UPDATE 4:40 p.m. – A not guilty plea has been entered on behalf of a man charged with kidnapping and killing a gas station clerk who disappeared from her job in western Michigan in 2013.
Jeffrey Willis appeared at a brief hearing in a Muskegon County court, hours after charges were announced Tuesday. He was accompanied by a lawyer and didn’t speak to the judge.
Willis is charged in the disappearance of 25-year-old Jessica Heeringa, whose body hasn’t been found. He’s also facing charges in two more local cases: the fatal shooting of a 36-year-old female jogger in 2014 and the attempted abduction of a 16-year-old girl in April.
The girl escaped from Willis’ van, an incident that brought him to the attention of police and energized the Heeringa investigation.
MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Jeffrey Willis will be charged with murder and kidnapping in the Jessica Heeringa case, a judge told our sister station 24 Hour News 8.
Judge Raymond Kostrzewa said warrants were sworn out Monday afternoon.
The Muskegon prosecutor held a news conference Tuesday.
Police say Heeringa was abducted from the Norton Shores gas station where she worked in April 2013 and has never been seen since.
Willis, 46, was deemed a person of interest in the disappearance of Heeringa back in May. A Michigan State Police report previously said that investigators think he killed her and a police source told 24 Hour News 8 there was a file bearing her name in a folder labeled “VICS” (short for victims) on his computer.
Willis owns a silver minivan similar to the one police were searching for in the Heeringa case, his co-workers said he frequented her gas station, and a source said he wasn’t at work in the days after police say she was abducted.
Willis was charged in May with kidnapping and assault with a dangerous weapon in connection to the attempted abduction of a 16-year-old girl in Fruitland Township. After his arrest, ballistics testing matched a gun found in his silver minivan to the one used in the June 2014 killing of Rebekah Bletsch in Dalton Township. As a result, he was charged with her murder. He has also been charged with felonies for the creation and possession of child pornography and for videotaping unclothed underage girls without their knowledge.
Willis’s cousin, Kevin Bluhm, admitted to lying to police in the Bletsch murder investigation and also in connection to Willis’ alleged involvement in Heeringa’s disappearance. He is expected to be sentenced at 1:15 p.m. Tuesday.