By Molly McGuigan
When one hears someone mention Orlando, Florida, the first image to come to mind is probably princess castles, looping roller coasters, and family fun. Because of the opportunities, those interested in working in the hospitality industry flock to the Orlando area; there is no shortage of theme parks, recreational activities, and hotels for someone looking for a career in the hospitality industry.
Orlando’s large hospitality field is what attracted Jennifer Kesse to the area. Jennifer didn’t have to move far to begin her dream career as she grew up close by in the city of Tampa. After graduating from Vivian Gaither High School in the Tampa area, Jennifer moved to Orlando to begin her college career at the University of Central Florida. In 2003 Jennifer graduated from UCF with a degree in financing.
Jennifer’s parents, Drew and Joyce Kesse, described Jennifer as someone who could light up any room she walked into. Looking at her pictures and seeing her beautiful smile and bright blue eyes, I believe that is true. Logan, Jennifer’s younger brother, was her best friend. Both of them were taught that their personal safety was of the utmost importance from a young age. Drew and Joyce Kesse was held at gunpoint many years earlier while the couple still lived in New Jersey.
Because personal safety was so important to Jennifer, she constantly contacted her family back home in Tampa. In fact, Jennifer, much like myself, would check in with her friends and family daily, sometimes multiple times a day. She would always answer her phone when her parents called her or would phone them back soon after.
In Orlando, most twenty-four-year-olds would not be able to afford to purchase their own condo in an up-and-coming area. Jennifer Kesse wasn’t your average twenty-four-year-old, though. After turning down job offer after job offer, Jennifer finally accepted a job with a timeshare company in Ocoee, Florida. Jennifer was promoted not once but twice within her first year of employment.
Jennifer’s new condo was located in a tougher part of the city, slowly being revitalized. The apartment was located at the Mosaic at Millenia. Also in the area was a brand new, high-end shopping mall, and for someone like Jennifer, who adored shopping, the location of her new home was prime. When Jennifer moved to the Mosaic at Millenia, the complex was still under construction, so it wasn’t uncommon for contractors and construction teams to be seen throughout the complex.
The contractors would come in and out of Jennifer’s condo doing work which made the safety vigilant Jennifer nervous. When Jennifer would walk from the parking lot to her apartment after work, she was always on the phone with someone, just in case. Jennifer’s friends and family knew how important personal safety was to Jennifer, so they immediately had a bad feeling when Jennifer disappeared in January of 2006.
At the time of her disappearance, Jennifer was dating Rob Allen. The couple met a year earlier at a bar in Orlando while Rob was in town. Rob lived in Fort Lauderdale, and despite living hours apart, Jennifer and Rob entered into a relationship. Jennifer and Rob had just returned from a romantic island vacation the day before her disappearance. She stayed the evening at Rob’s house and drove straight to work in Orlando the next day.
After leaving work, Jennifer followed her usual routine of calling her friends and family on her way home. She even spoke to her boyfriend Rob on the phone around 10:00 PM. Rob later told authorities there was nothing off about the conversation. Jennifer had mentioned she was tired, but other than that, nothing was out of the ordinary.
It is thought Jennifer left her complex around 7:30 AM and 8:00 AM for work. When she didn’t arrive at work, her co-workers were immediately suspicious. Rob tried calling Jennifer throughout the day, but his phone calls went unanswered or straight to voicemail. He wasn’t worried, though. Rob understood Jennifer was busy and assumed she was probably in a meeting.
At 11:00 AM, Jennifer’s boss called her parents because he was so concerned the young lady had not come to work that day. She hadn’t even called them to let them know she wasn’t coming in. Her parent’s phone calls had the same results as Rob’s. When they reached out to Logan, he hadn’t heard from his sister either.
Drew and Joyce Kesse reached out to the area’s police stations and hospitals, but there was no sign of Jennifer. When they phoned the manager at Jennifer’s condo, he reported that the apartment appeared fine and undisturbed but that her vehicle was not in the parking lot. After that disturbing information, Jennifer’s parents made the long trek to Orlando.
When they arrived at Jennifer’s condo, they saw that the building manager was correct. Her apartment was undisturbed; her suitcase sat in her living room, waiting to be unpacked. It was clear to them that Jennifer had gotten ready in her apartment for work that morning. There were damp towels, clothes on her bed, and makeup products littered the counter. Her iPod, her keys, and her Chevy Malibu were missing from Jennifer’s home.
Jennifer’s parents contacted the police, but they showed no concern for the missing female. Rob had informed the police that he and Jennifer had a minor spat the night before, and that was enough proof for the police that Jennifer had run off. Due to the lack of interest from the Orlando police department, Jennifer’s family and friends began handing out their own flyers. Forty-eight hours after Jennifer disappeared, the police finally began investigating her disappearance. While investigators questioned witnesses, neighbors of Jennifer said they saw her Chevy Malibu leaving the parking lot and driving erratically at approximately 7:40 AM the morning Jennifer went missing. Like most missing person cases, Jennifer’s loved ones were immediately questioned by detectives. After examining Jennifer’s family, Rob, and an ex-boyfriend, none of them had anything to do with her disappearance.
