Willis’ ex-wife testifies in Heeringa murder trial

Jeffrey Willis Investigation
Jeffrey Willis Jessica Heeringa trial pic 2 051018

Jeffrey Willis puts his hand on his chin during the first day of testimony in his murder trial on Tuesday, May 8, 2018 in the 14th Judicial Circuit Court in Muskegon, Michigan. Willis is facing trial for the kidnapping and murder of Jessica Heeringa, who disappeared from her late-night job at a Norton Shores gas station in April 2013. Her body has never been recovered. (Joel Bissell | MLive.com)

5:15 p.m. – Bishop says Willis’ hair was shorter in 2013 and he kept it spiked in the front with blond highlights.

She says he kept it that way until he stopped seeing his hair stylist.

Willis appears visibly emotional for the first time at his trial as Bishop recounts how Willis’ grandfather would try repairing things on his own in his last few years.

“He would try,” Bishop says, which gets a laugh from Willis.

Bishop says Willis would end up finishing those repair projects. Willis’ face then crumples and he appears emotional as he removes his glasses to rub his eyes.

Bishop says she never remembers scratches on Willis’ face, but scratches on his back and leg.

Bishop says she suspected Willis was seeing someone when he was with her. She said they started parting ways and doing their separate things starting in 2011.

Bishop says they basically worked on separate shifts, but they both regularly checked the answering machine.

Testimony ends for the day. The trial is scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

>>App users: Watch Friday’s testimony here.

5 p.m. – Willis’ ex-wife is now testifying. She says she never supplied Willis with insulin or syringes to keep in the minivan.

She says there has never been on occasion when Willis has injected her with insulin to bring her blood levels back to normal. She says he took classes on how to inject insulin. She said they did get a diagram that shows injection sites.

Charlene Bishop says the hospital was a short drive away – they did go there on one occasion because of her blood sugar.

She says her ex-husband was not into church at all and wouldn’t accompany her in the programs she was involved in.

She identifies the computer tower confiscated from their house as Jeffrey Willis’. Bishop says she had never seen the Walther P22 taken from Willis’ minivan.

She says Willis has lost a lot of weight – at one point, he weighed 300 pounds, she says.

Bishop says Willis never talked about the officers wanting to talk to her. She said she never got Corporal Hare’s message.

Bishop says she had a cellphone and Willis had a flip-phone at the time the officers asked for his phone.

Bishop says the kennel for their dogs was a fencing type material with a plastic pan as the base. She says the crate wasn’t broken in any way.

Bishop says she never put the answering machine cassette tape in the green camera bag in their shed, where it was found.

Bishop says she never saw the black toolbox found in the silver minivan before.

She says she never used ropes, chains or the ball-gag.

“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 says.

She says she wasn’t aware of the homemade videos he had, or the “VICS” folder.

“On several occasions he would go over and check the locks… he did mow the lawn several times,” she says.

4:15 p.m.Corporal Christopher Hare, who accompanied Sgt. Baker on following up on the Jeffrey Willis tip, is testifying.

He says Willis met the officers on his front porch. Hare said Willis acknowledged Heeringa was working when he went to the gas station. He told Hare he knew her and was familiar with her, but they didn’t have a relationship.

Hare also recounts what Willis said he did the night Heeringa disappeared – played in a Magic: The Gathering tournament, went home, left for his grandfather’s house to get a board for a dog kennel, picked up Taco Bell then came home.

Hare says he was not shown or offered Willis’ cellphone during that encounter.

Hare says they noticed the interior of the minivan was “pristine… cleaned.”

Prosecutor D.J. Hilson plays the two messages Hare left for Willis’ then-wife. She previously testified in the Bletsch murder case that she never heard those messages.

4 p.m. – Baker acknowledges Willis was working third shift, which may explain why he awoke at 12:30 a.m.

The sergeant says he didn’t notice scratches on Willis’ face when he questioned him on May 8, 2013.

Baker says he doesn’t remember seeing padlocks on the Bailey Street home when he visited it.

3:55 p.m. – Norton Shores Sgt. Baker is now testifying.

