Police say kidnapping suspect’s van was customized for a predator

Posted at 11:13 PM, May 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-20 23:13:33-04

MUSKEGON, Mich. – A suspected kidnapper is now being looked at for any possible ties to two of Muskegon County’s biggest unsolved crimes: the 2013 abduction of Jessica Heeringa and the 2014 killing of Rebekah Bletsch.

Jeffrey Willis was picked up out of a photo line-up by a 16-year-old who police say he tried to kidnap in mid-April.

His arrest led to a search of his home and silver mini-van, where police discovered two hidden lock boxes in a van they say was customized for a predator.

Detectives described the shocking contents they found in a sworn probable cause affidavit. The first lock box contained handcuffs, chains, rope and five syringes, one with liquid.  There were also photographs of females chained and bound, a mask and a ball gag.

Muskegon County Undersheriff Daniel Stout told FOX 17 this is only the beginning of an extensive investigation.

“There is a lot of evidence that has been gathered already, but that has to be forensically examined and it takes a while, some of these tests take weeks,” Stout said.

A .22 caliber pistol with serial numbers destroyed was found in the second lock box. It’s the same type of small caliber weapon also used to kill Rebekah Bletsch in 2014, but is Willis connected?

“If it’s the same caliber, same model possibly, well that narrows the scope of our investigation,” Stout said. “So you just keep narrowing it down until you definitely say this is the weapon that was used in this particular crime.”

The ATF is also helping with tests, which could take some time.

“Because it’s a high profile case, and plus they have the expertise in a lot of areas especially forensically, and plus looking into peoples' backgrounds across state lines,” said Stout.

Willis has deep ties to the Fruitport area.  He graduated from Fruitport schools in 1988 and later worked as a janitor at Edgewood Elementary in the late '90s.  He was fired after exposing students to adult websites.

Amy Upham is now the principal there, she recalled Willis was spotted spending too much time in the computer lab.

“I was assistant principal at that time,” said Upham. “We had a suspicious URL pop up on the computer. It was of pornographic nature.”

Upham said the school's technology department used a program to trace Willis’ computer activity.

“It only took us one day,” Upham said. “He went the next night, he was on the computer and we tracked his history. We called him in and fired him on the spot for pornographic material. He turned over his keys and walked out. He obviously had no regard for his actions.”

Just this week, pornography involving children as well as videos of women bound, taped and gagged were found on a thumb drive in his home.

“Shock, absolute shock,” said Upham. “In all honesty, since we haven’t seen or heard from him in 17 years, when I saw the picture I obviously recognized him but it just blew me away.”

The charges for the attempted abduction have Willis behind bars on a $1,000,000 bond.  For now, there’s no certain connection to either the Herringa or Bletsch cases.