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Jeffrey Willis murder trial begins in Heeringa disappearance, death

• May 1, 2018 at 12:08 PM

MUSKEGON — It's been five years since Jessica Heeringa went missing from a Norton Shores gas station.

Today, the man accused in her disappearance and murder will stand trial. Jeffrey Willis, 48, is charged with open murder and kidnapping in the Heeringa case. The trial is set to start on Tuesday, May 1 with jury selection.

Prosecutor DJ Hilson has gone on record describing Willis as "a monster."

Willis is already a convicted killer, serving a life sentence. Late last year, a jury found him guilty for the 2014 murder of Rebekah Bletsch.

Willis' cousin, Kevin Bluhm, has been a key figure in both cases.

In January, Bluhm was sentenced to five years probation for accessory after the fact. During the investigation, he told detectives that Willis killed Heeringa and says he helped take care of the body. He later said he made the story up.

To date, Jessica Heeringa's body has not been found. The then 25-year-old mother went missing the night of April 26, 2013, while working at a Norton Shores gas station. Immediately, a silver minivan, caught on video surveillance, became a major clue in the case. Almost three years to the date, that same minivan would be used in the attempted abduction of a 16-year-old girl.

Police, later, tied that van to Jeffrey Willis and then zeroed in on him as a the killer of Bletsch and Heeringa. Before he was charged, it was leaked that police found a folder on Willis' computer labeled "VICS" for victims. Inside was information related both Heeringa and Bletsch.

Related: How officers connected Jeffrey Willis to Jessica Heeringa's disappearance

During jury selection in the Bletsch trial, the Muskegon Circuit Court called more than 320 county residents as potential jurors. The process was complicated due the highly publicized nature of the Willis case. It is likely something very similar in this, very, high-profile trial.

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