On Tuesday, January 24, 2006, Jennifer Kesse disappeared without a trace. And on the surface, there seemed to be no clear reason why the 24-year-old financial analyst would just up and leave everything and everyone she knew. She was doing well for herself, after all; she was in a committed relationship and earning good money, and she had even recently purchased a condo. Yet Kesse had left no clue as to where she might be or why she had fled – and in this way, she had baffled everyone.
Her parents, for example, couldn’t seem to comprehend what had made their daughter leave. “Jennifer is a strong, fun-loving, career-minded, responsible young woman,” Drew and Joyce Kesse wrote on jenniferkesse.com – a website dedicated to their missing daughter. “At no time had Jennifer shown signs of discontent with her life, relationships or work environment – quite the opposite, in fact.”
Indeed, not only was Kesse apparently happy and well-adjusted, but she had a bevy of friends and family members who cared enough about her to help the search for the missing woman. Her departure from their lives, then, was as puzzling as it was sudden. However, a few days after her disappearance, some disturbing evidence emerged. It seemed that Kesse had not abandoned her life after all. She appeared to have been abducted…
On Sunday, January 22, 2006, Kesse returned from a short vacation on Saint Croix, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. She spent the night at her boyfriend’s place in south Florida. And the following morning, as normal, she drove to her place of work, timeshare firm Central Florida Investments in Ocoee. After work, moreover, she returned home to her Mosaic at Millenia condo in Orlando, which she reached after 6:00 p.m.
That evening, Kesse phoned her family and spoke to her mother, father and brother. Later, she called some friends and, at approximately 10:00 p.m., her boyfriend. Since Kesse and her boyfriend had a long-distance relationship, they called each other every day, touching base in the morning and evening.
However, the next morning, Kesse’s boyfriend did not hear from her. And when he rang her on her cell phone, the call went through to voicemail. This may not have been much of a cause for concern for him at first; indeed, he just guessed that she was busy preparing for an important meeting. But when, by 11:00 a.m., Kesse still hadn’t turned up to work, her colleagues became quite concerned. As a result, her employer contacted Kesse’s parents.
And her mom and dad then immediately headed over to her condo, two hours away from where they lived, and searched inside. “Everything was clean and in place,” they wrote on jenniferkesse.com. “She had obviously slept in her bed, taken a shower (wet towel and shower) and had a couple outfits on the bed she was choosing to wear.” Her car, though, was missing from its assigned parking space.
According to Kesse’s parents, “her tracks seemed to cease from when she left her condo for work, usually at around 7:30 to 7:45 a.m. each day.” They immediately informed the police as to their daughter’s disappearance and began to hand out missing person fliers. Then, two days later on January 26, a resident of an apartment complex close to Kesse’s called the police with some vital and unnerving information.
Having seen reports about Kesse on the news, the resident had noticed that a black 2004 Chevy Malibu parked outside Huntington on the Green Condominiums fit the description of her car. Police followed up the call and agreed that the vehicle was indeed hers. And, somewhat troublingly, surveillance footage from the complex revealed that an unidentified person had parked it there.
According to the video, at around noon on the day of Kesse’s disappearance, a man parked her car in a visitor’s space, waited half a minute, left the vehicle and then walked away. However, the “person of interest” in the video was barely visible behind the complex’s fencing. This led one journalist to label the suspect “the luckiest person of interest ever.”
An FBI analysis of the footage revealed nothing other that the person was anywhere from 5’3” to 5’5” tall. His or her identity remains a mystery to this day. Meanwhile, investigators have hypothesized that Kesse was probably abducted on her way to work, as she was approaching or entering her car.
And, unfortunately for the police, the car itself appeared to have been wiped down, leaving just two things that could feasibly serve as evidence: a fingerprint and a DNA strand. Certain items were missing, including Kesse’s cell phone, purse and briefcase. However, other valuable items were left behind, suggesting that robbery was not the aim of any potential attacker. What’s more, Kesse’s missing bank card has never been used.
In the course of their investigation, the police also interrogated a number of persons, including Kesse’s current partner and ex-boyfriend. Both these men were eventually ruled out as suspects, however. And they also followed up another potential lead. Before her disappearance, Kesse had complained to her family about some construction workers whom she had said had sexually harassed her. However, interrogation of the workers turned up no further useful information.
Investigators also turned to her workplace after having learned of a colleague who had shown romantic interest in Kesse. Not wishing to engage in a relationship with a coworker, though, she had turned down his advances. And after numerous interviews, this suspect was also ruled out. In fact, investigators were apparently unable to pin down anyone involved in Kesse’s disappearance. As a consequence, it remains an unsolved mystery.
In May 2007 Kesse’s employers offered a $1 million reward for information leading to her whereabouts, provided that she was found alive by July 4. Nobody came forward. Meanwhile, the Central Florida Crimeline continues to post a $5,000 reward for similar information. And, in some instance, individuals have come forward with potential leads.
In early 2017, for example, an employee of a jewelry store in Decherd, Tennessee, reported seeing a man with dreadlocks accompanied by an “unwashed” woman whom she swears was Kesse. However, more than ten years have lapsed since the alleged sighting, meaning that such a report is unlikely to be considered reliable.
Meanwhile, Scott Jamison and Shaun Gurd, two “citizen detectives” from Gainesville, Florida, are helping to maintain public visibility of the case. Their podcast, titled Unconcluded, considers various theories for Kesse’s disappearance. It sees approximately 175,000 downloads per month. And their Facebook page, which has around 3,000 followers, is a lively discussion hub.
“You can kind of form a community around it,” Gurd told the Orlando Sentinel in July 2017. “What this podcast is doing is allowing people to be engaged. We’re talking with people, we’re not talking at people.” And this positive sentiment appears to be one shared by Kesse’s father, Drew. “When you put your heads together, ideas come up. The comments keep going on,” he explained to the newspaper. “We want everyone in the world to help.”
But despite these useful developments, Kesse’s family are frustrated by the lack of police progress. “How have we not progressed in 11 and a half years to at least a direction?” Drew opined to the Orlando Sentinel. “She vanished. How is that?… After 11 years, it’s very difficult for her not to be an object. We need people to realize that she’s a human being.”
Jennifer Kesse is still considered missing and endangered by a number of organizations, including Interpol, Orlando Police Department and the FBI. But although the case has gone cold, she has not been forgotten. Somebody, somewhere knows something. And as long as people keep talking, there is hope that she may one day be found.