I’ve recently described several cold cases, including those of Connie Smith, Jennifer Kesse, Dorothy Ann Distelhurst, and Dorothy Scofield. According to 2006 FBI statistics, there were 17,034 reported murders in America. Only sixty percent were solved. Rolling back through the years and decades of unsolved murders leaves hundreds of thousands of killers walking among us. Here is another unsolved case that cries for justice.
On the afternoon of February 19, 1993, 12-year-old Jennifer Renee Odom stepped off her school bus and headed down the dirt road to her home two hundred yards away. Students on the bus later said they saw an old-style blue pickup truck following her.
Jennifer lived with her parents and younger sister in St. Joseph, a rural orange-growing section of Pasco County, Florida. As she got off the bus that afternoon, she wore white jeans, black boots, and a red sweater. It was cold and she had on an aqua-colored Hooters jacket. She also carried a book bag and a clarinet in a case.
After the bus pulled away, Jennifer disappeared.
More than a week later, her nude body was found in an orange grove in neighboring Hernando County. Unfortunately, heavy rains had washed away any clues that may have existed. Two years later, Jennifer’s book and clarinet case were found, again in a rural area of Hernando County. The items were sent to the FBI lab where several fingerprints were found. All were matched to known persons except one—-is it the print of a killer?
Jennifer was pretty, athletic, and highly intelligent. She planned to become a lawyer. She came from a loving family, a family that still grieves for her.
Fifteen years after her disappearance, the case remains unsolved, but not for a lack of effort on the part of law enforcement. So far, police have checked out more than 3,000 leads. They arranged for both “Unsolved Mysteries” and “America’s Most Wanted” to bring the case to a national audience. Billboards were erected in the area to publicize the case and possibly prick someone’s conscience. At a news conference police even displayed a mannequin wearing clothes similar to what Jennifer wore when she was abducted in the hopes that someone would recognize her clothing. Recently, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement included her case on inmate playing cards. (In the last year, two Florida murders were solved by inmates who saw the photo of a victim on the cards and told cops the name of the killer.)
Four years after Jennifer’s murder, 9-year-old Sharra Ferger was abducted from her home in nearby Blanton. She was found raped and murdered. Police initially thought the case might be related to Jennifer’s kidnapping and murder but they later arrested two men who had nothing to do with Jennifer’s killing.
In 2002, a serial killer was briefly considered a suspect. Richard Evonitz abducted and murdered three teenage girls in Virginia. After a girl he abducted in South Carolina escaped, Evonitz fled to Florida. As cops closed in, the murderer shot and killed himself. Because he had family in Sarasota, Evonitz was investigated for Jennifer’s homicide, but was quickly ruled out.
The abduction of Jennifer is reminiscent of the Ben Ownby case. Both were just a few hundred feet from home after being let off by a school bus. Both were followed by a predator in a truck. And both vanished. The difference is that a sharp-eyed teenager named Mitch Hults was able to identify the type of truck that snatched Ben. Because of this, cops were able to arrest Michael Devlin for both Ben’s abduction and Shawn Hornsby’s kidnapping. While the modus operandi seems similar, it's obvious that Jennifer met with a different killer.
Was the kidnapper of Jennifer Odom a close neighbor? Or was he, like in the Ownby case, a predator trolling the streets looking for a victim? Maybe someday that lone fingerprint will identify him.
Unless he’s in prison or dead, a predator walks among us, like the Biblical wolf in sheep’s clothing.