Tip led to search near Willis’ home for Jessica Heeringa

The abandoned railbed in Muskegon Township where police conducted a search on June 17, 2016, according to a neighbor.


MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A month after murder suspect Jeffrey Willis was arrested for kidnapping, his wife has filed for divorce.

Also on Friday, a tip led police to search property near Willis’s home for Jessica Heeringa, who disappeared three years ago.

The divorce filed in Muskegon County Circuit Court shows Willis and his wife, Charlene, have been separated since his May 17 arrest for the alleged kidnapping of a 16-year-old girl.

Jeffrey Willis appeared in a Muskegon County court Wednesday to be arraigned in the Rebekah Bletsch murder case. (May 25, 2016)
Jeffrey Willis appeared in a Muskegon County court Wednesday to be arraigned in the Rebekah Bletsch murder case. (May 25, 2016)

In the complaint, the wife says nothing about the trouble he’s facing, only that there’s been a breakdown in the marriage.

Her attorney today wouldn’t say what, if anything, she knew about the allegations — the kidnapping of a 16-year-old girl in April, the murder of Rebekah Bletsch in 2014 — or the Jessica  Heeringa disappearance in 2013.

He also wouldn’t say whether Willis had abused her.

“What we have right now is an ongoing investigation,” attorney Joshua Elden Brady said. “Ms. Willis has been cooperative and will continue to cooperate with law enforcement.”

The divorce complaint says Willis had “accumulated significant personal property which he hid from his wife.”

The wife also asked for a court order to return to her maiden name.

Friday morning, a tip led investigators to search an abandoned railroad track near Willis’ home for Heeringa, according to Muskegon County Prosecutor DJ Hilson.

Jessica Heeringa (File photo)
Jessica Heeringa (File photo)

According to a neighbor, both Norton Shores police and Michigan State Police searched the area along Sheridan Drive north of Laketon Avenue. The search began around 6:30 a.m. and lasted until around 11 a.m.

However, investigators came up empty-handed, Hilson confirmed to 24 Hour News 8. More information about the tip was not released.

The search happened about a quarter of a mile away from Willis’ Muskegon Township home.

“It’s sort of weird that they’re looking for that poor girl, and it’s weird that he lived right down the road,” said neighbor Chuck Smith.

Heeringa, then 25, went missing on the night of April 26, 2013 from her job at the Exxon Mobile gas station on Sternberg Road in Norton Shores. Willis was known to frequent the gas station, which is located between his home and his workplace.

Willis, who wasn’t named a person of interest in the case until May, was charged in the murder of another Muskegon County woman – Rebekah Bletsch – also in May. Bletsch’s body was found in April 2014 south of Whitehall along a road where she often jogged.

Additionally, Willis has been charged with trying to abduct a teenage girl in April. His case is headed to trial. He’s also facing separate charges for allegedly of making and downloading child pornography.

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