More than 15 years after Jennifer Kesse vanished, her parents Drew and Joyce Kesse are leading the investigation into their daughter’s case.
In January 2006, 24-year old Jennifer Kesse had everything going for her. She had just moved into a condo in Orlando, Florida, that she purchased on her own. She also was recently promoted at her job where she worked as a project manager for a time-share company. Jennifer’s mother Joyce Kesse said, “She was just really happy.”
Jennifer Kesse was a year into her long-distance relationship with her boyfriend Rob Allen. “She was in love,” her mother Joyce said. Although Rob lived about 3 hours away in Fort Lauderdale, the two of them would see each other every weekend.
One week before Jennifer Kesse disappeared, she took a weekend trip to St. Croix with her boyfriend Rob Allen. “My best friend said to me after the trip, ‘Oh, you’re in love and you just don’t want to admit it,'” Allen said.
A Happy Return Home
On Monday January 23, 2006, after she returned from her trip, Jennifer Kesse called her mom that morning on her way into work. “Jen shared every detail about the trip,” Joyce Kesse said. “She was on a cloud.” Later that afternoon, Jennifer also called her brother and her father.
Jennifer’s Final Phone Call
Monday evening, January 23, 2006 ,at around 10 p.m., Jennifer Kesse spoke to Rob Allen on the phone. But the call did not go well. “We had a disagreement,” Allen said. The long distance was taking a toll on their relationship. That was the last time he would ever speak to Jennifer again.
Vanished without a trace
On Tuesday, January 24, 2006, Jennifer Kesse’s parents received a call that Jennifer didn’t show up for work. They were immediately worried. “Her cell phone that she had since she was 16 years old went to voicemail for the first time. That is how we knew something horrendous had happened,” Joyce Kesse said. Within minutes, the Kesses and their son Logan were on the road and headed to Jennifer’s condo in Orlando, Florida.
Everything Looked Normal
When the Kesses – who lived two hours away – arrived at Jennifer’s condo, nothing seemed to be out of place. In fact, they said it looked like she had just been there. “There was makeup all over her counter … The T-shirt that she had worn to bed was on the floor. The shower was wet in the corners,” Joyce Kesse said. Her parents did notice, however, that Jennifer’s phone, keys and purse were missing.
By sundown, many of Jennifer Kesse’s family and friends gathered at her condo and started to search for her. They stood on street corners while they held up missing signs and handed out fliers with Jennifer’s photo. Later that night when there was still no sign of her, police officially declared Jennifer missing.
A Crucial Discovery
Two days after Jennifer Kesse went missing, her black Chevy Malibu was found in another condo complex parking lot approximately 1 mile away from where she lived. “You have that initial hope like … we found the car, it’s only going to be a matter of time before we find Jennifer,” said Jennifer’s boyfriend, Rob Allen. But when detectives opened the trunk of the car, Jennifer wasn’t there. Nothing had been stolen from the car and there was no evidence of a struggle.
A Break in the Case
When detectives reviewed surveillance video from the complex where Jennifer Kesse’s car was discovered, they saw a person parking her car. At around noon on the day Jennifer went missing, the person drove into the parking lot, sat in the car for about 30 seconds and then walked away. But, when police tried to identify the phantom figure, they hit a roadblock. The surveillance video took a photo every 3 seconds and each time, the person’s face was obstructed by a fence post.
A Possible Lead
Jennifer Kesse’s parents refused to give up. They immediately moved into Jennifer’s condo to be close to the investigation. The Kesses told police that Jennifer had complained to them about the workers at the building who occasionally made her feel uncomfortable. In fact, some of them had done work in her condo one week before she disappeared.
Theory of What Happened
Six months after Jennifer Kesse disappeared, Detective Joel Wright became the lead investigator and developed a theory of what happened to her on January 24, 2006. “I believe Jennifer got ready for work. She showered, got dressed. Went outside of her condo – locked the door on the way out. And made it as far as her car. After that, I believe she was abducted,” he said.
Two Years Gone
On the two-year anniversary of Jennifer Kesse’s disappearance, her family and friends gathered on a street corner and held up signs, just as they had done the day Jennifer went missing. “We’re a broken family,” her father Drew Kesse said. “She needs to come home to her family.”
A Fresh Look
Almost three years after Jennifer Kesse’s disappearance, Detective Wright decided to take a fresh look at the case and interviewed people on audiotape. One of the people he spoke to was a former housekeeper at Jennifer’s condo complex. When he showed the woman the security camera photo of the unidentified person, she told him it resembled a man she knew from the complex known as Chino because of his hair, clothing and the way he walked. This was the first time Wright had ever heard of Chino.
A New Lead
Detective Wright learned Chino used to live in another building at Jennifer Kesse’s condo complex and was a former maintenance worker there. Chino was one of the workers who did some repairs in Jennifer’s condo one week before she disappeared. Detective Wright also found an anonymous Crime Line tip that was reported during the first week of the investigation that suggested Chino might have been involved in Jennifer’s disappearance.
When Detective Wright found Chino, he was serving time for a statutory rape charge. On March 18, 2009, Wright interviewed Chino in prison and asked him about that time he worked in Jennifer’s condo. Chino said Jennifer let him inside her condo. “Everything was normal.” Chino also told him, “I don’t have any idea what happened to her.” That day, Chino took a polygraph test and he passed.
In 2010, Detective Wright was reassigned. And as more time went by, the Kesses grew frustrated with the Orlando Police Department’s investigation.
Ten Years Gone
In 2016, after 10 years had passed since Jennifer disappeared, she was declared dead by the state of Florida. “That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life,” Drew Kesse said.
Taking Matters into their Own Hands
In December of 2018, the Kesses sued the Orlando Police Department for a copy of Jennifer’s case files. After months of legal wrangling, in March 2019, they all reached a settlement. The OPD handed over more than 16,000 pages of documents and 67 hours of video and audiotape to the Kesses. Under the agreement, the Orlando Police Department would no longer lead the investigation.
A New Set of Eyes
Michael Torretta is a private investigator who works for the Kesses. He says he learned some 10 months after Jennifer disappeared, a person was seen dumping a rolled-up piece of carpet into a lake nor far from where Jennifer lived. This tip was especially interesting to him because on the day Jennifer went missing, there were workers laying down carpet in the apartment across the hall from Jennifer’s condo. Torretta says he knew he had to get this tip checked out.
Dive Team Investigates
In November 2019, local police came out with a dive team to search the lake where an eyewitness said the piece of carpet was dumped. The team spent two days searching, but they did not find anything. “This is something that is haunting me,” private investigator Michael Torretta said. “Until we can find that carpet and see what’s in it, we need to follow up on that particular lead.”
Developing a new theory
Michael Torretta has a new theory as to what he thinks might have happened to Jennifer Kesse on the day she vanished. Based on interviews with people who lived at the condo complex, he believes that up to 10 construction workers were living in an empty apartment just across from Jennifer’s. He says it could have been one or more of these workers who abducted her.
Gone but Never Forgotten
The Kesses have dedicated more than 15 years of their lives to finding the truth about what happened to their daughter on the morning of January 24, 2006. “The hole in our heart is forever there until we have an answer,” Joyce Kesse said. And now with the case files in their possession, they are more determined than ever to keep their daughter’s story alive.
If you have any information about Jennifer Kesse’s disappearance, please visit the “Find Jennifer Kesse” Facebook page.