One year ago west Michigan had not yet heard of the name Jeffrey Willis. He's the man awaiting trial for a series of crimes in Muskegon County.
Those crimes include the 2013 kidnapping and murder of Jessica Heeringa, a Norton Shores convenience store worker. The 2014 shooting death of jogger Rebcca Bletsch north of Muskegon and the attempted kidnapping of a teenage girl on River Road.
At this time last year, Muskegon County Sheriff's Detectives were only focused on solving one case. They wanted to arrest the unknown man who tried to kidnap the 16-year-old girl who was lost and walking along River Road the morning of April 16, 2016.
That morning a security camera recorded a silver minivan turning around in the Sodini Blueberry farm's driveway.
The driver could not be seen. The farm is down the road from where the girl told police she jumped from the stranger's van. He offered to let her use his phone. When she entered the van she told police the driver locked the doors and started to drive away. She was able to exit the van and run to a home to get help.
Detectives worked with automotive experts and search state records to find similar vans in Muskegon County.
On May 11, 2016 police narrowed their search to Jeffrey Willis based on unique features seen in the video.
Norton Shores Police were notified because of the possible link the van could have to the Jessica Heeringa investigation.
May 12, 2016 was a monumental day for detectives. It's the day police say the teen girl picked Jeffrey Willis out of a photo line-up. They say she identified him without hesitation and with certainty.
Plans to arrest Willis begin forming that same day. The investigative team broadens to include computer experts, crime lab technicians, and additional FBI agents.
On May 13 and 14, 2016 police were granted a number of search warrants and the court's permission to start electronic surveillance of Willis.
Then early in the morning on May 17,, 2016 officers prepare to search Willis' home in Muskegon Township. Around 6:30 that morning other detectives arrested Willis as he left for work.
That same day then Muskegon County Sheriff Dean Roesler confirms a 46-year-old man who owns a silver minivan was arrested in connection with the attempted kidnapping from April on River Road.
Multiple police agencies searched Willis' home that day and seized nearly 100 pieces of evidence, and his van.
On May 18, 2016 Willis is charged with kidnapping. Items found in his van provide police with the evidence needed to eventually charge him with murder for the deaths of Rebekah Bletsch and Jessica Heeringa.
No trial days have been scheduled for the charges relating to the death of Rebekah Bletsch. That case will be presented to a jury first.
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