Willis appears tearful during ex-wife’s testimony

Jeffrey Willis Investigation

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD ) — For the first time in four days of testimony, Jeffrey Willis appeared to get emotional during his trial for the kidnapping and murder of Jessica Heeringa.

The moment came Friday afternoon as his ex-wife testified about Willis’ late grandfather, whose home was a repeatedly searched by detectives investigating Heeringa’s disappearance.

Charlene Bishop said even in his last few years of life, Willis’ grandfather didn’t give up on fixing his home.

“He would try,” Bishop said, which elicited a laugh from Willis.

Bishop said Willis would end up finishing those repair projects. Moments later, Willis’ face crumpled and he moved his glasses to rub his eyes.


Before that, Bishop told the jury she didn’t know about the messages an investigator left her on their answering machine, asking her to call police.

That answering machine tape was eventually found inside a green camera bag in Willis’ shed. Bishop said she didn’t put it there, and she testified that Willis never told her about the officers wanting to talk to her.

Bishop also said she never supplied Willis with the insulin or syringes found in a lockbox in his minivan, and Willis had never injected her with insulin, although he attended classes with her to learn how to do so.

>>Photos: Jeffrey Willis on trial

Bishop said she had never seen the Walther P22 also taken from Willis’ minivan – a vehicle which investigators said looked washed and “pristine” when they searched its interior 12 days after Heeringa’s disappearance.

Willis had told them the minivan was dirty when he purchased it in April and he had just recently taken it back to the dealership for detailing.


Willis’ ex-wife also appeared to tear apart Willis’ alibi for the night Heeringa disappeared. 

Authorities investigating a tip about Willis’ silver minivan frequenting a Starbucks said Willis met them on his front porch on May 8, 2013.

They testified Willis told them he visited the gas station and bought mints from Heeringa around 5 p.m. the day of her abduction.

They said Willis told them he played in a “Magic: The Gathering” tournament at the nearby Lang’s Sports Shop from 5 p.m. to about 9:30 p.m. before returning home around 9:45 p.m.

The officers said Willis told them he stayed home until about 12:30 a.m., when he left to go to his grandfather’s house to get a piece of wood to repair his dog kennel, then ordered Taco Bell and headed home.

However, Bishop said their dog crate was made of metal fencing with a plastic pan at the base, and wasn’t broken in any way.

Willis’ ex-wife’s testimony also contradicted Willis’ explanation for storing insulin and syringes in their minivan.

She said she never gave Willis those supplies and there was never an occasion when Willis had to inject her with insulin to bring her blood sugar levels back to normal, but Willis knew how to. She said he took classes with her, and they were given a diagram that showed injection sites.

Bishop also disagreed with Willis’ explanation for the large amount of bleach and cleaning products authorities found in the basement of his grandfather’s house.

Willis had told authorities they were left over from when his grandfather was alive. However, Bishop said as Willis’ grandfather’s designated shopper, she never purchased that much bleach, and she couldn’t think of any reason why he would have stored it in the basement, because he stopped going down there and the washing machine was upstairs.

Bishop said while Willis’ brother was the executor of their grandfather’s estate, Willis went to the house on several occasions to check the locks and mow the lawn.


Bishop also identified the computer tower confiscated from their house as Willis’.

 An investigator testified earlier that two external hard drives that had been plugged into the computer contained thousands of violent pornographic images and videos.

“This collection was the largest I’ve ever seen of murder, kidnapping, abduction, sexual assault that were extremely graphic videos that had been saved onto these devices,” said digital forensic analyst Gerald McCarthy.

McCarthy also said he considered the “VICS” folder he found on Willis’ hard drive a trophy. It contained subfolders labeled with letters that matched Rebekah Bletsch and Jessica Heeringa’s initials. 

McCarthy said the additional letters and numbers included on each subfolder title coordinated with the dates of Bletsch’s murder and Heeringa’s disappearance. He also testified that a document containing Willis’ passwords were all changed to different iterations of J4L27H13 – The initials of Jessica Lynn Heeringa and the day after she was abducted. 

Inside the “VICS” subfolders, McCarthy described finding photos of Bletsch and Heeringa, as well as images of women of similar appearance. 

>>Inside woodtv.com: Complete coverage of the Willis investigation | Blog: Day 4 of testimony

The photos of Heeringa were publicly accessible ones. Some featured her with her young son or boyfriend, as well as flyers about her disappearance.

McCarthy said the majority of the women featured in the pornographic murder videos found on Willis’ hard drive were white women between 25 and 50 years old with blond hair – a description that also fit Heeringa.

However, McCarthy acknowledged the folders were created exactly three years after Heeringa’s disappearance and a couple days after Bletsch’s murder. He also said he found nothing about Heeringa on Willis’ computer until after she disappeared. 

The defense also pointed out the code used in Willis’ passwords and subfolders could stand for other significant people or moments in Willis’ life.

McCarthy also described the contents of a folder titled “homemade.” He said it included nighttime video of neighbors undressing, including people under age 18.

He said there were also more than 15,000 videos of girls in swimsuits at school sports events, taken with a night vision filter that made it appear you were looking through their swimsuits. He said the videos focused on breasts, buttocks and the groin region when the girls were outside of the pool. McCarthy said those videos were all connected to a camera found in Willis’ van.

Willis’ ex-wife said she never saw this type of pornography, or the Walther P22 handgun and black toolbox that contained ropes, chains and a ball-gag that were found in their minivan.

“Occasionally I would walk in, usually at dinner time, to give him his meal and he’d quick shut the computer down and I’d catch a glimpse of porn. Nothing other than adults,” she said.

Bishop said she and Willis started parting ways in 2011. At the time of Heeringa’s disappearance, she said they were working different shifts, and she suspected Willis was seeing someone else.


Jurors on Friday also heard from a former coworker of Willis, who testified he noticed deep scratches on Willis’ face when he came to work the night of April 28, 2013.

Clifford Barron said he knew what day it happened because Heeringa disappeared on the same date as his anniversary. 

Baron said Willis “made a big deal” about the scratches, but blew up at him  and threatened to go to the front office when he jokingly said Willis probably took Heeringa because he looked “like he got into a cat fight.”

Baron said Willis told him he got the scratches from “doing a brake job,” but Baron said he didn’t buy that explanation.

“I didn’t believe him because he don’t do his own work on his cars,” said Baron. “I thought he got in a fight with his woman, his wife, and didn’t want to talk about it.”

Baron said Willis’ hands looked too clean for doing such a task without gloves, and wouldn’t have had scratches if he wore gloves.

In questioning, Public Defender Fred Johnson pointed out how Bishop didn’t remember any scratches on her then-husband’s face or arms, and neither did the officer who questioned Willis 12 days later.


Jurors will hear from seven more witnesses. Testimony is expected to wrap up late Tuesday or early Wednesday morning, which means a verdict could come as early as Wednesday.

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