MARIETTA, Ga. — A convicted sex offender has been arrested more than 30 years after an 8-year-old boy was found dead in the woods of an Atlanta suburb.
James Michael Coates, 56, faces multiple charges, including murder and aggravated child molestation in the 1988 killing of Joshua Harmon, Roswell police announced Friday. He was taken into custody Wednesday after a traffic stop as he rode in an Uber.
Coates, of Woodstock, was arrested after DNA evidence collected from the crime scene linked him to the killing, police said.
Detectives, police officers, scientists and others who worked the case over the years “never gave up hope in bringing Josh’s killer to justice,” Roswell Police Chief James Conroy said at a Friday news conference.
“This was a tragedy that no family should endure,” Conroy said. “The death of Josh and the fact that his killer remained free for such a long time is unimaginable.”
Joshua was reported missing by his parents on May 15, 1988, after he didn’t return home for dinner. After several hours of searching, his body was found in a wooded area near the apartment where he lived.
Police said the case went cold, but they revisited leads over the years, and law enforcement technology improved.
With the permission of his family, police say they exhumed the boy’s body in February 2021 in hopes of finding more evidence. Additional DNA testing was done on evidence from the crime scene, and police say the testing linked Coates to the crime.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Coates has twice been convicted of child molestation for crimes that happened in 1990 and 1993. He was behind bars for nearly 20 years after the 1993 conviction, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections.
Coates remained jailed Friday, and it wasn’t known whether he has an attorney who could be reached for comment on his behalf.