A parent’s greatest responsibility is to his or her kids. Even as their children reach maturity, parents would do anything for them. In the case poor Jessica Keen, however, her parent’s couldn’t be blamed for a lack of trying…
In 1991, 16-year-old Jessica disappeared from a local teen halfway house where she had been staying. Though her parents and authorities did everything they could to locate the girl, the case went cold for 17 years. That is until some rather telling new evidence was finally uncovered…
Jessica Lyn Keen was just like any normal Midwestern teenage girl. For most of her young life, she had been a model student, an honor roll student, even. She was a prominent member of her high school cheerleading squad, rooting for her hometown team in Columbus, Ohio. There was only one problem: she was starting to become a full-fledged 15-year-old.
As other terrible teens began to wreak havoc on all of her social niceties and reasonable decision-making capabilities, her grades began to suffer. She quit cheerleading and began to talk back to and deliberately disobey her parents. The reason for all this bad behavior was fairly simple: she had met a boyfriend…
All of the trouble began after Jessica met fellow teen and good-for-nothing guy Shawn Thompson. The 18-year-old Thompson was a few years older than his erstwhile girlfriend and hailed from central Ohio. Unsurprisingly, Jessica’s parents did not approve of the boyfriend but didn’t know what to do about it.
Jessica’s school attendance, grades, and attitude continued to decline before her parents’ eyes. It was time for drastic measures. They tried grounding her, keeping her home, even going so far as to forbid her from seeing Shawn, but none of it worked. She didn’t respect them anymore and wouldn’t accede to their authority. They had to take an even more drastic step…
On March 4, 1991, a decision was made for her. Jessica’s mother decided to place her daughter in a local group home for troubled teens called “Huckleberry House”. The safe house served as a crisis center, group home, and counseling center for teens who were having trouble with schoolwork, their parents, or drug and alcohol abuse.
For the first few weeks that Jessica attended counseling at the Huckleberry House, things seemed to be going well. She was making peace with her mistakes and owning up to the problems that she had caused. Unfortunately, she was still seeing Shawn Thompson…
On March 15, Shawn and Jessica got into an argument over the phone. Disturbed by the phone call, Jessica decided to head to the mall to blow off some steam. As she waited by the local bus stop, she struck up a conversation with a few friends, who then departed.
Jessica is Gone
What happened next remained a mystery for some time. Jessica was approached at the Columbus bus stop by a car. Somehow, the driver convinced her to get in and take a ride with her. It would be the last time that anyone would see or talk to Jessica Keen…
When she didn’t return to the group home that night, the administrators contacted her parents and then the police. For the next several days, Jessica’s parents, her friends, neighbors, the police officers, and even her classmates joined the search for the missing 15-year-old.
Two days later, on March 17, 1991, police uncovered the body of a teenage girl at the Foster Chapel Cemetery in Madison County. At first, it was unclear whether or not the body belonged to the missing Keen girl but as the investigation began in earnest, the true events of the night of the 15th began to unveil themselves…
Jessica Keen’s body had been found a good 20 miles away from her home, next to the fence of the Foster Chapel Cemetery. She had been bludgeoned to death by a 70 point tombstone, sometime after midnight. But how she came to be in the cemetery was still a mystery. What had happened after Jessica had taken that fateful ride?
The police believed that Jessica hadn’t taken the ride at all but had been forced into the car by one or two men. She was then held for at least six hours, tied up, and raped repeatedly, before escaping her capture and running barefoot and half-tied into the nearby Foster Chapel cemetery…
A trail of footprints in the mud, along with strips of discarded duct tape proved that the girl had run as fast as possible into the cemetery. She lost a sock along the way and began to hide behind and between tombstones, trying to outrun her attackers. Sadly, just as she saw a light on in a local farmhouse, she slammed into the fence and fell to the ground.
The attackers caught up with her at the fence and rather than risk another escape, decided to beat her to death against one of the tombstones. Before they left they stole the gold pendant around her neck. The locket had been given to her by her former boyfriend Shawn Thompson and had the word “Taken” engraved on it..
It Was Sean!
Originally, the police suspected that Shawn was responsible for the entire incident. That the 18-year-old, angry about the argument, had found Jessica, forced her into the car and punished her for even thinking about leaving him. By the time Jessica had been killed, however, he and several friends had left for a trip to Florida. There was no way he was the killer.
Marvin Lee Smith
In August of that year, Marvin Lee Smith, a career criminal living in Columbus’ Short North was convicted of attempted rape and attempted kidnapping. Though the assaults were unrelated to Jessica’s death and abduction, police were convinced that she may have been one of his first attempts: unfortunately, they were unable to prove it…
After serving four years for the other crimes, Smith was released but was returned to Ohio in June of 2000 for parole violation. At that time, he was required to submit a DNA sample for the national database. It was that small mouth swab that would finally put Jessica Keen’s case to rest.
Seventeen Years Later
In April of 2008, nearly 17 years after Jessica was killed, Marvin Lee Smith was finally arrested for her abduction, rape, and murder. The DNA sample he had provided had been a match for Jessica’s very cold case. His case was brought to trial soon afterward…
Smith plead guilty to the crime in February of 2009 but was spared the death penalty in return for his confession. He was given 30 years to life in prison for the crime, which means that he won’t be eligible for parole again until 2038.
A Mother’s Guilt
Jessica’s mother, who had felt guilt for years over not having been there on the day of her daughter’s disappearance was finally granted some reprieve at the verdict. “I can still feel Jessica’s heart beating as she ran for her life that day…” she said. She can find solace in knowing that her daughter fought with all she had and can finally rest in peace.