Jeffrey Willis charged with murder and kidnapping of Jessica Heeringa

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Three and a half years after she vanished, the Muskegon County Prosecutor on Tuesday filed charges against a Norton Shores man for the murder of Jessica Heeringa.

D.J. Hilson made the announcement Tuesday morning.

Jeffrey Willis stares into the crowd and TV cameras during his preliminary exam.

Jeffrey Willis stares into the crowd and TV cameras during his preliminary exam.

Jeffrey Willis is charged with the kidnapping, with intent to sexually assault, and the murder of Heeringa, who was last seen working the overnight shift at a Norton Shores gas station in April 2013.  Willis was arraigned Tuesday afternoon.

"In my opinion we’ve found Jessica’s killer," Hilson said.

Willis has been in custody since Spring, when he was arrested after allegedly abducting a 16-year-old girl.  The girl got away and helped lead police to Willis.  Willis's van was found to have an 'abduction kit' of restraints, sedatives and other equipment.  He was also found to have a gun.

The gun was then traced to the 2014 murder of Rebekah Bletsch, also in Muskegon County.  Willis has been charged in that crime, as well as abducting the teen.

Hilson said that investigators believe Heeringa died within 24 to 48 hours of being abducted from the Exxon gas station on Sternberg Road on the night of April 23, 2013.  He did not go into further details on what lead the team to believe this, though said Willis' silver minivan was searched days after Heeringa was abducted and was not considered to be a suspect at the time.

Jessica Heeringa

Jessica Heeringa

"Mr. Willis, is a monster," Hilson said at the press conference. "What his total motivation was, that's only for him to say. Ultimately, I think this is part of who he was as a person."

None of Heeringa's relatives were in attendance at Tuesday's press conference. Hilson requested the family's privacy be respected, but said he had spoken with them prior to announcing the charges.

"They certainly have been going through a roller coaster of emotions over the last three years," he said.

“I will say that I think there was a sense of gratitude and gratefulness, but again, they are processing and digesting everything they’ve been told today.”

But several of Bletsch's relatives, including her father and sister, watched as the new charges were filed. Bletch's father expressed hope for Heeringa's family to be able to find peace in knowing justice is now being served.

"I am happy that there's resolution for that family," said Nick Winberg, Rebekah's father. "Personally, knowing all the pain that I've gone through and my family, I know they've gone through a mountain a pain and will continue to for a great while."

Kevin Bluhm, Willis's cousin, is also facing charges for being an accessory after the fact in the death of Heeringa, prosecutors announced Tuesday. The announcement came the same day Bluhm was set to be sentenced for lying to police during the investigation into Heeringa's disappearance, the murder of Bletsch and Willis' suspected involvement in each crime.

In June, Bluhm, a corrections officer at the time, told police he saw a 'blonde female' tied up and bound in the basement of a home once owned by Willis's grandfather.

He said Willis asked him to stop over there in late April 2013, the day after Heeringa disappeared.

Bluhm recalled the 'blonde female' wasn't moving and told detectives it appeared the woman was being video taped. He said he believed it was Jessica Heeringa and also admitted to helping Willis dispose of the woman's body.

Bluhm then recanted those stories. He was sentenced to time served, 96 days in jail for lying.  Bluhm's father told FOX 17 in June he believed his son lied to protect Willis.

Hilson said the decision to announce charges on the day of Bluhm's sentencing was no coincidence.

"It was important to us as investigators that Kevin Bluhm be held accountable for what we believe to be his participation in this particular crime," Hilson said. "I think a lot of us didn’t want to see him walk out before he was held accountable on that.”

Investigators have combed through Willis's Norton Shores home and the home of Willis's grandfather several times looking for clues. To this day, Heeringa's body has never been found.

"This team will not finish its responsibilities until that happens" Hilson said.

Hilson and Norton Shores Police Chief John Gale said investigators continue to pursue leads to find Heeringa's body.

"The investigation will not be complete until we have a conviction and until we bring Jessica home to her family," Gale said. "Today is just one step toward justice.”

Willis was denied bond and Hilson asked for a half-day for his upcoming preliminary hearing next month due to a high amount of evidence. Meanwhile, Bluhm was given a $250,000 bond cash or surety.

FOX 17 reporters Dana Chicklas and Josh Sidorowicz contributed to this report.

 

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5 comments

  • No PC For Me

    Good job police officers!
    Don’t think for second that we are all anti-police because we are NOT.
    Despite what CNN ( Clinton news network), MSN-BS and the left in general would have you think, the vast majority Americans support you and appreciate your work and sacrifices.

      • No PC For Me

        Oh, I’m sorry.
        I must have missed the part where the 16 year old girl did the forensics, tracked him down, arrested him, charged him and took him to court.
        That 16 girl should be a cop. Don’t you think?

        Oh, be sure and call her ( not the police) next time you need help. She’ll take care of it.
        Have a really nice rest of your day.

  • Diana Flier

    This depraved, twisted man smirks now, However, he has a greater Judge he will face one day, and he will fall face-down before Him in terror and dread; never believing or imagining everything he did is fully known. He will receive the final wages of what he has done unless he deeply and sincerely repents and asks forgiveness of God and as a result, asks forgiveness from those whose daughters he callously murdered.