A teenage girl escaped from Jeffrey Willis's minivan in April and identified him in a lineup, say officials

By K.C. Baker
Updated September 21, 2016 01:30 PM
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Credit: Emily Brouwer/Muskegon Chronicle via AP

In 2013, Jessica Heeringa, 25, was getting ready to close up the western Michigan gas station where she worked the night shift alone. She hasn’t been seen since.

Her case went unsolved until Tuesday, when officials in Michigan announced that they had arrested Jeffrey Willis, 46, on charges of murder and kidnapping in connection with Heeringa’s disappearance.

They still have not found her body, police said.

Willis was already being held on charges he allegedly murdered 36-year-old jogger Rebekah Bletsch and attempting to kidnap a 16-year-old girl whose name authorities have not revealed because she’s a minor.

“In my opinion, we found Jessica’s killer,” Muskegon County Prosecutor DJ Hilson said at a press conference on Tuesday.

“This individual, Mr. Willis, is a monster,” Hilson told reporters. “What his total motivation was – that’s only for him to say. Ultimately, I think, this was part of who he was as a person.”

If convicted, Willis faces life in prison without parole.

A Break in Two Cases

Authorities got a break in two murder cases – Heeringa’s and Bletsch’s – after a teenage girl allegedly escaped from a moving minivan in April in rural Muskegon County and identified Willis in a photo lineup, say authorities. According to MLive.com, the girl said she jumped from the van after her captor allegedly started to pull a gun on her.

Willis was arrested for the alleged attempted abduction of the 16-year-old girl in May. While investigating the attempted abduction, police searched his home in Norton Shores and his 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan. Inside the minivan, investigators allegedly found a gun, handcuffs, chains, rope, syringes, a mask, rubber gloves photographs of women who had been bound and chained, according to authorities.

He was charged then with the 2014 murder of Bletsch, who was shot in the head while jogging. MLive.com reports that the evidence in Bletsch’s homicide included a ballistics match between bullets removed from her body and a handgun allegedly taken from Willis’s van.

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Hilson praised the teen who escaped Willis’s van. “I consider that young lady a hero,” he said. “Her bravery and her willingness to really put her life on the line that fateful early morning has opened the doors to a lot of different things.”

Hilson announced Tuesday that Willis’s cousin, Kevin Bluhm, 47, was charged with accessory after the fact to a felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

On Tuesday afternoon, Willis and Bluhm were arraigned before 60th District Chief Judge Raymond Kostrzewa. Willis’s lawyer, Paula Baker Mathes, entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. Mathes did not immediately return PEOPLE’s calls for comment.

The judge denied a bond for Willis. He set bond for Bluhm at $250,000 cash.

‘Agony and Anguish’

Heeringa most likely died 24 to 48 hours after her abduction, Hilson told reporters.

Hilson, who met with Heeringa’s family Tuesday morning, told reporters that they have endured “agony and anguish” over the past three years.

The Norton Shores police chief, Jon Gale, said the charges are “one step towards justice,” but he added that he won’t be satisfied until Heeringa’s body is found and returned to her family.