KSTP.com - 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS
Posted at: 04/23/2008 10:28:47 AM
Updated at: 04/26/2008 07:01:39 PM
By: Kristi Piehl, Investigative Reporter; Justin Piehowski, Web Manager; Nicole Muehlhausen, Web Producer
DETECTIVES: Chris Jenkins murder connects dozens around country
Could there be a calculated, cross-country plot to kill young college men, including some in Minnesota? It seems a little hard to believe, but two New York detectives say they can prove it.
Now, they are revealing years of their evidence for the first time to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS...
GO DEEPER INTO THE INVESTIGATION:
THE JENKINS FILE: Rarely-seen documents related to the Chris Jenkins murder case
Interactive Map of victims possibly linked by the investigation
Visual timeline of the Jenkins murder case in Minneapolis
Extended video clips of detectives discussing the case
Kristi Piehl and John Mason talk about how the case has developed
List of possible Minn. and Wisc. victims
Kristi Piehl: How the story came about
Listen to Kristi Piehl talk about the story on the KQRS Morning Show
University of Minnesota college student Chris Jenkins was found in the Mississippi River in February of 2003.
Minneapolis Police began investigating the case, which also caught the attention of two retired NYPD detectives.
Turns out, Jenkins' death was the missing part of the puzzle for Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte.
They think Jenkins connects dozens of other deaths around the country over the last decade. The stories are the same all over the country--an athletic, intelligent, well-liked college student goes missing.
Family and friends launch a massive search. Weeks or months later, the young man is discovered drowned. In more than 40 cases, the deaths are blamed on a drunken accident--except for one.
The death of Chris Jenkins in Minneapolis is the only one
"The level of evil we are dealing with here is rampant, it's deep and it's widespread," Chris' mother Jan Jenkins told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS
where the cause of death was changed from 'undetermined' or 'drowning' to 'homicide.'
"I can honestly tell you that I've walked every step of the way and it is hard for me to believe," Chris' mother Jan Jenkins told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. "The level of evil we are dealing with here is rampant, it's deep and it's widespread."
Because of extensive investigation by Duarte and Gannon, Jan Jenkins now says she knows exactly what happened to her son on the night he disappeared, Oct. 31, 2002.
"Chris was abducted in a cargo van," she said. "He was driven around Minneapolis for hours and tortured. He was taken down to the Mississippi River and he was murdered. And after that, his body was positioned and taken to a different spot and then to a different point in the Mississippi River," she said.
Gannon and Duarte say they've discovered a link between Jenkins' death and the drownings of at least 40 other men in 25 cities in 11 different states.
It began in New York
The investigation started 11 years ago in New York when then-Sgt. Gannon made a promise to the parents of Patrick McNeill.
Patrick McNeill was last seen at a New York City bar in 1997. His body was found 50 days later, 11 miles downriver.
"We knew it wasn't suicide," said Patrick McNeil's mother Jackie McNeill
"We knew it wasn't suicide," said Patrick McNeill's mother Jackie McNeill. "It was one of those things where he walked out and was never seen again."
One of the only things comforting the McNeills is Gannon, a decorated officer with a long history in the New York City Police Department.
"I told them I would never give up on the case," Gannon told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. When Gannon retired, he devoted his life to keeping his promise to the McNeill family.
"We've been doing this on our own, our own finances," Gannon explained. "We've never taken a penny from any of the families. I personally have mortgaged my own home to investigate this."
According to Gannon's ally, Duarte, this is almost 'a perfect crime' because the water washes away any physical evidence and there are never any witnesses. Almost all of the men are last seen by friends leaving a bar or college party.
"I think it is a serial killer, but not one individual," Anthony Duarte said
Local police have investigated the deaths and the FBI has even taken a look at the cases.
In every case except for the Jenkins case, local law enforcement has ruled the death an accident.
"I think it is a serial killer, but not one individual. I would just say, a group of individuals, probably located in more than one state," Duarte said, adding that he thinks they may kill again.
Gannon and Duarte have done something that no other law enforcement agency has ever done in this case -- they looked at the big picture and visited each site where the young men disappeared.
While most local investigations focused on where a body was recovered, Gannon and Duarte tried to figure out where the body went into the river.
City after city, when they'd find the spot where the body went into the water, they would find something else: The symbol of a smiley face
City after city, when they'd find the spot where the body went in, they would find something else: The symbol of a smiley face.
"It's very disturbing," Duarte said.
The paint color and size of the face varies, but the detectives are convinced that it's a sick signature the killers leave behind.
They found one eight years ago in Wisconsin and then others in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana. Then most recently, they believe they've found one in Iowa.
In Michigan, they found something strange among the group's graffiti: the word 'Sinsiniwa.' They couldn't figure out what it meant until a few months later when they arrived in Dubuque, Iowa to investigate the death of Matt Kruziki.
His body was found on Sinsiniwa Avenue. Plus, they've discovered the nicknames of people in the group at more than one location.
Two years ago, already entrenched in their investigation, Gannon and Duarte came to Minnesota. They connected with St. Cloud State College Professor Lee Gilbertson.
Gilbertson had challenged his criminology students to search for patterns in the 11 disappearances of Minnesota and Wisconsin college students.
Why go public?
Gannon and Duarte are now confident they've discovered a nationwide criminal enterprise.
The detectives say they have to go public to 'protect the innocent and prosecute the guilty.'
"If nothing else, we have to warn the families and the young individuals so that no one else becomes a victim," Gannon said.
"If nothing else, we have to warn the families and the young individuals so that no one else becomes a victim," Kevin Gannon told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS
Duarte added, "Other kids are at risk, yes, it's very frustrating."
Gannon and Duarte want their investigation to prompt changes in the way drownings are investigated.
They say medical examiners frequently don't even consider murder when looking at the body of a drowning victim.
The detectives requested that 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS hold back some key details of the murders such as motive and the identities of the informants. They hope that information will someday be used to file criminal charges.
They have already taken all of this evidence in the Jenkins case to Minneapolis Police and Hennepin County prosecutors--so why haven't they taken action? We will ask them.
Watch 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Friday night at 10:00 to find out how Minneapolis Police and Hennepin County prosecutors responded.