MILWAUKEE - If the murder of a 3-year-old boy was not tragic enough, the unexpected battle over his burial has taken the heartbreak to a whole new level. Major Harris' grandparents opened up to FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn about the violence that has torn their family apart.
"I’ll tell you, that kid never stopped smiling," said Paul Muenzenberger, Major's grandfather.
If you have seen a picture of Major Harris by now, chances are it's one that was taken in August. That was the day his grandfather took him fishing for the first time.
"He even held his own pole and everything," Muenzenberger said.
Muenzenberger said he was trying to do the things a father would do.
"Show him a strong male figure in his life that he could rely on and trust some day," Muenzenberger said.
Paul and Mary Muenzenberger
Of course, Major did have a father, Carlton Harris Jr.
"My son was shot in the head, a 3-year-old baby," said Carlton Harris Jr. "My plea to the world, I need justice for my son."
"He’s not a dad. He’s the birthright father, bottom line," Muenzenberger said.
Milwaukee police first discovered the body of 25-year-old Mallery Muenzenberger on Oct. 14. But it was two days before they learned her 3-year-old son was missing – which then prompted an Amber Alert.
Police say the suspect, 20-year-old Jaheem Clark, shot himself to death – and a weeklong search eventually led authorities to the boy's discarded body near 35th and Rohr in Milwaukee.
"We don’t know what happened. It was a brutal murder for both of ‘em," said Mary Muenzenberger.
But for Paul and Mary Muenzenberger, what happened next has only magnified their grief.
"My plan is to bury him by his mother," said Carlton Harris Jr. to reporters.
After Major's body was found, Carlton Harris Jr. publicly declared his intentions to transport Major to his final resting place.
"Will that be in La Crosse?" asked a reporter.
"Yes ma'am. Or wherever her family wants her to be buried, that's where we're going to do it," Harris Jr. said.
Carlton Harris Jr.
The Muenzenbergers say the 3-year-old's remains were transported all the way across the state.
"We had the casket picked out. We had the gravesite dug. We had his name put on the cards. Everything was planned," said Mary Muenzenberger.
That is when Harris Jr. had a sudden, unexplained change of heart.
"It was gutwrenching when he changed his mind. We didn’t understand why he would do that. How anybody could do that," said Mary Muenzenberger.
Instead of La Crosse, Harris Jr. insisted his son's funeral and burial should take place in Madison. Then, the Muenzenbergers say, he did not even show up to the funeral.
"I think it’s because of his warrants," said Paul Muenzenberger.
Carlton Harris Jr. has been harshly critical of police for the way they handled the search for his missing son.
"How is this not a failure? This is a epic fail. I don't care what you say. This is a epic fail. Or what anyone has to say. This to me is an epic fail. An epic fail," Harris Jr. told reporters.
But Harris Jr. had his own share of run-ins with the law. In fact, he was once considered one of the ten worst violent offenders in Madison. There are open warrants for his arrest in three separate counties – two of them for domestic violence – including a 2019 case in La Crosse in which Harris is accused of choking, scratching, and pulling the hair of Mallery Muenzenberger.
"We want him to pay for all of his crimes," said Paul Muenzenberger.
Milwaukee police say Carlton Harris Jr. is not a suspect in Mallery's death or in the death of his son, Major. But the allegations of domestic abuse have strained family ties – and compounded Paul and Mary's grief for Mallery and the little boy who will never go fishing again.
"We know she’s in heaven," said Mary Muenzenberger.
FOX6 Investigators tried to reach Carlton Harris Jr. for this story, but the cellphone number he was using is now disconnected.
Police say the investigation into the deaths of Mallery Muenzenberger and Major Harris is ongoing.