He’s talking about a tip to the Jessica Heeringa tipline about a man named Willis who frequents the Starbucks on Harvey Street and drives a silver minivan.

Baker says he and Corporal Hare went to Willis’ house to investigate the tip.

The sergeant says Willis told them he had been to the gas station where Heeringa worked around 5 p.m. the day she was abducted and bought mints from her. Baker says Willis told them he played card games from 5 p.m. to about 9:30 p.m. at Lang’s Sports Shop nearby. He told them he left the sports shop and got home around 9:45 p.m., Baker says. The sergeant says Willis told them he stayed there until about 12:30 a.m., but his wife was home sleeping at the time, so she couldn’t account for him being there.

Willis said at 12:30 a.m. he went to his grandfather’s house on Bailey Street to get a board to fix his dog kennel, Baker says. He told officers after he left the Bailey Street house he went to the Taco Bell on Sternberg Road then returned home, according to the sergeant.

Willis told the officers about his registered handgun, the sergeant says. He testifies that when asked about his cellphone, Willis told the officers his wife had it, but he’d give it to them later.

The sergeant said the back portion of the minivan looked washed, cleaned and shampooed. He told the officers he purchased the minivan in April and he just recently took it back and they detailed it for him.

The officers never got to speak to Willis’ wife during that visit, the sergeant says. He says Willis did show him a board during their encountered.

3:30 p.m. – Clifford Baron, who worked with Willis at Herman Miller, is testifying.

Baron says Willis was his HiLo driver in 2013.

He says he noticed scratches on Willis’ face, hand and arms when he came to work the night of April 28, 2013. He says the scratches on his hand and arms were deep. He says the scratches looked like they had been bleeding, but were no longer bleeding at that time.

Baron says he knows what day it was because Heeringa disappeared on the same date as his anniversary.

He says Willis “made a big deal” about the scratches. Baron said he and some other guys were joking around about who took Heeringa when he brought Willis’ into the conversation.

“Jeff was probably the one that did it. He looks like he got in a cat fight,” Baron recounts.

He says Willis “blew up on him” after that and threatened to go to the front office.

Baron says Willis told him he got the scratches from “doing a brake job.” Baron says he’s changed brakes before and never had those types of injuries.

Baron says Willis’ hands also looked too clean for doing a brake job, and Willis wouldn’t have scratches on his hands if he wore gloves.

Baron says later that night, Willis covered up the scratches with gauze and tape. In cross-examination, Willis’ defense brings up how Baron didn’t work with Willis on Saturday. Baron says Willis was not experienced in changing brakes.

Public Defender Fred Johnson points out how Baron wasn’t contacted about what happened that night until three years later.

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

The judge orders a 10 minute break before the next witness is called.

3:15 p.m. – Public Defender Fred Johnson is trying to point out how J4L27H13 could stand for other significant items in Willis’ life. McCarthy testifies he never got confirmation from Willis that the code stood for Jessica Lynn Heeringa or Rebekah Bletsch.

3 p.m. – In cross-examination, McCarthy says he didn’t find anything about Heeringa on Willis’ computer until after she disappeared.

McCarthy says he could not definitively identify Heeringa in any of the videos, and none of the photos of Heeringa were ones that appeared to have been taken by Willis.

McCarthy says he would consider the “VICS” folder and subfolders a trophy.

McCarthy testifies that in his experience, people create passwords from things that are significant so they’re easily remembered – children’s names, birthdates, social security numbers, addresses, etc.

2:45 p.m. – McCarthy is now testifying about a document he found containing Willis’ account passwords. Those passwords were changed to different iterations of J4L27H13 – The initials of Jessica Lynn Heeringa and the day after she was abducted, McCarthy says.

2:30 p.m. – McCarthy says a folder titled “homemade” included nighttime video of people undressing, including people under age 18.

He says the videos also included water polo and swim competitions at West Michigan schools, taken with a night vision filter that made it look like you were looking through the girls’ swimsuits, according to McCarthy. He says the videos focused on breasts, buttocks and the groin region when the girls are outside the pool. McCarthy said there were over 15,000 of those type of videos taken with a camera found in Willis’ van.

