Details of Disappearance
Cummings was last seen at her hairstylist job at Tangles Salon in Fernandina Beach, Florida on May 12, 2018. Her shift ended at 5:00 p.m.
She was supposed to meet her ex-husband in Hilliard, Florida the next day to pick up their three children for Mother's Day, which also happened to be her thirty-fourth birthday. She but never arrived to get them, however, and has never been heard from again. Her mother reported her missing on May 14.
The last person known to have seen Cummings was Jennifer Marie Sybert, another stylist at the salon, who had worked there for only about a month. A photo of Sybert is posted with this case summary. When police went to the salon to question Sybert on May 14, they discovered she hadn't shown up for work that day. The home address she'd given the salon owner turned out to be fake.
On May 15, Cummings's car was located in a parking lot on Florida A1A near a Home Depot store in Yulee, Florida. A photo of the vehicle, a beige 2006 Ford Expedition with the Florida license plate number 035KBQ, is posted with this case summary. Surveillance camera footage showed it being parked at that location at 1:17 a.m. on May 13, just seven hours after Cummings would have left work. The driver was not Cummings, but Sybert.
A photo of her is posted with this case summary. On the evening of May 16, she was located sleeping in her own car at a rest area on Interstate 95 in St. Johns County, Florida and charged with grand theft auto, based on the video showing her driving Cummings's car. At the time of her arrest she had injuries on her hands, arms and thighs, and a patch of hair missing from her head.
Authorities learned "Sybert" had been living under a false name, Social Security number and identification. She had taken the name "Jennifer Marie Sybert" from the gravestone of a sixteen-year-old girl who died in a car crash in Germany in 1987 and was buried in Butler, Pennsylvania. Her real name is Kimberly Lee Kessler and she had disappeared from Butler in 2004, but wasn't reported missing until 2012.
A look into her past revealed she had used at least seventeen alias names and lived in thirty-three cities in fourteen different states since 1996, often drawing names from gravestones in the same cemetery in Butler. She was charged with possession of a counterfeit passport, a federal offense.
People who knew Kessler described her as secretive and paranoid. Clients at Tangles Salon stated there was tension between her and Cummings, who didn't like her. Just days before her disappearance, Cummings told a coworker that she believed Kessler was "not the person that she says she is" and that she planned to start digging into her background.
In September 2018, Kessler was charged with first-degree premeditated murder in Cummings's case. Investigators believe Cummings was murdered inside the salon the same night she disappeared.
After Kessler dropped Cummings's car off, authorities learned, she walked to a nearby gas station, bought a bottle of water, and used an employee's phone to call for a taxi. The gas station employee noted she had several scratches on her face that looked like finger marks, and surveillance footage from the station also showed this. The taxi driver said she spoke to him about religion, and he dropped her off next to Tangles Salon a half mile away and saw her get into her own car.
Police found bloodstains at Tangles Salon, including on two chairs, and on the walls, cabinets and in the sink drain, and on a signboard, a display stand, a vacuum cleaner, a bleach bottle and a mop. Some of the blood was Cummings's, and some was from Kessler. Someone had tried to clean up the scene by mopping blood off the floor.
Police also recovered a bloodstained blue tote bag that Kessler had thrown into the woods. Blood found on Kessler's boots, a sock, a pair of scissors, and in a storage locker Kessler rented all was proved to be from Cummings, and one of Cummings's fingernails was also found inside a bin in the storage unit.
On May 4, over a week before Cummings disappeared, Kessler had searched on her phone about how to tie a tourniquet and how to inject someone with something. She also searched on her phone for the phrase "coworker guilty of murder missing person body not found" and made 457 searches containing Cummings's name over a 48-hour period. Kessler bought large-sized zip ties at a boating supply store on May 5. Police also found a Walmart receipt for 30-gallon trash bags, an electric knife, and a bottle of ammonia.
Based on surveillance video of Kessler depositing a white trash bag and emptying the contents of a trash can in a dumpster near Tangles Salon the weekend of Cummings's disappearance, investigators looked for her body at a landfill in Charlton County, Georgia. They located several items of interest, but not Cummings's body.
In jail while awaiting trial, Kessler lost more than half her body weight in repeated hunger strikes, accused jail officials of trying to poison her, and regularly exhibited bizarre behavior, including stripping naked and smearing feces in her cell.
She also refused to cooperate with her defense. She was initially declared mentally incompetent to stand trial, but a judge later ruled she was capable of understanding the case against her, stating her behaviors were "volitional in nature and the result of a personality disorder rather than a diagnosed mental illness."
In December 2021, three and a half years after Cummings was last seen, Kessler was put on trial for first-degree in her presumed death. The defense argued that Kessler and Cummings got into a fight and the blood evidence was caused by Kessler trying to defend herself. The jury deliberated for only a little over an hour before convicting her, however. Kessler was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Cummings's body has never been found.