Day 3 of Willis trial testimony: Note, lockbox, teen speaks

Jeffrey Willis charged with Rebekah Bletsch's June 2014 murder

Jeffrey Willis checks something on a computer during the third day of testimony on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017, at the Muskegon County Courthouse. (Joel Bissell/pool)

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The latest in the Jeffrey Willis’ trial for the murder of Rebekah Bletsch:

5:45 p.m.  – Det. Sgt. Zachary sparks testified he found four bottles of Clorox bleach inside Willis’ grandfather’s home, along with a bottle and box of Tide detergent.

Sparks said he spoke with Clorox and Tide representatives who helped him determine what the code on the products meant. He said three of the Clorox bottles were manufactured in 2013 and one was in 2014. He said the Tide bottle and box were manufactured in Jan. 31 2013 and Nov. 1, 2013 respectively.

Sparks said he didn’t see any areas of water damage inside the home, which might explain a need for bleach.  However during cross-examination, Sparks said the house didn’t smell of bleach, but he remarked that the bottles seemed unusual in such an “unkempt” house.

Sparks said there was no washing machine in the house, and said he did not find any mention of Rebekah Bletsch inside the Bailey Street house.

Testimony has ended for the day. It’s expected to resume at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

>>App users: Listen to the second half of Tuesday’s testimony here.

5:15 p.m. – A detective who searched Jeffrey Willis’ grandfather’s home said a handwritten list found in a trash matched Willis’ handwriting.

Det. Sgt. Zachary Sparks said the note was written in red ink, black ink and pencil and listed items including “her panties,” camera, tripod, gas, lube, crowbar, shirt, pants, underwear socks, shoes, hoodie, coat, small camera, big camera, small tripod, big tripod, gas can, matches, lube, “video from house (if any),” crowbar, ball gags, restraint bar, handcuffs, restraint board, toolbox, locks and keys, gloves, tape, washcloth, rubber gloves, vibrators, zip ties, needles, hook and rope.

Sparks said a relative confirmed Willis was the only one with keys and access to the home on Bailey Street.

4:45 p.m. – Sgt. Thomas Flowers testified he found a fingerprint underneath the lid of the toolbox which matched Willis’ right middle finger and a fingerprint on the typed list of names and addresses that matched Willis’ right thumb.

Flowers said he didn’t find any toy guns, fake guns or Airsoft guns during his search.

In cross-examination, Flowers said he had access to a fingerprint card for Bluhm, but did not find any latent fingerprints for Bluhm. Flowers said not everything was seized from the vehicle and processed for fingerprints, only items that appeared to be related to the case were seized.

4:15 p.m. – The investigator who examined evidence taken from Jeffrey Willis’ silver minivan testified Tuesday afternoon.

Sgt. Thomas Flowers of the Michigan State Police said he found two video cameras inside a black locked toolbox essentially underneath the floor of the vehicle.

Flowers said in various lock boxes in the vehicle, investigators found a diagram showing what appeared to be injection points on a female body, sex toys, a ball-gag, an empty prescription bottle, photos, two papers with names and addresses, latex gloves, .22 caliber long rifle CCI brand cartridges, a Walther P-22 pistol, an orange cap, four syringes, what appeared to be an insulin vial, steel cable and a packet of blue pills commonly known as Viagara.

4 p.m. – In cross-examination, Peterson testified the “pink room” appeared to be used for storage. He testified that as far as he knew, no one found any prescription drugs or insulin in the home.

Peterson said he learned later on that Willis’ then-wife was diabetic.

3:35 p.m. – An opened bag of unused needles was found in Jeffrey Willis’ home, a detective testified Tuesday.

Det. Chad Peterson reviewed photos of evidence taken from Willis home in court. He said the needles were found in an opened plastic bag inside a small zipper purse found in “the pink room” of Willis’ home. That room also contained a man’s red shirt and orange shirt.

Peterson also described underwear wrapped in tinfoil in a plastic bag found in the attic of Willis’ shed. Peterson testified he did not find any toy, Airsoft or fake guns while searching the home or shed.

Peterson also testified he found a gun inside a dresser drawer in the master bedroom of Willis’ home, as well as a camera bag in the shed, a thumb drive and external hard drive in Willis’ home, and a second external hard drive inside an air vent.

3:15 p.m. – Jeffrey Willis “bounced around a little bit and eventually he didn’t recall what he had been doing” when questioned about his whereabouts the day a teen was allegedly abducted, Det. Matt Schultz with the Muskegon County Sheriff’s Office testified Tuesday afternoon.

Schultz testified Willis first told him it had been a couple months since he had an oil change, but his story changed when Schultz showed him the April 16 receipt from Van’s Car Wash and Quick Lube.

The investigator said Willis claimed he didn’t know where Weber Road was.

When it came to weapons: “He said he had a 380 and told us where it located in his house,” the investigator said.

Det. Schultz said Willis  told him he did not have a weapon in his van. Willis told the detective he was the primary driver of the vehicle, according to Schultz.

