MUSKEGON (WWJ) – Three years after a 25-year-old gas station clerk went missing in western Michigan, charges are being filed against her alleged killer.
Muskegon County Prosecutor DJ Hilson on Tuesday said Jeffery Willis has been charged with murder and kidnapping in the disappearance of Jessica Heeringa. An arraignment date wasn’t immediately set.
“As of today, Jeffery Willis is allegedly the killer of Jessica Heeringa and we’ve charged him as such,” said Hilson. “In my opinion, we’ve found Jessica’s killer.”
Willis stood silently in a Muskegon County court accompanied by a lawyer as a not guilty plea was entered on his behalf in connection with the murder of Heeringa.
Heeringa hasn’t been seen since just before she was closing up an Exxon Station where she worked in Norton Shores on April 26, 2013. Her body has not been found, but investigators believe she was killed within 24 to 48 hours of her abduction.
“This individual, Mr. Willis, is a monster,” said Hilson. “He certainly is an individual I wouldn’t let any of my children around, much less any female around. 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.”
Willis was named a person of interest in Heeringa’s disappearance back in May.
Investigators have said they think Heeringa was taken against her will by someone she likely knew. There was no indication of a robbery, as Heeringa’s purse, vehicle and other items were left behind at the scene. DNA testing showed a small amount of blood found outside the gas station belonged to Heeringa.
Investigators have said Willis’ van resembles a vehicle seen by witnesses parked behind the gas station on the night Heeringa went missing. Hilson said Willis’ van was even searched in the days following Heeringa’s disappearance, but “there was nothing at that point in time to suggest at all that he was involved in any criminal activity.”
When Willis’ van was searched again following his arrest in May in an unrelated case, investigators found a pistol, ammunition, syringes with liquid, a ball gag, chains, a mask and a bar with wrist restraints inside the vehicle. Child pornography and videos of bound women were also found in his home.
Additional details surrounding of the case are expected to emerge at Willis’ preliminary exam.
Norton Shores Police Chief John Gale said detectives are actively pursuing “any and all leads” in the case.
“The investigation will not be complete until we have a conviction and until we bring Jessica home to her family,” said Gale. “Today is just one step toward justice.”
Separately, Willis is also charged with abducting a 16-year-old girl in April and the 2014 slaying of 36-year-old jogger Rebekah Bletsch in Dalton Township. Hilson said it is possible that Willis has additional victims.
“Investigators are not going to turn away any tips they receive,” he said. “I would encourage the public if they have tips to continue to let those pour in, because certainly if this isn’t the end of the line for what Mr. Willis is involved in, we want to find out about it and we want to hold him accountable.”
Meantime, Willis’ cousin Kevin Bluhm is expected to be sentenced Tuesday after pleading guilty to lying to police about Heeringa’s disappearance. Authorities say Bluhm told police Willis was responsible, but later said he made it up. He is now also charged with accessory after the fact in relation to Heeringa’s death.
Anyone with information on the case is asked to contact Silent Observer anonymous tip line at 231-72-CRIME.