Jessica Carpenter’s Murder: How Did She Die? Who Killed Her?

Investigation Discovery’s ‘Hometown Homicide’ is an original series by the channel that utilizes local news footage and other archival recordings to recount small-town murder cases that consumed the surrounding community for weeks, months, or even years. Sometimes, heinous crimes can occur at the unlikeliest of places, and that’s what this series reports. So, of course, its episode, ‘Who Killed Jessica Carpenter?,’ chronicling, as the title suggests, the murder of Jessica Carpenter, is no different. And now, if you’re here wondering all the details of her brutal case, we’ve got you covered.

How Did Jessica Carpenter Die?

Jessica Lynne Carpenter, born July 9, 1983, in Waukegan, Lake County, Illinois, was just 17-years-old when she ended up losing her life. As the youngest of three sisters, a member of her high school band, and the hostess of a local Red Lobster, Jessica was someone who was loved by all. So, on August 4, 2000, when Judy Carpenter returned to her Aiken, South Carolina, home to find her daughter’s body, naked and bloodied, it truly was as if the unimaginable had happened. Jessica had been raped and murdered in her own home, and the news shook the small-town of Aiken to its very core.

After the crime scene was secured by the police and they gathered every bit of possible evidence that they could from there, Jessica’s body was transferred to the Aiken County Coroner’s Office for examination. And they determined that the teenager was strangled with a phone cord before her throat was slashed with a kitchen knife. An autopsy then ruled her official cause of death to be internal bleeding and lack of oxygen. “There’s an unbroken thread,” Jessica’s obituary poem read, “that is woven from love, and it keeps family always together for nothing is as real as the moments we shared.”

Who Killed Jessica Carpenter?

In the months that followed Jessica’s murder, investigators interviewed more than 300 people and gathered over 100 DNA samples to be submitted into the state database. But unfortunately, not only were they unable to find a match, but they couldn’t even find a suspect at the time. At one point, they considered serial killer Reinaldo Rivera as a possible perpetrator. After all, he was known to operate in the South Carolina area and was arrested just months after Jessica’s murder. Plus, she even fit his victim profile. But Reinaldo was cleared once DNA evidence comparisons failed to yield a positive result.

It took two years, but investigators finally got a breakthrough in the case when Robert F. Atkins was arrested in Georgia for an unrelated crime, and his DNA, when fed into the national database, matched the one recovered from Jessica’s body. They subsequently learned that Robert Atkins, an employee of Airborne Express at the time of the murder, had been scheduled to make a delivery near Jessica’s home on the day she died. He had also delivered a package to the Carpenter household just days before, so he knew that there was a possibility of Jessica being home at the time. He had it all planned.

According to Robert’s own admittance, on August 4, 2000, he arrived at the Carpenter house in his uniform, and when Jessica opened the door, he managed to talk his way inside by asking if he could use the phone. Once in, he overpowered Jessica, attacked her, took what he wanted, and left. Robert later revealed the location of the murder weapon as well, which was a bloody knife wrapped in a T-shirt, buried under a pile of loose branches and logs in the nearby area. In a successful attempt to avoid the death penalty, in May 2006, Robert ultimately pleaded guilty to his offenses, getting sentenced accordingly.

Read More: Where Is Robert F. Atkins Now?