`Cold case' investigation leads to arrest in 1972 killing
By Brandon Bailey
Mercury News

Frank Spencer Harm told his neighbors he was an ex-cop. He told his mother he was in the witness protection program. But a Santa Clara County sheriff's detective says Harm was a killer on the lam for more than 33 years, until authorities arrested him in Minnesota this week.

Harm was jailed Thursday on a warrant charging him with shooting 25-year-old Fred Izzarelli to death after Harm broke into a Monte Sereno bungalow -- apparently in search of drugs -- where Izzarelli was living in 1972.

Sheriff's Lt. Pedro Contreras said Harm was ``on the radar right from the beginning,'' but authorities were unable to put enough pieces together to make an arrest until this year.

It's the oldest homicide that Contreras has brought to an arrest since he started working ``cold cases'' in 2002. But in contrast with popular TV detective shows, Contreras said this case came together through ``old-fashioned police work,'' rather than DNA evidence or other high-tech crime-solving tools.

In an interview Friday, Contreras wouldn't say exactly what led police to Mankato, Minn., a suburban community where the 65-year-old Harm was arrested without incident at his home.

At the time he was killed, Izzarelli was living on Los Gatos-Saratoga Road. His friend James Best was letting him stay in the small clapboard bungalow behind Best's house. Best and Izzarelli, friends from high school and the military, both were studying art at San Jose City College.

They had something else in common: According to news reports at the time, county narcotics officers said both were suspected of being ``very heavy'' drug dealers.

Best called authorities after he returned home from a class and found Izzarelli shot to death the morning of May 31, 1972. Detectives said they found signs of a violent struggle, with bullets fired from different angles into the walls. They also found a steamer trunk in Best's van containing several plastic bags of marijuana and other drugs.

Detectives said at the time that the killer may have thought no one was home when he broke into the house, possibly with the idea of stealing drugs. They speculated that Izzarelli was killed after he confronted the burglar.

Contreras declined to comment on what exactly happened that day. But he said he believes the original detectives' theory was correct.

``In my opinion, it happened in the course of a burglary. The victim interrupted the burglary in progress,'' Contreras said by telephone from Minnesota on Friday.

But no one was arrested for decades. Then, Contreras said, a retired detective who had worked the case brought him some information in 2004 that the older cop thought might lead to a suspect. Contreras declined to elaborate, saying he doesn't want to compromise the case before it goes to trial.

``All the pieces were there, but it needed a little work,'' Contreras said of retired detective Robert McDiarmid's information. ``Cold-case investigators get to look at these things with a fresh set of eyes.''

Harm had long since left California. His mother says he was a truck driver before he told her in 1972 that he had witnessed a murder in Santa Cruz and was going into a federal protection program.

``We can't understand it,'' said Honey Harm, 83, on Friday after hearing of her son's arrest. The Santa Clara woman said she had not heard from her son since the early 1970s, except for a Christmas card she received a few years ago. The card had a photo of Harm and his Minnesota family -- a wife and four children -- but an accompanying note asked his parents not to call.

Honey Harm said her son never owned a gun or used drugs, as far as she knew. She said she had been frightened for her son's safety when she thought he had witnessed a crime, but she had felt reassured that he was being protected by federal agents.

Contreras said Friday that he doesn't believe Harm was ever in a witness protection program.

But Harm apparently had married and settled in Minnesota, where he used the name Scott Williams. Neighbors told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that Harm had claimed to be a former police officer now working as a financial adviser.

Contreras wouldn't say exactly how he found Harm, but the detective flew out to interview him this week.

Harm agreed to talk with the detective Thursday. While Contreras won't say what Harm said, it was enough for the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office to issue a warrant the same day. Minnesota authorities arrested Harm and are holding him for extradition.

Izzarelli's family couldn't be reached for comment Friday. But Contreras said he called Izzarelli's sister to tell her of the arrest. The detective said it was an emotional call.

``She was very -- I can't put it into words, but you could sense there was a welling up of feelings,'' Contreras said.