Details of Disappearance
Heeringa was last seen working at an Exxon Mobile gas station in the 1100 block of east Sternberg Road in Norton Shores, Michigan on April 26, 2013. She had been working the late shift alone and disappeared sometime between 10:51 and 11:07 p.m., shortly before closing time. Her last cash register transaction took place at 10:51, and at 11:07 a customer found the station unattended. Authorities believe she was abducted.
Heeringa's coat, purse, keys, identification and $420 in cash were left inside the store, and her car was parked outside. There were no indications of a struggle and no money was missing from the cash register, but a small spot of her blood was found on the ground near the station's back door.
A witness reported seeing an unknown man flirting with Heeringa at the gas station hours before her disappearance. A sketch of the man is posted with this case summary. He is described as Caucasian and in his thirties, about 6'0 tall with a medium to heavy build and wavy, sandy brown or blond hair. He was wearing a bright red or orange sweatshirt and was driving a silver minivan, possibly a 2005 Chrysler Town and Country.
The gas station has no surveillance cameras, but a camera from a business a mile away from it shows a silver minivan driving by at 11:04 p.m., around the time of Heeringa's disappearance.
In May 2016, over three years after Heeringa's disappearance, Jeffrey Thomas Willis was arrested and charged with kidnapping a sixteen-year-old girl, Madison Nygard, who was able to escape from him after he lured her into his van. Several days later, he was also charged with the murder of Rebekah Sue Bletsch, a 36-year-old woman who was shot to death while jogging in Dalton Township, Michigan in June 2014.
A photo of Willis is posted with this case summary. When police searched his van they found a .22-caliber semi-automatic pistol with the serial number filed off, ammunition for the pistol, a sheathed knife, two video recorders, five syringes and bondage material.
Willis also had bondage pornography, child sexual abuse images, a five-page list of American serial killers, and a three-page list of women's names and telephone numbers in his home. Authorities believe he downloaded child sexual abuse material off the internet and used a hidden camera to record images of minor girls using the bathroom in his home; he's also been charged in connection with that.
Kevin Lavern Bluhm, Willis's cousin, was charged with lying to police in their investigation into Willis's suspected crimes, including Heeringa's disappearance. When he was questioned in mid-May 2016, he said he hadn't seen Willis for almost a year and had never seen him with a handgun. He was later convicted of being an accessory after the fact and sentenced to time served, which was 476 days.
But in an interview a month later, he admitted he'd seen Willis in early May and Willis showed him a handgun at that time. He said Willis forced him to "take care of Miss Heeringa." He said he saw Heeringa's nude body and she had head injuries and injuries consistent with sexual assault. At the end of the second interview, he claimed he had made everything up.
Willis's van, a silver 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan, resembles the one sought in Heeringa's disappearance, and according to his coworkers, he had been to her gas station many times before, as it was along his route to work. His coworkers stated he'd discussed Heeringa's case with them after she went missing.
In November 2017, Willis was convicted of Bletsch's murder. He is still awaiting trial in connection with Madison Nygard's kidnapping. In September 2016, he was charged with Herringa's kidnapping and murder. Although the case presented at his May 2018 trial was almost entirely circumstantial, the jury deliberated only an hour and a half before convicting him.
Heeringa's body has never been located, but police still hope to find it. Foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.