Jennifer Kairis: What Happened to Her? How Did She Die?

Rarely has there been a case that comes to distinct conclusions upon different testings. Well, the case of Jennifer Kairis was one of them. The episode titled ‘Justice for Jennifer’ of Oxygen’s ‘Accident, Suicide, or Murder’ provides a detailed account of the complicated death of the 19-year-old victim, including the suspicious circumstances surrounding her death, multiple investigations over the years, and the impact the tragedy had on Jennifer’s family and loved ones. The episode also consists of interviews with the victim’s loved ones as well as officials directly or indirectly related to the case, shedding light on the intricacies.

Jennifer Kairis Was Found Dead in Her Dorm Room After a Night Out

On July 18, 1978, John and Barbara gave birth to a little bundle of joy in the form of Jennifer Leah “Jenna” Kairis in San Luis Obispo, California. Her childhood was seemingly spent under the love and support of her family and friends. After graduating from high school with flying colors, she joined Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, where she pursued a major in theater. By her sophomore year at the college, she had become quite popular among her peers. At the time, she was also dating a guy named Paul, a member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity.

On March 30, 1998, Jennifer went out to party with some of her friends, after which she also paid a visit to her boyfriend’s fraternity. As per reports, the couple then got into a heated argument. According to Paul, the 19-year-old sophomore student was so drunk that she could not even walk straight. So, around 3 am, he allegedly asked one of his junior pledges, Tim, to take the responsibility of taking her to her dorm room. But as soon as Tim placed Jennifer on her bed, he reportedly could see “foam or bubbles” coming out of her mouth. Instead of calling for help, he fled the scene in a state of panic, leaving her dorm room unlocked.

When Jennifer did not attend her morning classes on March 31, 1998, it raised some suspicion in the mind of her best friend, Shannon, who could feel that something just wasn’t right. At first, she asked around about her whereabouts and even called Jennifer’s parents, who also had been trying to reach her for hours. But when she couldn’t find any sign of her best friend, she decided to get help from the student RA (resident assistant) and requested him to use the master key to unlock Jennifer’s dorm room around 9:30 pm. To Shannon’s shock and horror, Jennifer was found dead on the floor in a rather unnatural position.

Image Credit: The L Word/Find a Grave

When the first responders and police arrived at the scene, they immediately noticed bruising on her legs. Given the mess her room was, her mother, Barbara, had a feeling that there might be some foul play involved in the case as she was someone who kept her place neat and tidy. Upon further examination of the body, the authorities found numerous contusions, including evidence of hemorrhaging in the neck area of the victim. More unexpected results came out of the toxicology reports — she was not drunk on the fateful night. Instead, there were trace amounts of pain medications and prescription drugs in her system, along with a high level of heart medication, propranolol.

Judging by the state that the police found Jennifer, they suspected that she had been sexually assaulted. Although the rape kit results turned out to be negative, it did not rule out the possibility of an attempted rape. In the beginning, her boyfriend, Paul, as well as Tim, who dropped her at her room, were deemed to be persons of interest and potential suspects, but when they could not find any evidence against them, they were ruled out as suspects.

Jennifer Kairis’ Cause of Death Remained a Mystery For About Six Years

Since there was about an 18-hour window between 3 am and 9:30 pm on March 31, 1998, the investigators could not rule out anything, especially if her room was unlocked and she was barely conscious. Despite their best attempts, the investigators could not find any concrete piece of evidence. So, the first conclusion of the case was announced as an unsolved homicide on September 1, 1998. However, not long after, a chief medical examiner performed another autopsy and found that Jennifer’s blood consisted of a toxic amount of heart medicine, two antidepressants, and over-the-counter cold medicines. Thus, reversing the original decision of calling it a homicide, she announced that the 19-year-old college student died of an accidental drug overdose, closing the case in 1999.

However, despite the fact that the case had been closed for about five years, in January 2004, a reporter forced open the case when he reported that there were several inaccuracies during the investigation. For instance, he claimed that the lead investigator, who had not worked a homicide case before and got fired from the police force later, was careless with the rape kit, holding it with many perishable swabs for ten weeks. Moreover, his report also pointed to the fact that a strand of hair found in the victim’s mouth was not tested. When the story was published, the officials linked to the investigation faced backlash for their errors, leading to the early retirement of one of the forensic doctors.

In search of an accurate assessment of the victim’s body and the case, the findings were reviewed again. It was then determined that she had died by suicide by intentional overdose, with the officials claiming that she woke up, took the pills, and locked the door herself. As for the bruises found across her body, they believed that convulsions during the overdose caused them. So, by 2004, there were three different reports that claimed three different causes of the death of Jennifer Kairis. In order to get a final review of all the findings and gain some clarity, the victim’s parents reached out to the governor in the same year. In the end, the assessment of suicide was determined to be the official cause of her death.

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