Jeffrey Willis to stand trial for Rebekah Bletsch’s murder

Posted at 10:50 AM, Jun 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-22 22:30:39-04

MUSKEGON, Mich. — A judge Wednesday ruled there is enough evidence to send Jeffrey Willis to trial for the 2014 murder of Rebekah Bletsch after investigators revealed Willis' computer hard drive had been filled with photos of necrophilia and images of Bletsch.

Investigators have linked Willis to several crimes, including the killing of Bletsch, who was shot dead while jogging near her home two years ago in rural Muskegon County. Willis is also accused of kidnapping a 16-year-old girl in April and remains a person of interest in the 2013 disappearance of Jessica Heeringa.

Jeffrey Willis stares into the crowd and TV cameras during his preliminary exam.

Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson presented evidence suggesting the gun used in the Bletsch murder was the same weapon found in Willis' van after his arrest. Asked during cross examination whether the gun was a sure match to shell casings found at the 2014 murder scene of Bletsch, Michigan State Police Lt. Jeff Crump testified the gun found in Willis' van is "the only firearm that could've fired those bullets."

Crump was one of several detectives and investigators to testify Wednesday.

Investigators also produced evidence of a folder found in one of Willis' external hard drives labeled 'vics' — as in victims.  In the folder, there was a sub-folder labeled 'RSB', which are Bletsch's initials.

That sub-folder contained pictures of Bletsch that it appears Willis pulled from the internet, Det. Sgt. Chris Prevette with Michigan State Police computer crimes unit testified.

There were other gruesome and disturbing files on Willis' computer, including videos of necrophilia—sex with dead bodies—and so-called "kidnap and kill" videos, which investigators say show men kidnapping, raping and then killing a woman.

“At the end of them they murder, they show this in an acting way and we also found videos showing this that are not acting,” Prevette testified.

None of the photos of Bletsch appeared to have been taken by Willis himself and none showed the murder, Prevette testified.

Hilson said he couldn't comment on whether any other files of victims were found on Willis' computer.

“I think everybody needs to respect the integrity of the investigation that needs to continue," he said Wednesday following the preliminary hearing. "If and when we are able to make any charging decisions we will let people know that.”

Hilson called Willis a "very disturbing individual," adding "I'm glad we were able to get him off the streets when we did."

“I’ve been doing this for 17 years and this is probably the most disturbing thing that I’ve had to take on, by far," Hilson told reporters. "And I hope I never have to see it again.”

Relatives of Becky Bletsch, seated in the courtroom, become emotional during testimony.

Bletsch's relatives were in the courtroom Wednesday, and became emotional during the testimony about what was found on Willis' hard drive.

"It's heartbreaking.  It hurts to hear how sick this man is, and what he's capable of, what he did, and what he could have done to her," Bletsch's sister Jessica Josephson said after the hearing.

While difficult to hear, Bletch's father said it was a necessary step toward justice for his daughter and their family.

“We’re dealing with evil in its worst form in my opinion," Nicholas Winberg told FOX 17. “My daughter’s been brutally murdered and she can’t speak but I can speak for her... and I firmly believe they have the right guy."

Willis was charged with open murder in May, a week after being arrested for kidnapping. In the arrest, investigators found a gun that matched the size of the gun used to kill Bletsch.  Ballistics tests confirmed a match to the shell casings found at the scene where Bletsch was shot, according to court documents.

Investigators allege that the gun used in the murder was stolen from Michelle Schnotala, one of Willis' long-time coworkers at Herman-Miller.

During her testimony Wednesday, Schnotala said that the gun found in Willis' van was hers, and that the last time she saw it was in February 2013.   She testified she never reported the gun stolen, adding that she'd hide it any time she left town and when it was missing she assumed it was still hidden somewhere.

Schnotala also testified Willis had requested she give him a pair of her underwear. She never did but also never reported him at work, she said.

“He asked for my panties quite a bit, always wanted a pair of my underwear,” Schnotala testified.

After previously waiving preliminary hearings for charges related to kidnapping and child porn, Willis will now proceed to trial in all three cases.

Earlier this week Willis' cousin, Kevin Bluhm, was charged for lying to police on two separate occasions for failing to disclose key information when he was questioned about his cousin's role in the murder of Bletsch and disappearance of Heergina.

According to court documents, in an interview with Michigan State Police on May 18, Bluhm said he hadn't seen Willis for almost a year and never saw his .22 caliber handgun. But in a second interview on June 14, Bluhm reportedly told police he had actually seen Willis in early May, and said that Willis showed him a .22 caliber pistol, the same type of weapon used to kill Bletsch.

Investigators have said there is no evidence to suggest Bluhm was directly involved in any of his cousin's alleged crimes. Bluhm's father told FOX 17 on Tuesday he believed his son lied to protect his cousin.