Rebekah Bletsch was discovered on the roadside by individuals driving along the Automobile Road in rural Muskegon County, Michigan, in 2014. Although she was breathing when initially found, she sadly succumbed to her injuries by the time first responders arrived. Despite initial suspicions of a vehicular accident, the police swiftly determined that Rebekah had suffered several gunshot wounds to her head. ’20/20: The Murderer in Minivan’ delves into the investigative process that ultimately led to apprehending her assailant.
How Did Rebekah Bletsch Die?
Rebekah Bletsch, born on November 23, 1977, married Kevin R. Bletsch on October 24, 2009. The couple welcomed a daughter named Elli into their lives. As of 2014, Rebekah had spent the past 18 years residing in the Muskegon area of Michigan. At that time, her daughter Elli was 12 years old. Rebekah dedicated seven years of her professional life as an Assistant Occupational Therapist at the Sanctuary at the Shore. In addition to her career, she found joy in coaching middle school girls basketball at Reeths-Puffer.
Described as vivacious and cheerful, Rebekah Bletsch was adored by her siblings and remembered as the life of the party. On the evening of June 29, 2014, she was on a jog alongside the Automobile Road in rural Muskegon. Around 6 p.m., she was discovered lying on the side of the road by individuals who promptly called 911. The scene was marked by a significant amount of blood, and she was barely breathing. Her sunglasses, earbuds, and her phone, which was in an armband, were found in a pile on the same road.
By the time the police arrived, she passed away. Initially thought to be the result of an accident, it became evident to the police, upon their arrival, that Rebekah, 36, had suffered multiple gunshot wounds to her head and had died from the same. Her death was swiftly ruled a homicide, prompting the launch of a task force to investigate the murder.
Who Killed Rebekah Bletsch?
With no witnesses, the absence of a murder weapon, and an inability to match the bullets recovered from the scene, Rebekah Bletsch’s murder case quickly went cold. However, a significant breakthrough occurred in 2016 when a 16-year-old girl managed to escape from a minivan after being kidnapped by the driver. She recounted to the police that she was attempting to find her way home from a party when the man offered his phone and a ride. As he diverted from the intended direction, she insisted on leaving, prompting the man to brandish a gun.
After escaping, the man fired shots at the girl, and the bullets recovered from this incident matched those found in Rebekah’s body. The description of the silver minivan provided by the girl also aligned with the van mentioned in the investigation into the disappearance of Jessica Heeringa in April 2013. Upon scrutinizing surveillance footage, the police identified the van from certain images and traced it back to its owner, 46-year-old Jeffrey Thomas Willis.
Willis was arrested on the morning of May 17, 2016, on charges of kidnapping the 16-year-old girl. As the investigation progressed, the police uncovered evidence linking him to the murder of Rebekah Bletsch. A crucial discovery was .22-caliber shell casings that matched the bullets fired from a firearm recovered from Willis’ van. Additionally, the police found several concerning items, including handcuffs, a J hook, rope, chain, leather restraints, a ball gag, lubricating jelly, vibrators, syringes (one filled with insulin), Viagra, and a list of women with their addresses. They were also able to recover Rebekah’s DNA from a pair of gloves found in the van.
The police alleged that Willis had pulled up next to Rebekah to abduct her. The claimed that he had wanted to rape, torture, and kill her, like he had done with many other women. However, when she refused to get in the van with him, and he was unsuccessful in the abduction, he shot her right there. The police were able to scour through his computer, and they found further incriminating evidence. The computer was filled with pictures and videos of women and underage girls, most of whom were unclothed.
They found a folder titled Rebeka’s initials among folders of other women too. Willis had downloaded the news article detailing Rebeka’s death. In light of all these findings, Willis was charged with the murder of Rebekah Bletsch. Following his trial, which began in October 2017, he was found guilty of the first-degree murder of Rebekah. Willis was handed down a sentence of life in prison without parole.
Michigan’s legislative response to Jeffrey Willis’s refusal to listen to victims’ impact statements during Rebekah’s trial culminated in the passage of a bill by the Michigan House of Representatives on March 9, 2018. This bill mandates that convicted defendants must attend victims’ impact statements at sentencing. The bill was subsequently approved by the Michigan Senate on May 10, 2018 and the Michigan Governor signed the bill into law on May 24, 2018. It is formally known as the “Rebekah Bletsch Law,”