain as to what she had heard.
Adding more confusion to the situation, the Washington Post article also suggests that Unique’s cell phone “[continued] to ring long after the battery should have died.” Does this mean that Unique or the abductor charged it? Was Unique’s charger found in the house?
Memories of a Mother
Unique Harris was the oldest of three siblings and was described as “the quintessential big sister.” Her mother is wholeheartedly determined to continue the search for Unique despite the lack of actual evidence and following an unimpressive investigation by understaffed and overworked metropolitan police. Valencia has promised her two grandsons that:
“Their grandma [is] going to find their mother or die trying to find her.
I’m not going to let anyone kill my daughter off without any proof that she’s dead. Not a judge and not an attorney.”
Unique’s two little boys were only three and four years old when she disappeared. She had the names of both of her sons tattooed on her back. Her eldest was named after her beloved grandfather. Unique is remembered as a “girly girl” and enjoyed crocheting and sewing.
The Washington Post article described some of her charming quirks accordingly:
“[Unique was] one who remembered things, who made big celebrations out of little events.
If someone forgot that it was Mother’s Day, Unique had already picked up an extra card.
If the family ate KFC, she wanted it served on real plates.
She wanted things to look right.”
Unique is 5’7″ tall, weighs 130 pounds, and has brown hair with highlights. She also has a mole on her upper lip and her ears are pierced. She was last seen wearing a white t-shirt, grey sweatpants, a sterling silver necklace with a safety pin clasp, and a matching necklace/bracelet set with garnet beads.
If you have any information or details regarding the disappearance of Unique Harris, please call the Metropolitan Police Command Information Center at (202) 727-9099. Information can also be communicated anonymously by calling 1-888-919-CRIME or texting the tip line at 50411.
*Author’s note: I would like to say thank you to Reddit user, AwesomeSister, who’s very thorough and thoughtful post on Reddit last week was the first I had heard of Unique Harris. I would also like to implore followers to read the well-written and heartbreaking Washington Post article on Unique’s disappearance by Monica Hesse.