Details of Disappearance
Jozlynn's mother, Consuela Martinez, said she heard her daughter in her bedroom at home in Grand Rapids, Michigan between 11:00 and 11:30 p.m. on February 22, 2010. Consuela woke up at 9:00 a.m. on February 23 to find the child missing from their home in the 900 block of Nagold Street west.
Consuela's live-in boyfriend, Jeffrey Lynn Malmberg, was also gone. $2,800 in cash, Consuela's tax refund, was missing from her purse. Her seven-month-old son, who is Jeffrey's child, was still at the residence.
Photographs of Jeffrey and Consuela posted with this case summary. Consuela initially believed he had taken Jozlynn out to run errands. She checked with friends and relatives throughout the day but none of them knew Jeffrey or Jozlynn's whereabouts. At 1:30 p.m. she told a police officer her boyfriend and daughter were missing, but she wasn't concerned yet and didn't want to file a report. She finally did so at 9:30 p.m.
Jeffrey has a problem with abusing alcohol and crack cocaine, and had lived on the streets and in and out of local homeless shelters. He also has a prior criminal history: he was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession in 1997 and larceny in August 2009.
In February 2009, Consuela got an order of protection against him. He violated it twice and served seven days in jail as a result. Consuela stated Jeffrey had followed her, sneaked into her house without her permission, and threatened her while she was pregnant. In August 2009, she requested to have the protection order lifted, saying she and Jeffrey were trying to reconcile.
Although Jeffery claimed he and Consuela were engaged and planned to marry in March 2010, Consuela stated she was trying to get him to leave their home by the time Jozlynn disappeared. She said she'd noticed minor bruises on her daughter's body and was concerned about possible abuse.
Jeffrey is not Jozlynn's biological father and has no custodial rights to her. Jozlynn's father, John Mark Rittenhouse, lived in Arizona at the time of her disappearance, but he returned to Michigan to assist with the investigation. Although she was questioned several times by police, investigators stated Consuela was a witness in Jozlynn's disappearance and not a suspect.
Jeffrey was arrested in Lansing, Michigan at 6:45 p.m. on February 24, two days after Jozlynn was last seen, and transported back to Grand Rapids. Jozlynn wasn't with him at the time. He was charged with kidnapping and larceny. Once in custody, he told police that Jozlynn had died in her home on the night of February 22-23 and he'd wrapped her body in a garbage bag and thrown it into a dumpster a few blocks from her home. He then took a cab to Lansing.
By the time Jeffrey made those statements, the dumpster had already been emptied and its contents taken to a waste-to-energy plant on Market Avenue. Authorities searched through 200,000 pounds of garbage for several days without success. 90% of the waste taken to the site is burned and it's probable that Jozlynn's body was incinerated.
After Jeffrey's arrest, Child Protection Services (CPS) took Jozlynn's brother into protective custody for possible abuse/neglect; officials stated they were concerned about the circumstances of Jozlynn's disappearance. Consuela immediately began efforts to regain custody.
She had a prior history with CPS; in 2009, they had investigated a report that her home was dirty. She agreed to get family counseling and was allowed to keep Jozlynn. After her son was born, Consuela took CPS-mandated parenting classes.
Consuela failed in her attempt to immediately regain custody of her baby. CPS workers cited issues including drug use in the home by both parents, Consuela's untreated mental illness, and her failure to protect Jozlynn from Jeffrey even after she suspected Jeffrey was abusing her. Jeffrey voluntarily relinquished his parental rights in the spring of 2010.
Consuela agreed to take additional parenting classes, get a job and participate in a mental health and drug treatment plan so she could be reunited with the baby. Months later, however, CPS caseworkers stated she was not complying with her treatment program and wasn't making much progress towards the goals she had to reach before she could get her son back.
In July 2011, at the recommendation of CPS, Consuela gave up all her rights to her son so his foster family could adopt him.
In a jailhouse conversation with Consuela, Jeffrey said Jozlynn had fallen down the stairs and died, and he disposed of her body because he panicked. Consuela doubted that story because Jozlynn had fallen down the stairs once before and since then she'd been afraid to walk on them.
Jeffrey told police a different story: he said he got frustrated after Jozlynn threw a tantrum and suffocated her by kneeling on her chest until she stopped breathing. In one statement he tried to implicate Consuela, stating she had known what happened and it was she, not him, who disposed of the body.
In early March, authorities additionally charged Jeffrey with second-degree murder and evidence tampering. The motive for the murder is unclear, but both Consuela and Rittenhouse suggested Jeffrey believed Jozlynn got more attention than his own child and was jealous. Jeffrey's father, who has been estranged from him for over two decades, stated Jeffrey had been a habitual liar and hostile towards others since his youth.
Consuela later admitted she had been mistaken when she thought she heard Jozlynn in her room late in the evening of February 22. Jeffrey stated he killed the child at approximately 6:30 p.m. Consuela was out of the home at the time; she'd left at 5:30 p.m. to pick up her tax refund.
At 9:30 p.m., Jeffrey bought some cocaine and marijuana and shared it with Consuela, Consuela's brother and his girlfriend. They all went to bed at 2:00 a.m., after the cocaine ran out. None of them checked on Jozlynn during this time period, but when Jeffrey went into her room late that evening, both Consuela and her brother thought they heard the plastic cover of her mattress rustling and assumed she was in there.
At his trial in October 2010, Jeffrey admitted he caused Jozlynn's death but said her death was accidental and his actions did not rise to the level of murder. He stated he loved Jozlynn as if she was his own child, and he had not intended to hurt her but only to calm her down. The defense asked the jury to find him guilty of manslaughter rather than murder.
Jeffrey claimed he kneeled on top of Jozlynn for only about 45 seconds, but courtroom experts testified that it would take two to five minutes of compression for the child to suffocate. The jury sided with the prosecution and Jeffrey was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to up to 90 years in prison. He is appealing his conviction.
Investigators don't believe Jozlynn's body is recoverable, although Consuela holds out the hope that it may be found. Foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.