In cross-examination, defense attorney Fred Johnson questioned Schultz about an inability to determine the age of the bullet found alongside the road where MJN was abducted. Schultz also confirmed Willis was questioned 30-45 days after the abduction attempt.

1:30 p.m. – Jurors heard from two more witnesses before another break.

Jerry Vanderstelt, who owns Van’s Car Wash and Quick Lube testified about a receipt indicating Jeffrey Willis got an oil change for his 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan at the Apple Avenue location at 8:45 a.m. on April 16, 2016 – the day of the teen’s attempted abduction.

Deputy Jeff Blatmer also testified he found shoes, scuff marks and a .22 long rifle round on Green Creek Road after the alleged abduction attempt. He said he believes it was a CCI, and it has a “C” stamped on it. Blatmer said looked like the round had been run over, but it looked like a new bullet otherwise.

In cross-examination, the deputy confirmed he had no idea how old the bullet was.

>>App users: Watch Tuesday morning’s testimony here.

12 p.m. –  A U.S. Secret Service investigative analyst testified he was able to identify a silver minivan in surveillance video connected to both the Jessica Heeringa and Rebekah Bletsch cases.

Ryan Heethuis testified he reached out to Michigan Secretary of State for all current registered Dodge Caravans from 2013 on. The state records generated a list of approximately 32,000 vans, he said. Using raw video from a blueberry farm near the scene of crime and with the help of a local dealer, Heethuis said he determined that the suspect’s vehicle was likely a silver Dodge Caravan.

Heethuis said he took the data and “cleansed it,” giving Fiat Chrysler Automotive a list of just vin numbers to see if they could narrow it further, based on the vehicle’s antenna, color and the wheels when it came off the assembly line. FCA whittled it down to 354 vans statewide, Heethuis said.

“Investigators thought this would be someone familiar to the area or at least close to the area,” he said. From there, he narrowed it down to 31 silver vans in nearby zip codes.

Heethuis said he analyzed surveillance video that was pulled for the Jessica Heeringa investigation. Only two vehicles passed during about a minute time frame, including a minivan. In a second video, Heethuis said only one minivan passed in about the five-minute window following Heeringa’s disappearance.

Heethuis also analyzed video from a gas station taken in connection to the Bletsch murder. At 6:23 p.m. a silver minivan passes by. Heethuis said approximately 135 vehicles were seen traveling southbound, but only one silver van appeared in the footage.

Heethuis said he also analyzed Kevin Bluhm’s cellphone records from Sprint and was able to go back to December of 2014 – the carrier’s records couldn’t go back any further. Of the 9,000 call records he analyzed for Bluhm and Kevin Bletsch, there was no messages exchanged between them, according to Heethuis.

In the cross-examination, Heethuis said he analyzed records from one phone each for Bluhm and Kevin Bletsch, but that could not include any other types of communication.

Heethuis told the defense attorney he did not know how many silver vans other automakers rolled out and he could not tell the make or model of any of the vans pictured in the surveillance video.

Jurors also heard from Frank Coles, the blueberry farmer whose surveillance camera off Weber Road captured a silver minivan traveling down the road on April 16, 2016 around 9 a.m. –  around the time of the abduction attempt on the teen.

Mike Crane, who sells used Chrysler Dodge minivans in Muskegon, also testified that he analyzed a still image taken from the surveillance video and determined the vehicle was a 2005-2007 Dodge Grand Caravan most likely out of Canada, based on the satellite aerial on the roof. Crane said he’s sold close to 4,000 Caravans.

11:30 a.m. – The neighbor who opened her door to a teen investigators believe Jeffrey Willis tried to abduct said the girl was too frantic to calm down.

Dawn Schmitt testified she was on her deck drinking coffee when she heard her dogs barking and spotted a young lady running down the west side of the road.

“'(She was) screaming help, help! He’s got a gun! He’s got a gun!’” Schmitt recounted.

She said the girl didn’t have any shoes on, her hair was falling out, she had scrapes on her body and was screaming and hysterical.

“She was just a wreck and she was terrified,” Schmitt said. “She literally wanted to climb under the bed, she was terrified.”

The then-16-year-old girl could be heard sobbing in a recording of the 911 call placed from Schmitt’s home.

In cross-examination, defense attorney Fred Johnson asked Schmitt if she knew Rebecca Bletsch – she said she knew her as a parent when she was an elementary school principal. Schmitt testified the teen never mentioned Bletsch’s name during their encounter.

11 a.m. – The teen who investigators believe Jeffrey Willis tried to abduct has taken the stand.

The teen, who was not shown on camera and only known by her initials of MJN, testified she went to two parties, drank and smoked marijuana. However, she said she was sober when a friend fell asleep in the car that was going to drive her home, with the keys locked inside.

The teen, who is now 17, testified the sun was coming up when she turned right out of the driveway and ended up on Green Creek Road before turning onto River Road.

She said it was daylight when a silver van pulled up from behind her and asked her if she needed a lift. She testified she asked to use the driver’s cellphone.

