Details of Disappearance
Jennifer was last seen at East High School in Kansas City, Missouri on January 22, 1998. She was a sophomore at the school at the time. She attended her first two morning classes, then got into a fight with some other students and left the campus at 9:30 a.m.
Jennifer apparently went to a nearby grocery store afterwards, where she met Wesley Ira Purkey, a local handyman who had interviewed for a plumbing job in the area that morning. She got into his white 1989 Ford pickup truck and has never been heard from again.
Initially, authorities believed Jennifer left of her own accord. She had an unstable home life, and she had recently transferred from Ruskin High School and felt unsafe in her new school. However, she was about to take her driver's license test, and her family maintained that she would never have run away from home. Eventually her disappearance was reclassified as an abduction.
Purkey confessed to Jennifer's murder in December 1998, while he was in jail awaiting trial for murdering an elderly woman in her home. He has a long criminal record and was addicted to alcohol and drugs in 1998. He stated he would assist in the investigation if he was transferred from a state prison to a federal prison. He was charged in Jennifer's death in October 2001.
Purkey stated he had forcibly abducted Jennifer, taken her to his home in Lansing, Kansas, raped her and stabbed her to death. He claimed he dismembered her body and burned it in a fireplace, then dumped what was left in a septic pond. He led investigators to the place where he said he discarded Jennifer's jawbone and her undergarments. Authorities searched several areas for her remains, but never found anything.
Purkey was convicted of Jennifer's murder in 2003. A photo of him is posted with this case summary. During the penalty phase of his trial, he changed his story slightly: he still admitted to killing Jennifer, but said he had not abducted her and she had gone to his home willingly. He said he fabricated the kidnapping part of the story because he wanted Jennifer's murder to be considered a federal crime and prosecuted in federal court.
Purkey apologized to Jennifer's father before his sentence was handed down. He was sentenced to death for the crime, and executed by lethal injection in July 2020; his was the first federal execution since 2003.
There was a report that Jennifer's remains were found in January 2004, but the report was false and she is still missing. Foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.