Michigan kidnapping suspect charged in unrelated killing

AP News
|
Posted: May 25, 2016 1:09 PM
Michigan kidnapping suspect charged in unrelated killing

MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) — A western Michigan man accused of abducting a 16-year-old girl last month has been charged with murder in the shooting death of a 36-year-old jogger in 2014, prosecutors announced Wednesday.

Jeffrey Willis, 46, of Muskegon Township, is charged with open murder and using a firearm in a felony in the death of Rebekah Bletsch. He's also facing several child pornography charges and prosecutors have said he is being investigated in the 2013 disappearance of a gas station clerk.

"Today is still a sad day for many people, but is a happy day for law enforcement," prosecutor D.J. Hilson said at a news conference.

Ballistics matched a handgun seized from Willis' minivan with bullets found in Bletsch's body and shell casings found at the scene of her death, according to investigators. As far as authorities know, Willis and Bletsch didn't know each other before she was killed, Hilson said.

Willis had been under investigation in her death since he was charged in April with kidnapping and other crimes in an incident involving a 16-year-old girl in Muskegon County's Fruitland Township. She told investigators she jumped out of Willis' van to escape.

"She probably doesn't realize how much of a hero she is," Hilson said of the girl.

According to a detective's statement in the kidnapping case, investigators found a pistol, ammunition, syringes with liquid, a ball gag, chains, a mask and a bar with wrist restraints in Willis's van. They found child pornography and videos of bound women in his home.

Authorities have said Willis also is being investigated in the 2013 disappearance of Jessica Heeringa, who was 25 years old when she went missing from the gas station where she worked. On Wednesday, Hilson said he wouldn't take questions about that case.

Asked whether Willis was being looked at in other cases, Hilson said investigators were "keeping lines open."

Willis is being held on $1 million bond. The public defender's office, which is representing him, said it doesn't comment on pending cases.

A passer-by discovered Bletsch's body on June 29, 2014, along a Muskegon County road about three-quarters of a mile from where she lived. Authorities believe Bletsch had been jogging along on her regular route when she was killed. She died of multiple gunshot wounds to the head.

"It's been a rough couple of years, but we've had our faith and trust in law enforcement and they haven't' let us down," her father, Nick Winberg of Muskegon, said at the news conference.

Authorities said Bletsch had valuables on her, but nothing was taken.