Willis trial: Ex-wife testifies, disturbing videos described

Jeffrey Willis charged with murder in 2014 shooting of Rebekah Bletsch

Jeffrey Willis places his hand on his forehead as he waits for the jury to enter the room during the fourth day of testimony in his murder trial on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017. (Joel Bissell/Pool)


MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The former wife of accused killer Jeffrey Willis took the stand Wednesday.

Willis, 47, is charged with murdering Rebekah Bletsch, who was fatally shot while jogging down a rural Muskegon County road in June 2014.

>>Inside woodtv.com: Complete coverage of the Jeffrey Willis investigation | Day 4 of testimony recap

Willis’ ex-wife, Charlene Bishop, said she was married to Willis for 13 years, but they had gone their own ways in the last 5 to 6 years of marriage. She testified she was out of town the night Jessica Heeringa disappeared.

ALIBI QUESTIONED

A human resources worker for Herman Miller earlier testified Willis was on vacation the day Heeringa disappeared. The HR employee said Willis reported to work at 9:45 the night Bletsch was shot and killed.

Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson worked to try dismantle Willis’ account to police of where he was at the time of Heeringa’s disappearance as he questioned Willis’ ex-wife.

Bishop said the day police came to their home in 2013, she remembered seeing Willis’ phone and keys at home. Cpl. Christopher Hare previously testified that.

Willis told him his wife had his cellphone and he could not give it to Hare at that time.

Hare previously testified Willis told him he left for his grandfather’s home on Bailey Street hours after Heeringa’s disappearance to retrieve a board to repair or build his dog kennel; Bishop said Wednesday they didn’t have an outdoor dog house, but an indoor dog crate with a plastic bottom and metal top.

Bishop said she also never heard that Hare had left her a message on their answering machine in June 2013.

After Willis’ arrest in 2016, Bishop said she received a letter from her ex-husband.

“It was referencing what he had been doing the day Rebekah Bletsch had been shot, and what I remembered, or what he intended me to remember. It felt like he was planting memories,” she said.

Bishop said she was not aware that her ex-husband was “into the dark web.” When shown photos of handcuffs and a ball-gag found in Willis’ minivan, Bishop said she’d never seen them before.

DISTURBING VIDEOS

Jurors also heard Michigan State Police computer crimes expert Gerald McCarthy explain what he discovered on two external hard drives and a flash drive at Willis’ house.

McCarthy said one external hard drive appeared to be a copy or backup of the other. On the hard drive, investigators found a folder titled “VICS” with subfolders containing the initials of Rebekah Sue Bletsch and Jessica Lynn Heeringa, with the decoded dates of June 29, 2014 and April 26, 2013, respectively. Those dates coordinate with the day of Bletsch’s shooting and the night Heeringa disappeared.

McCarthy said the “RSB” subfolder contained photos of Rebekah Bletsch, two PDF documents and an HTML file, which was basically a saved web page. He said the external hard drive showed the folder was created July 1, 2014.

McCarthy said metadata within Microsoft Word documents saved on the external drive showed the document author’s name was the same one used to create Willis’ resume, password documents, and other documents containing his personal information.

McCarthy said the hard drives also contained tens of thousands of videos investigators examined and viewed.

“There was a consistent theme with these videos… they involve the kidnapping and abducting of women. These women, after they were kidnapped and abducted, they were restrained with ropes, chains, with handcuffs, they were bound, they were restrained sometimes even with a black head device that goes around the head, with a red ball that goes into the mouth to prevent a person from screaming. They were violently raped and tortured in these videos, and the end result is that they were murdered,” McCarthy recounted.

“I can sum up the videos as the most horrifying, gruesome and brutal videos-” McCarthy started saying before defense attorney Fred Johnson objected, which the judge agreed to.

McCarthy described one video titled “The Jogger,” found on the hard drive. He said it showed a woman jogging along a rural road before she was attacked by a man, knocked unconscious, loaded into a green minivan, raped and murdered. McCarthy said Willis was not in it, did not produce it, and the video did not show Bletsch.

McCarthy said the external hard drives also contained homemade voyeuristic videos of Willis and his then-wife, as well as videos of Willis’ neighbors.

“They were being recorded at night through blinds. You could see a young woman undressing. There was audio to the video so you could hear a person breathing heavy,” he described.

McCarthy said the homemade videos also included women walking in parking lots, stores and at a school bus stop. McCarthy said at least one nighttime video included shots of Willis’ co-worker Michelle Schnotala, who testified earlier that Willis had taken two pairs of her underwear and her Carl Walther P22 handgun and laser sight sometime after she last saw it in February 2013.

>>App users: Listen to Wednesday morning’s testimony here.

McCarthy said deleted search history MSP recovered from Willis’ home computer showed searches for “Walther,” “Walther PPK,” a Walther holster and Walther silencer in 2012 and 2013. Bishop testified she never used either computer found in their home.

INSULIN ANSWERS

Testimony from Willis’ ex-wife also explained why syringes would be in their home on S. Sheridan Drive in Muskegon Township.

Bishop said she relies on insulin, but she stopped taking it via syringe in 2005 when she began using an insulin pump. Bishop said she would get needles from her doctor’s office occasionally in case her pump didn’t work, but rarely used it. Willis’ ex-wife said she kept her insulin in the refrigerator and had no idea why her husband would have insulin in the car.

She said Willis was taught how to give an insulin injection, but never had to administer it for her.

Bishop agreed it was possible her husband would have a supply of insulin in the car when driving her to doctor’s appointments, but she said it was unlikely.

She also said she’d never before seen the lockbox found in the vehicle, which authorities said contained a diagram showing injection points on the body of a woman.

BLUHM TO BLAME?

Some testimony also turned back to Willis’ cousin, whom the defense seems to be pinning the crimes on.

Kevin Bluhm is charged with being an accessory after the fact in the murder of Jessica Heeringa after he apparently told police he helped Willis bury her body, which has never been recovered.

Willis’ ex-wife testified Bluhm would only meet Willis outside and only came inside their home to her knowledge, once in five years or more.

She said Bluhm was part of a weekly poker game sometimes held at the Willis household, but they no longer hosted poker games after Heeringa disappeared.

A detective testified the night Heeringa went missing, Bluhm was working. At the time of Bletsch’s murder, Bluhm was at his daughter’s soccer tournament in Grand Haven, according to the detective, who said she saw photos of Bluhm at the daylong event.

The detective said Bluhm rode to the tournament with his family, but conceded to defense attorney Fred Johnson that vehicles could come and go during the tournament.

McCarthy testified he did not come across Bluhm’s name while searching Willis’ hard drives and flash drive.

The computer crimes expert said he did not search Bluhm’s digital devices, but he believed the hard drive on Bluhm’s computer was missing so it could not be analyzed by someone else.

Testimony in the Willis trial is expected to resume at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. The prosecutor said he plans to call four of his remaining five witnesses to the stand.

>>Photos: Day 4 of testimony in Jeffrey Willis’ murder trial