Heeringa’s sister: ‘We don’t know what else happened in that van’

Muskegon County

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A judge is still deciding what to do with Jeffrey Willis’s infamous minivan.

The convicted serial killer is serving two life sentences for the murders of Jessica Heeringa and Rebekah Blestch.

The prosecutor’s office wants the van destroyed, but Jessica Heeringa’s family disagrees.

“I think it should stick around. I don’t think they should get rid of it at all,” her sister Samantha Heeringa told News 8 Wednesday.

The silver 2006 Dodge Caravan isn’t worth a lot of money, but it was a key piece of evidence in the two murder cases. Plus, Willis has one more chance at an appeal.

generic jessica heeringa_230907

Jessica Heeringa disappeared while working at a Norton Shores gas station in 2013. For years, the firmest leads in the case were a sketch and grainy surveillance images of the silver minivan.

Since Jeffrey Willis was arrested in 2016, the van has been locked up in an undisclosed location. On Monday, the prosecutor’s office said enough is enough and asked the judge to grant the authority to crush the minivan to ensure it is never driven again. Generally, vehicles impounded in criminal investigations are ultimately sold at auction.

Samantha Heeringa agrees it shouldn’t be sold but feels it should be preserved instead.

“I think it’s definitely crucial to keep around because we don’t know what else happened in that van,” she said.

The Heeringa family has been holding out hope that one day they find Jessica, but beyond that, her sister is worried about the potential for more victims.

“I can understand the Heeringa’s family concern, as well, that potentially there is this van that has evidentiary value for other unsolved cases,” said defense attorney Andrew Rodenhouse, who has years of experience in murder trials.

He said he was concerned that a major piece of evidence could be destroyed. He argued that the fact that Willis has one more chance to appeal is reason enough to keep the van.

Jeffrey Willis Jessica Heeringa murder conviction 051618 AP_1526515455299.jpg
Jeffrey Willis hangs his head after being convicted of the 2013 kidnapping and murder of Jessica Herringa on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 in the 14th Judicial Circuit Court in Muskegon, Michigan. (Mike Krebs | MLive.com)

“What is the risk-versus-the return scenario,” Rodenhouse said. “So you destroy the van and (Willis) ends up completing his Hail Mary at possibly the United States Supreme Court. You end up having to retry the case and you’ve crushed the van into a cube. It has zero evidentiary value and at a retrial the defense is going to point out how you destroyed the evidence.”

Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson, who is fighting to demolish the van, says all the evidence has been collected and preserved. He added storing the van has incurred more than $100,000 in fees that taxpayers have to cover.

Rodenhouse suggested holding the van in the secure location of the sheriff’s office, which would eliminate any costs. That’s an idea the Heeringas can support.  

“If they miss something or went over something, it would be nice to keep around for new eyes,” Samantha Heeringa said.

News 8 also talked to the family of Rebekah Bletsch, who was shot and killed in 2014 while jogging north of Muskegon, earlier this week. That family wants the van destroyed. 

The decision is now up to a judge because Willis still has legal ownership of the van. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Top Stories On WOODTV.com

Know something newsworthy? Report It!

News 8 Links