The construction workers at the Mosiac and Millenia Complex soon became persons of interest in Jennifer’s disappearance as well. Some of the condos were still empty at the time, and many of the workers were staying in those condos. The workers harassed Jennifer regularly by catcalling and whistling at her. She frequently complained about their behavior to her father.
The police had a difficult time questioning the construction workers. One of the reasons is that many of them were illegal immigrants from Mexico. They scattered when they heard the police were starting an investigation. Two days after Jennifer went missing, there was a break in the case. Jennifer’s car had been found at the Huntington on the Green apartment complex.
The police impounded and examined the vehicle but no signs of a struggle. Robbery was quickly ruled out as a motive, as a DVD player and other valuables were discovered in Jennifer’s car. A fingerprint found in the vehicle belonged to Jennifer, and there was little else in terms of forensic evidence. Police dogs tracked Jennifer’s smell back to her apartment at Mosiac at Millenia.
Police caught another lucky break when they were told that the Huntington on the Green apartment complex had surveillance footage. The detectives were able to gain footage from two different security cameras. The first camera showed someone driving Jennifer’s Chevy Malibu into the complex at approximately noon when she disappeared. For about thirty seconds, the driver sits in the vehicle before exiting. Because of being obscured by a gate and the grainy footage of the security camera, the person driving Jennifer’s car could not be identified.
Police caught another lucky break when they were told that the Huntington on the Green apartment complex had surveillance footage. The detectives were able to gain footage from two different security cameras. The first camera showed someone driving Jennifer’s Chevy MAlibu into the complex at approximately noon when she disappeared. For about thirty seconds, the driver sits in the vehicle before exiting. Because of being obscured by a gate and the grainy footage of the security camera, the person driving Jennifer’s car could not be identified.
The Orlando police brought in the FBI for help analyzing the security footage. The FBI determined the person was between 5’3 and 5’5 in height and was wearing clothes similar to that of a painter or construction uniform. The gender of the suspect has never been identified.
The weekend after Jennifer’s car was found; search crews made up of over 1,400 people searched the surrounding area for any sign of Jennifer. Numerous rewards have been offered for information on Jennifer, but they have all gone unclaimed. Jennifer’s cell phone records held no clue to her whereabouts. There has been no activity on any of her credit or bank cards.
Drew and Joyce Kesse had the idea to place Jennifer’s image and description on a deck of playing cards that would be distributed to jails in the area. An inmate at the Seminole County Jail, David Byron Russ, contacted Drew Kesse saying he had information about Jennifer’s disappearance.
David was in prison for the murder of Madeline Leinen, a fifty-eight-year-old woman. Orlando police refused to meet with David, so Drew went to see him, but the information Drew had given never amounted to anything. It is believed that David was not telling the truth and didn’t have any information regarding Jennifer or her disappearance.
Since Jennifer’s vehicle was leased, it has since been returned. Her parents held onto her vehicle for some time before returning it. The whereabouts of the car are now unknown. Drew, Joyce, and Logan Kesse felt abandoned by the Orlando police department. They asked for years for them to make Jennifer’s case ‘cold,’ but they refused. They want Jennifer’s case declared as a cold case because more resources are available.
In 2018 Jennifer’s parents sued the Orlando police department for their daughter’s case records. Drew and Joyce were successful and ended up with over 16,000 pages of documents and hours of audio and video recording. A private investigator was soon hired who went back to the Mosaic at Millenia complex to interview Jennifer’s former neighbors. Many of the female residents told the investigator how uncomfortable they felt during that time due to the presence of the construction workers.
Drew and Joyce Kesse has a GoFundMe page to help fund their investigation into Jennifer’s disappearance. They are advocates for families of missing persons. They have worked very hard to keep their daughter’s spirit and memory alive.
The worst part for the Kesse family, Jennifer’s loved ones, and all of the Central Florida area is that no one knows what happened to Jennifer after all of these years. No one knows if she is dead or alive. Was Jennifer murdered the day she disappeared, or was she taken for human trafficking? Either situation is a nightmare to think about, but Jennifer’s family deserves answers no matter what.
In 2016 Jennifer was declared legally dead. If she was alive today, Jennifer would be forty years old. Jennifer was about 5’9 when she disappeared; she had mid-length blonde hair and green eyes, although, in a particular light, they were described as blue. The Kesse family has a tip line. They ask that you please contact them with any information regarding Jennifer and her disappearance. The number is 941-201-4009. Consider visiting Kesse’s GoFundMe page if you would like to donate to their investigation.
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Bio: Molly McGuigan is a writer from Orlando, Florida. She is a true crime aficionado. She has a passion for missing person cases, especially those in her local area. Victims’ rights and justice are also huge passions of hers. If she is not listening to a true-crime podcast you can find her reading Ann Rule or writing an article about an unsolved murder or missing persons case to garner attention for the victims.