McCarthy says the “VICS” folder on Willis’ hard drive was created on July 1, 2014 – a couple days after Rebekah Bletsch’s death. McCarthy says there were three subfolders in the VICS folder- JLH (DZ13), RSB (FZ+C14) and “scans.” When the letters on the two subfolders are translated to numbers using A as 1, B as 2, etc, it spells out the dates of Heeringa’s disappearance and Bletsch’s murder. The Bletsch folder contained photos of Bletsch and women who looked similar to her, according to McCarthy.

The Heeringa sub folders contained at least three videos of blond haired women, McCarthy says. Another smaller folder contains photos of Heeringa with her son taken from the “Find Jessica Heeringa” Facebook page. Photos of her with Dakotah Quail-Dyer, the “missing” and “kidnapped” flyers of Heeringa, and a photo of Heeringa alone.

The majority of the women featured in the pornographic murder videos were white women between 25 and 50 years old with blond hair, according to McCarthy.  

2:15 p.m. – McCarthy says the pornographic videos included the use of a J-hook, chains, restraints all used in pornographic videos

McCarthy says the majority of the video collection was murder-kidnap/abduction videos.

McCarthy says the collection was so vast, Willis had a folder titled “murder” with subfolders with the types of murders.

Some of the murder videos included strangling, drowning, burning, hanging and suffocation by plastic bag, according to McCarthy.

In a folder titled “miscellaneous”, McCarthy said he found a saved web page that contained a news story about Jessica Heeringa.

McCarthy says the Jessica Heeringa folder was created on April 26, 2016 – exactly three years after Heeringa’s disappearance. The folder contained partially nude photos of a woman similar in appearance to Heeringa, McCarthy says.

McCarthy says he found an Excel spreadsheet from 2013  titled “2013” that contained different purchases by date, location and item. McCarthy said several of those purchases were made at the gas station where Heeringa worked.

2 p.m. – Digital forensic analyst Gerald McCarthy is the first to testify on Friday.

He says on an Asus desktop tower, he recovered several documents, pictures, videos, emails, passwords that identified Jeffrey Willis as the owner.

He says the operating system showed him Willis had plugged in two hard drives found in the house. McCarthy says those hard drives contained tens of thousands of folders and subfolders that contained images and videos of murder, kidnapping, abduction, sexual assault.

“There’s thousands and thousands and thousands of these types of videos on these external hard drives,” McCarthy says.

“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,” he says.


MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Testimony in the murder trial of Jeffrey Willis, who’s accused of kidnapping and killing Jessica Heeringa five years ago, will continue Friday afternoon.

Willis’ ex-wife is expected to take the stand after the trial resumes around 1:30 p.m. She also testified during Willis’ previous trial for the murder of Rebekah Bletsch.

During the third day of testimony Thursday, nearly six hours was devoted to witnesses who are experts in DNA, despite the fact that there’s not much DNA evidence in the Heeringa case. Though many people know the basics of DNA, explaining the science to a jury is still an exhaustive process.

Nearly all of the DNA evidence presented Thursday was inconclusive. None of it drew a direct line between Willis and Heeringa, who disappeared from the Norton Shores gas station where she worked on the night of April 26, 2013.

Other evidence found in Willis’ minivan did link him to Bletsch, who was shot and killed while jogging in June 2014. Willis was convicted of her murder last year and sentenced to life in prison.

Jurors also heard from Willis’ longtime hairdresser, who said his behavior changed in 2013. She also testified about putting blond streaks in his hair. That’s important because a witness testified to seeing a man with blond streaks in his hair getting into a silver minivan like the one linked to Heeringa’s abduction and Willis’ other criminal cases. It’s a circumstantial connection in a largely circumstantial case.

The trial is about halfway done, but Heeringa’s family hasn’t been in court for any of it. They don’t think there’s enough evidence to prove Willis killed Heeringa — whose body has not been found — and still hope that she will come home.

In phone interviews with Target 8 earlier this year, Willis denied killing Heeringa or Bletsch.

>>App users: Interactive timeline of Willis investigation

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