Prosecutor: Jeffrey Willis 'emulating' The Toolbox Killers

Jeffrey Willis charged with kidnapping, murdering Jessica Heeringa in April 2013

Ken Kolker -

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) -- The Muskegon County prosecutor said he has evidence that Jeffrey Willis was a copycat killer who was following the lead of a pair of murderers from decades ago.

That theory is based, in part, on a list of serial killers found in a camera bag in Willis's shed.

"On that list were a couple of individuals who in 1979 abducted and killed five girls," Hilson told a judge while arguing to allow the list as evidence. "They were called the Toolbox Killers."

"Now, we've got some evidence to suggest that the defendant is trying to emulate the Toolbox Killers, in my opinion. I think it's really relevant."

But defense attorney Brian E. Hosticka argued against it.

"All it does is prejudice the already prejudiced pool against Mr. Willis," the defense attorney said.

District Judge Raymond Kostrzewa allowed it.

The judge is holding the preliminary hearing for Willis, 46, of Muskegon Township. Willis is accused of kidnapping Jessica Heeringa, 25, from the Norton Shores gas station where she worked on the night of April 26, 2013, and then killing her.

The young mother's body has not been found.

The hearing started Tuesday and continued Friday without conclusion. It will resume on Monday.

Norton Shores Detective Ryan Pieske testified he found the list of serial killers during a search of Willis's shed in May, after his arrest.

"It's a document that appears to be from Wikipedia that says, 'List of Serial Killers in the United States," Pieske said. "It's five pages."

He said he found a mark next to two serial killers who worked together -- Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris.

"These two gentleman used a van and they abducted, raped, tortured and killed these five women," he said.

They were known as the Toolbox Killers because most of the tools they used were normally kept in household toolboxes.

Police said they found two toolboxes in Willis's van after his arrest filled with tools they believe were used for rape, torture and murder.

"We have four batteries, rope, section of chain, another section of chain hooked up to handcuffs, a metal j-hook and part of a leather strap," State Police Detective Sgt. Tom

Flowers said, describing what police found in one of the tool boxes.

"That's a ball gag," he said.

They found syringes, blue pills, bullets, a .22-caliber handgun and a loose orange cap.

The defense has suggested that if Willis had a gun, it was an airsoft gun with an orange cap.

Also, taped to the inside of one of the toolboxes, drawings showing where to inject women.

The defense attorney suggested that was for Willis's now ex-wife, who is diabetic. The prosecutor said Willis is a serial killer.

Not only is he accused in Heeringa's disappearance and murder, Willis is also charged with killing Rebekah Bletsch in 2014, then kidnapping a 16-year-old girl in the spring of 2016. Her escape broke the case.

When the preliminary hearing is done, the judge will not only have to decide whether to send Willis to trial, but also whether there's enough evidence to show Jessica Heeringa was murdered.

Testimony on Friday began with Muskegon County Sheriff's Det. Matt Schultz, who responded to the attempted abduction of the 16-year-old girl who led authorities to Willis. Schultz testified he found a live .22-caliber round at the scene of the attempted abduction. He also found surveillance cameras at a nearby blueberry farm that captured images of a silver minivan.

The detective said he worked with Michigan State Police, the Secret Service and an auto dealer to narrow down possible matches to ten vehicles. One of those ten was Willis' minivan, which had matching rust, the detective said.

Schultz said the teen identified Willis through a photo lineup. Willis told police he was at home at the time of the crime, but when they showed him the surveillance video of the minivan, he ended the interview, Schultz said.

Late Friday morning, the hearing turned back to Willis' alleged connection to Heeringa's disappearance. MSP Sgt. James MacDonald testified when he analyzed Willis' cellphone, records showed he was in the area of his dead grandfather's home shortly after Heeringa vanished.

-----Inside Complete coverage of the Jeffrey Willis investigation

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