Just a few years after Mollie Tibbetts was kidnapped while out for an evening run, an 11-year-old boy vanished from the same rural Iowa county — but authorities do not believe the cases to be linked.
Xavior Harrelson was last seen alive on May 27 in his trailer park home in Montezuma in Poweshiek County.
On July 18, 2018, Tibbetts, a University of Iowa student, was dog-sitting for her brother in the city of Brooklyn, about 15 miles away from where Xavior disappeared. That day, the avid runner took off on her daily jog and never returned.
Tibbetts’ body was found in a cornfield a little over a month later and Cristhian Bahena Rivera was arrested in connection with the slaying. He was found guilty last month and was expected to be handed the maximum sentence until the defense claimed two separate witnesses came forward with new, explosive information, connecting Tibbetts’ disappearance to a sex trafficking operation that also has links to Xavior’s case.
In court documents filed earlier this month, attorneys for Bahena Rivera claimed Tibbetts was killed by a pair of men after she was sold into a sex trafficking scheme, allegedly operated by a suspect, identified as James Lowe.
The defense also noted that Lowe has connections to Harrelson’s disappearance. They contended that Lowe had a relationship with, and for a time, lived with Xavior’s mother, Sarah Harrelson, according to KWWL.
The two men presented as alternative suspects by the defense, Gavin Jones and Dalton Hansen, have denied any involvement in Tibbetts’ kidnapping and murder.
Despite some similarities, Mitch Mortvedt, assistant director of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, said investigators have not uncovered any hard evidence tying the two cases together. He said the only definitive thing they have in common is that they both occurred in Poweshiek County.
“That’s the only thing that we have come up with at this point,” Mortvedt said. “You know, we have nothing to indicate, at this time, that there was anything to do with human trafficking in Xavior’s disappearance.”
Mortvedt also emphasized investigators are open to all leads in the boy’s disappearance and have not entirely ruled out a connection between the two cases.