Jeffrey Willis was linked to the murder and vanishing of two women, Rebekah Bletsch and Jessica Heeringa, who went missing in 2013 and 2014, respectively. His capture only occurred when a 16-year-old, whom he attempted to abduct but managed to escape, helped in identifying him and brought him to justice. In 2016, he faced trial for the murders and was convicted. ’20/20: The Murderer in Minivan’ narrates the specifics surrounding these crimes and delves into his purported involvement in additional criminal activities.
Who is Jeffrey Willis?
Jeffrey Thomas Willis took on various jobs over the course of his life. After graduating from Fruitport High School in 1988, he studied history at Muskegon Community College. In 1995, he started working as a janitor for the North Muskegon and Fruitport school districts. According to reports, he was fired from Fruitport school in 1999 after being discovered using “adults only” websites on a school computer. The incident led to his dismissal when a student was able to access the same site. In addition to working as a janitor, he held various roles, such as a machine operator, industrial worker, and butcher. Following his dismissal, he joined the Herman Miller furniture manufacturing facility in Spring Lake.
As of 2016, Willis resided on South Sheridan Road near Laketon Avenue in Muskegon Township. During this time, he was married and had a daughter. On the morning of May 17, 2016, following the completion of his third shift at Herman Miller, Willis was apprehended by the police while driving home. The arrest was in connection with the attempted abduction of a 16-year-old girl. According to her account, on April 16, 2016, a man, later identified as Willis, brandished a gun and attempted to kidnap her.
The girl narrated that, after attending a party, Willis offered her a ride but started driving in a different direction. Fortunately, she managed to escape by jumping out of the van. The description she provided helped identify Willis’ silver 2006 Dodge Caravan. The police swiftly matched the description of the minivan to the one seen at the location where Jessica Lynn Heeringa had gone missing. She was employed at the Exxon gas station in Norton Shores, Michigan, and on April 26, 2013, she vanished. Willis had been a frequent customer at the station, and on the night of her disappearance, witnesses observed a man attempting to flirt with Heeringa.
The silver van connected to Willis was also spotted parked behind the gas station and observed speeding away at the approximate time of Heeringa’s disappearance. The bullets discovered at the location where the 16-year-old girl escaped matched those recovered from the body of Rebekah Bletsch, a woman shot multiple times on the side of the Automobile Road in Muskegon County on June 29, 2014. Investigators intensified their scrutiny of Willis, meticulously tracking his movements. Testimonies from his co-workers revealed that he had not reported to work on the night of Heeringa’s disappearance, and he remained absent in the subsequent days as well.
Following Willis’ arrest, law enforcement conducted a search at both his residence and his van. The search of his van yielded numerous concerning items, including rope, lubricants, handcuffs, chains, a ball gag, and syringes, one of which contained insulin. Disturbingly, photographs of naked women were also discovered. At his home, investigators found a computer containing folders with the initials of the victims, as well as another folder labeled “vics” with pictures of Heeringa, Rebekah, and other women.
Willis had also secretly recorded videos of underage girls and had them saved on his computer and had downloaded missing reports and news reports of these women. On May 25, 2016, Willis faced charges for the murder of Rebekah Sue Bletsch, and on December 13, 2016, he was additionally charged with the murder of Jessica Heeringa. These charges were accompanied by accusations of the attempted kidnapping of the 16-year-old girl. He was also charged with the production and possession of child pornography.
Jeffrey Willis is Still in Jail
The trial for Rebekah Bletsch’s murder commenced in October 2017, and based on circumstantial and DNA evidence, Willis was found guilty of first-degree murder and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. He received a life sentence without the possibility of parole. The trial for Jessica Heeringa’s murder began in May 2018. Willis’ cousin, Kevin Bluhm, had already pleaded guilty to being an accessory to Heeringa’s murder. Bluhm testified that he witnessed Willis with Heeringa’s lifeless, unclothed body, noting head wounds, and tied hands. He admitted to aiding Willis in disposing of the body.
In addition to Bluhm’s testimony, forensic evidence, and eyewitness accounts placing Willis at the gas station on the night of Heeringa’s disappearance, Willis was convicted of kidnapping and murdering Heeringa. In June 2018, he received a second life sentence without parole. Although Willis has been suspected of involvement in the 1996 murder of a 15-year-old girl, no official charges or investigations have been initiated against him for this case.
Jeffrey Willis faced a maximum sentence of 40 years for the kidnapping charge, with a minimum sentence of 18 years and 9 months. He got an additional 2-year sentence for the felony charge against him. He is presently serving his sentences at the Carson City Correctional Facility in Michigan and, at 53 years old, faces the reality of spending the rest of his life behind bars.
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