Hearing held over future of Jeffrey Willis’ van connected to murders

Muskegon County

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Efforts to destroy the minivan connected to the murders of Jessica Heeringa and Rebekah Bletsch were discussed in a Muskegon courtroom on Monday.

The silver minivan owned by Jeffrey Willis was the first break in the Heeringa case. The fate of the van, which has been locked up in an undisclosed location, could be determined in the next few weeks.

Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson says the storage fees are now more than $100,000. Now that Willis has exhausted his appeals, apart from getting a new trial, the prosecutor and the Muskegon County Sheriff’s Office want to end the storage cost, which taxpayers will have to cover and demolishing the van.

For years, a grainy image of the van was the only substantial piece of evidence in the disappearance of Heeringa. She was a beloved employee at a Norton Shores gas station, where she went missing.

Witnesses saw the van pull up behind the gas station, park and then take off. Three years later, thanks to a brave teen who escaped from the van, Jeffery Willis and his vehicle were taken into custody.

But, not before investigators say the van was used in the murders of Bletsch and Heeringa. Inside the vehicle, investigators found syringes, a gun, sex toys, rope and handcuffs, among other things. Bletsch was shot while jogging on a rural road near Muskegon.

“That was the vehicle he was in when he abducted Jessica. That was the vehicle he was in when he stopped on the side of the road and tried to abduct my sister, then later shot her on the side of the road and he fled with that vehicle,” Bletsch’s sister, Jessica Josephson, said. “This vehicle should not be driven by anybody else. It should not see another light of day. It should be destroyed.”

Prosecutors on Monday asked a judge to grant the authority to demolish the minivan. But the judge says he’s unsure that he has that authority and asked both the prosecution and Willis to write a brief.

“Why does Jeffrey Willis still have any rights to anything he owns,” Josephson said.

Willis is serving two life sentences. He will never be able to drive the van again. Normally after the owner is convicted, any property used as evidence is sold at auction. However in this case, the prosecution and sheriff’s office want to make sure it’s never used again.

“I wouldn’t want to get in that vehicle,” Josephson said. “Who in their right mind would want to get in that vehicle? If it does go that far, I want to purchase that van and destroy it myself.”

The legal briefs are due in the next few weeks. Then, it will be up to a judge to decide what happens to the van.

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