The girl said he told her if she got into his car, she could use his cellphone, which was sitting on the passenger seat.

The teen said when she got into the car, the driver rolled up the window and locked the door.

She said she asked him to roll down the window. She said she asked if she could use his flip phone and he said no, that it was dead.

She said she didn’t tell him where she wanted to go and he began driving in the wrong direction. She said the driver stared at her, and she felt “creeped out” and wanted to get out of the car. She said when he slowed down, reached under the seat and grabbed a gun, she unlocked the door and jumped out.

The teen said it was a little handgun with an orange tip. She didn’t recognize the gun in a photo of evidence taken from Willis’ car, but she identified an orange
cap shown in the photo.

The teen said the van stopped only after she jumped out; when she asked the driver to stop, he didn’t.

“I was running down the road and screaming for him please not to kill me and then after I was far from him he told me it was just a joke and he was just kidding. And then I ran to a stranger’s house,” she said.

MJN said when she looked behind her, she saw him standing with a gun pointing at her.

The prosecutor also showed MJN photos of scrapes to her backside, forearm, shoulder and back– all which she said she suffered while jumping from the moving vehicle.

MJN also identified one of her acrylic nails found on the shoulder of the roadway where she said she was taken.

In evidence photos, the teen identified the netting between the passenger and driver’s seat in a photo taken from Willis’ minivan. She also identified the driver as Jeffrey Willis.

In cross-examination, MJN said when she previously testified the weapon looked like an airsoft gun, it wasn’t accurate.

She said she was never touched by the driver and he did not have a syringe. She also testified that she never met Rebekah Bletsch.

10:15 a.m. – Jeffrey Willis’ cellphone pinged at or near his grandfather’s house on Bailey Street shortly after the disappearance of Jessica Heeringa, according to a technical services expert with the Michigan State Police.

Sgt. James McDonald testified Tuesday morning that the night Heeringa disappeared, cellphone tower records show two calls were placed from Willis’ home to his cellphone at 11:23 p.m. and 11:59 p.m., respectively. McDonald said the first call pinged at or near the house on Bailey; the second call hit the tower closest to the Bailey Street house.

McDonald said he also reviewed cellphone tower records for Willis’ cellphone on June 29, 2014 – the day Rebekah Bletsch was shot and killed. McDonald said no phone records “that were of value to the investigation” were generated at that time, which indicates Willis’ phone was turned off or every app on the phone was shut off and Willis was not making or receiving calls or text messages.

In cross-examination, McDonald said he knew the names of the people associated with the numbers. He said he didn’t recall investigating the location of Kevin Bluhm or Kevin Bletsch’s phones.


MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The teenager who prosecutors say cracked the case of Rebekah Bletsch’s murder is expected to testify Tuesday in the trial of Jeffrey Willis, according to the Muskegon County Prosecutor’s Office.

Willis, is accused of murdering the Bletsch as she jogged near her Dalton Township home on the evening of June 29, 2014. Ballistics testing matched a handgun found in Willis’ minivan to the one used to kill the 36-year-old mother.

Willis, 47, of Muskegon Township, was arrested in May 2016. The month prior, a teen girl reported she had escaped an attempted abduction in Fruitland Township. Her report led investigators to Willis.

>>Inside woodtv.com: Complete coverage of the Jeffrey Willis investigation

Today will mark the third day of testimony. On the first day of testimony Thursday, jurors heard from the nurse who found Bletsch lying along the side of the road and listened to a recording of the call the nurse’s husband made to 911.

Photo: Rebekah Bletsch (Source: Facebook)

On the second day of testimony, a medical examiner discussed the results of Bletsch’s autopsy, explaining she had been shot three times in the head. There were also bruises on her face, wrist and thigh and abrasions on her face, wrist, side and back, the doctor said.

However, much of Friday’s testimony focused on the other woman Willis is charged with killing: Jessica Heeringa, who vanished from the Norton Shores gas station where she worked in April 2013. Testimony today is expected to further discuss the Heeringa case before the prosecution calls witnesses linked to the 2016 attempted abduction.

The prosecution is trying to demonstrate to the jury that Willis has a pattern of kidnapping or attempting to kidnap women and kill them; in essence, that he’s a serial killer.

>>Unmasked: The two faces of Jeffrey Willis

The defense is shunting blame for Bletsch’s death to Willis’ cousin, Kevin Bluhm, who is charged as an accessory after the fact in Heeringa’s murder. Bluhm was charged with perjury last year after telling investigators that he helped Willis bury Heeringa’s body and then saying he made that story up.

On Monday, a judge denied a motion by Bluhm’s lawyer to throw out an accessory charge he faces in the Heeringa case. The judge also denied reducing his bond.

Heeringa’s body has not been found. Authorities think it was initially where Bluhm told them he and Willis buried it, but later moved.

Willis’ trial for the murder of Bletsch is scheduled to run through Nov. 3.

>>App users: Interactive timeline of Willis investigation