Cold case solved: Suspect identified in 1984 sexual assault and murder of East Windsor woman

yearbook photo
Donna Macho

The identity of the man who raped and murdered a young East Windsor woman in 1984 has remained a mystery for almost three decades. But officials say the case has finally been solved thanks to another review of evidence through the state’s Cold Case Network and advances in DNA technology.

Nineteen-year-old Donna Macho went missing from her family’s home in East Windsor on Feb. 26, 1984. Her car was founded abandoned near a sewer plant, but her body was found 11 years later in a wooded area near a farm in Cranbury. Her remains were positively identified using dental records.

Around the same time Macho went missing, Nathaniel Harvey, a former resident of East Windsor, was arrested in connection with several other sexual assaults and a murder in the Plainsboro area. Harvey briefly worked at the farm near the woods where the remains were found around the time of Macho’s disappearance, and the sewer plant where her car was found was within walking distance of Harvey’s home.

Harvey was identified early on as a possible suspect in the Macho disappearance, but investigative leads in the Macho case dwindled and the case went cold. During the initial investigation, police found semen in Macho’s bedroom. But DNA testing was less precise in the 1980s, and the testing conducted on the evidence was unable to match the bodily fluid to a specific person.

Harvey, who died in 2020 in prison while serving time for other crimes, allegedly had a history of entering unlocked homes, holding young women captive, and raping them. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in connection with a homicide in Middlesex County, and he remained incarcerated at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton until the time of his death. 

In February of 2022, at the direction of Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri, the Macho case was sent to the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability’s Central Regional Cold Case Task Force, one of the task forces statewide that is part of the Cold Case Network that was formed by the New Jersey Attorney General in 2019. The investigation was reopened, and all viable physical evidence was resubmitted to the New Jersey State Police Central Regional Laboratory, including DNA evidence and fingerprints.

A multi-agency investigation by the Mercer County Homicide Task Force, New Jersey Attorney General’s Cold Case Network, and the New Jersey State Police resulted in the conclusive identification of Harvey as the rapist, law enforcement officials said. The reexamination of the evidence using present-day DNA technology resulted in a positive match with Harvey, law enforcement officials said.

“After a comprehensive, cooperative investigation, cold case detectives were able to eliminate other potential suspects and are confident that Nathaniel Harvey is the perpetrator in the sexual assault and murder of Ms. Macho and the case is now closed,” said Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri. 

Though the initial autopsy determined that Macho suffered a gunshot wound to her head, further examination of her remains by the Middlesex Regional Medical Examiner’s Office during the cold case investigation determined that although it was clear a head injury caused the victim’s death, evidence is not conclusive that it was a gunshot wound. The cause of death was amended to “evidence of homicidal violence” and Macho’s manner of death remained recorded as a homicide.

Carolyn Murray, director of the Integrity Bureau of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, said the Macho case illustrates the importance and effectiveness of the Cold Case Network and its ability to dedicate resources, including cutting-edge technology, to cold cases and bring resolution to grieving families long haunted by unanswered questions. “It also ensures with greater accuracy that the proper suspects are identified in connection with these cases, and those who are innocent are not falsely accused of criminal conduct,” Murray said.

“Nearly 40 years have passed since the life of a 19-year-old was mercilessly stolen by a predator who discarded her remains in a shallow grave, leaving them unrecovered for more than 10 years,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “Time does not erase the quest for justice, and although this murderer was imprisoned for another killing and died in custody in 2020, it does not make this conclusion any less meaningful. I applaud the Central Regional Cold Case Task Force and the State Police forensic scientists who were hopefully able to offer the slightest measure of consolation to the victim’s family after all these years.”