DNA proves man who died in prison killed New Jersey woman in 1984, authorities say

Authorities say DNA evidence has proven that a man who died in prison several years ago was responsible for the 1984 murder of a 19-year-old woman whose body wasn't found for more than a decade after she disappeared from her family home in New Jersey.

The state attorney general and the Mercer County prosecutor's office last week announced what they called "the conclusive identification" of Nathaniel Harvey, formerly of East Windsor, as the person responsible for the sexual assault and murder of Donna Macho.

Macho, 19, went missing from the East Windsor home where she resided with her parents and sisters on or about Feb. 26, 1984. A Boy Scout troop leader found her skeletal remains in a wooded area in Cranbury on April 2, 1995, and her identity was confirmed by dental records.

Around the time she disappeared, Harvey was arrested in several sexual assaults as well as an unrelated murder. Authorities said he was identified early on as a possible suspect in Macho's murder "but investigative leads dissipated and the case went cold."

"During the commission of his crimes, prosecutors say Harvey typically entered unlocked homes, where he would hold captive and rape young women," authorities alleged.

DNA tests on evidence from the victim's bedroom could not be matched with a specific person, but tests with current DNA technology matched it to Harvey "and determined that his DNA was the only DNA evidence in the room that should not have been present," authorities said.

Macho's body was found in a wooded area by a farm where Harvey briefly worked around the time of her disappearance, and her vehicle was found abandoned by a nearby sewer plant, within walking distance of Harvey’s home, authorities said.

Harvey was sentenced to death and later to life in prison in the 1985 rape and murder of a Plainsboro woman but maintained his innocence for three decades and was awaiting a third trial in the case. He was incarcerated from the time of his 1985 arrest until his death in South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton in November 2020, authorities said.

His former attorney, Eric Kleiner, said there was no evidence connecting his client to the 1985 murder "other than Harvey did a lot of bad things." He declined comment on the announcement on Macho's slaying but cautioned that the evidence should be carefully scrutinized given the troubled history of Harvey's conviction.

"There’s a lot of problems with everything having to do with Harvey," he said, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com reported.

Macho worked as a legal secretary and was hoping to make a career in modeling. Julie Burger, who was 14 when her older sister disappeared, told NJ Advance Media for NJ.com that the case "destroyed my family, the searching, the looking, the wondering."

Speaking publicly about the case for the first time, she said the family hired "private investigators, trackers, psychics" in an effort to find the person responsible.

"We spent all the money we had," said Burger, now a resident of Texas. "We still thought that somehow, maybe she was still alive. Maybe she was just hurt, or somebody was holding her. ... I’m glad the case is closed, and it was him. But I feel he got away with it."