Tuesday, June 26

Jenna Nielsen: the diamond that glints on snow

Friends and relatives of Jennifer "Jenna" Kathleen Nielsen described her as the sweetest person they knew, a woman with a bubbly, happy-go-lucky attitude who was always laughing.

High-school-friend Sarah Watts remembered when Jenna's Volkswagen bug broke down on an exit ramp when they were teens, and how Jenna "howled with laughter" before signaling for them both to start pushing the car at least a quarter of a mile to a gas station.

"She just laughed," Watts said in a News & Observer article. "Nothing stopped her. Nothing stalled her. She just kept going."

Jenna recently moved to North Carolina from Salt Lake City to start a new life with husband Tim and their two sons. The family settled in Fuquay-Varina, about 18 miles from Raleigh, and Jenna's father, stepmother and two brothers joined them.

Within one year, Jenna became pregnant with her third boy and became a newspaper deliverer for USA Today to earn some extra cash. Her relatives said she worked that job so she could have time during the day to spend with her children.

Her morning routine consisted of leaving her house to pick up papers to deliver about 3:30 a.m., delivering them and returning to her home at about 5:30 a.m. when her husband left for work. One of her first stops every day was the AmeriKing Food Mart, located at the intersection of Lake Wheeler Road and Centennial Parkway across from a Farmers Market.

A co-worker, Angela, left a comment on this blog saying she and Jenna would talk about their lives every morning while waiting to pick up papers. On June 14, Angela said Jenna joked about the weight of the papers sending her into labor.

But sadly, neither her nor her unborn child would return home that day.

At around 5 a.m., a newspaper carrier for the "News & Observer" was dropping off papers at the same food mart and noticed a seemingly-abandoned car in the parking lot. The car was a Honda Civic with Utah tags parked in front of the store. Its dome light was on, and newspapers were lying on the ground nearby.

The newspaper carrier called 911, and when police arrived at the scene, they found 22-year-old Jenna lying dead. Her unborn child, whom she had already named Ethen and whom was expected to be born July 8, was also dead.

Police were quick to call her death a homicide and began collecting evidence. They believe she was killed between 3 and 4 a.m. and preliminary autopsy results reveal she was stabbed on the left side of her neck. There were also bruises on her right knee and left shin, and a cut on her left ear.

On June 19, reports said a man walking less than a half-mile from where Jenna was killed found a bloody knife, panicked and threw it over the fence on the same day Jenna was found. Police are not confirming that a weapon has been found or a cause of death, but they are studying surveillance tapes from businesses around the area.

Nearly two weeks later, there are no suspects in the murder, but there is a person of interest. One day after Jenna was killed, law enforcement officers released a sketch of a man who was seen in the area around the time of the murder. The man may be Hispanic and is most probably between the ages of 17 and 20. He is 5 feet, 3 inches tall and about 120 pounds. When he was seen, the man had long black hair pulled into a ponytail and was wearing a dark-colored sleeveless shirt with baggy denim shorts.

To make the case more frustrating, a Spanish-speaking man called police at 1:30 a.m. from a pay phone the night after Jenna was murdered to say he had information, but quickly hung up. Investigators checked the phone booth for fingerprints and other clues, but nothing has come of this phone call.

The phone call is significant for many reasons. If this is the man who killed Jenna, then he is either suffering from guilt or playing games. There have been many killers throughout history who send letters or make phone calls to law enforcement or the media - the Zodiac Killer is one. A person who commits murder is obviously lacking morals or a conscience, but some are even more twisted in that it becomes a game to them, something that gives them a feeling of exhilaration.

It could also be that this man has nothing to do with Jenna's murder, but maybe does have some information about it. The fact that he's Spanish-speaking may mean he's an illegal immigrant, which isn't an unknown problem here, and is hesitant to come forward out of fear of deportation.

Or, even still, it could be that he doesn't know anything but just wanted to cause some kind of stir, a surge in media attention, perhaps.

One of the problems is that law enforcement here is not releasing much information about this case. It could be that they don't have any information, which would be disheartening and disappointing. But it could also be a strategic move to prevent false confessions - a crime that's highly publicized can highlight specific things, such as the cause of death, and if a suspect confesses that he stabbed a woman when she was shot, they know it's a false confession.

But not releasing information is also keeping the public unaware of what to look out for - the sketch was a good start, but more needs to be done.

Police are also saying this was a random crime, but it doesn't make sense why it would be - Jenna had only about $10, all in quarters. And if this was her normal route, it could have been a stalker who consistently saw her and knew her route. If this is true, the murderer also knew the route of the "News and Observer" newspaper carrier, and knew when the best time to strike would be.

No matter what the circumstances surrounding this crime, the heartless, malicious murderer is still out there, maybe even plotting how to take his next victim.

A poster left a comment on another blog about a poem Jenna wrote in 1999 for her grandmother's funeral. It is, like the poster said, only appropriate to share it:

Do not stand at my grave & weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the autumn’s rain.

When you awaken in the mornings hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush,
Of quiet birds in circled flight,
I am the soft star the shines at night.

Do not stand at my grave & cry…
For I am not there… I did not Die!

Sources: "Questions haunt family," News and Observer; Jenna Nielsen Murder Investigation; Bonnie's Blog of Crime.

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