Who Murdered Jenna and Ethen Nielsen?
by Robert A. Waters
It’s been more than three years since Jennifer “Jenna” Kathleen Nielsen was murdered. At about four-thirty on the morning of June 14, 2007, two officers from the Raleigh Police Department responded to a report of an abandoned vehicle on Lake Wheeler Road. They found the car in the parking lot of Ameriking Foodmart. Newspapers were strewn across the ground and the doors to the car were wide open.
Jim Sughrue, spokesman for the police department, described the scene to reporters. “As [police] investigated the area,” he said, “they located a female behind the building who is a homicide victim.” Robbery seemed an unlikely motive since Jenna Nielsen’s purse and other personal belongings were found in the vehicle. The victim’s pants were pulled down to her knees, causing investigators to theorize that she may have been murdered while fighting off a sexual attack.
When she died, Jenna was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with a boy already named Ethen. She’d been going about her job restocking newspaper boxes for USA Today. Jenna was married and the mother to two children. Her husband Tim worked during the day and kept the children at night while Jenna delivered papers.
An autopsy revealed that a single stab wound to the neck had slashed her carotid artery and her jugular vein, causing her to bleed to death. There were abrasions on Jenna’s arms and legs, as if she’d been dragged or had fallen. The autopsy also showed that Ethen was 39-40 weeks old, weighed 6.35 pounds, and was 19.9 inches long. He was healthy and normal in every way.
Detectives interviewed area residents and business owners. A sketch was released of a “person of interest” who had been seen in the area at the time of the murder. According to police, that neighborhood is usually deserted at four-thirty in the morning.
From the start, leads were few. The murder made national headlines for a few weeks, and some of the high-profile television crime shows picked up the case. USA Today published ads calling for information about the case. The double-murder was heavily publicized not only in North Carolina but across the nation, in part because the state had no fetal victim law. For that reason, the killer, if caught, can only be charged with one murder.
As the investigation continued, the family released a statement to the press. “Jenna was a loving mother, wife and daughter,” the statement said. “She had a very outgoing personality, [and] was everyone’s friend. Jenna and her Husband Tim had 2 wonderful sons: Schyler, 3, and Kaiden, 11 months. They were expecting their third son Ethen on July 8th. Jenna’s family recently relocated to the area from Utah when her father and husband’s jobs were relocated. She enjoyed living in the Raleigh area for the warm weather and the friendly people. She fit right in.”
Three years later, the family is still waiting for an arrest. The news crews are long-gone, and stories about their beloved wife and daughter only seem to come on anniversaries.
The family has a website, justice4jenna.
Tim and Jenna's father Kevin Blaine have worked to pass the Unborn Victims of Violence Act in North Carolina. The proposed law reads: “AN ACT TO PROVIDE THAT A PERSON WHO commits the crime of murder or manslaughter OF A PREGNANT WOMAN is GUILTY OF A SEPARATE OFFENSE for THE RESULTING DEATH OF THE unborn child and to provide that a person who commits a felony or a misdemeanor that is an act of domestic violence and injures a pregnant woman that results in a miscarriage or stillbirth by the woman is guilty of a separate offense that is punishable at the same class and level as the underlying offense.”
Investigators are still searching for the person of interest noticed by witnesses in the area of the murder. He is thought to be in his late teens or early twenties and is about five-feet-three-inches tall, weighing 120 pounds. At the time of the murder, he wore a dark-colored sleeveless shirt and baggy denim shorts. His most noticeable characteristic was black hair pulled into a long pony-tail.
Police have one major clue that could lead to the killer’s capture. Family members recently informed reporters that police have DNA thought to be from the killer. With the many DNA databanks and the penchant for most murderers to commit other crimes, odds are good that the killer will eventually be caught.
Meanwhile, a murderer lives and breathes free air. Justice has not been served.
If you have any information about this case, please contact the Raleigh Police Department at 919-227-6220.