Soon after 24-year-old Jennifer Kesse vanished from her Orlando condo, someone was caught on surveillance footage getting rid of her car at a nearby apartment complex — but their face was obscured by a gate.
“We don’t have answers.” — Joyce Kesse, mother of Jennifer Kesse
On the evening of Jan. 24, 2006, friends and family of 24-year-old Floridian Jennifer Kesse had already begun to pass out fliers requesting information on the whereabouts of the young woman who had vanished early that morning. By the following day, news of her disappearance had spread across the country.
Before she vanished, Jennifer Kesse seemed to have it all: a loving family and boyfriend, a great job, and no reason to drop everything and run away. Her loved ones naturally assumed that something terrible must have happened to her.
That remains the prevailing theory today. But nearly 20 years later, detectives still have not made much headway in Kesse’s case.
With just haunting, grainy video footage of a mysterious person of interest to work with, investigators have been stumped from the very beginning. So what exactly happened to Jennifer Kesse in 2006?
The Mysterious Disappearance of Jennifer Kesse
Jennifer Kesse was 24 at the time of her disappearance, and by all accounts, she was a successful young woman. She had a stable job as a finance manager for Central Florida Investments Timeshare Company in Ocoee, Florida, and she was the proud new owner of a condo in nearby Orlando. Kesse and her boyfriend, Rob Allen, had just returned from a vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Her life appeared perfect.
Then came that fateful morning in January.
Kesse had returned home from work around 6 p.m. the evening before and chatted with her family on the phone. She called her boyfriend later that night at 10 p.m. before turning in for bed. Allen would be the last person in Kesse’s inner circle to have contact with her.
It was common for Kesse to call or text her boyfriend as she was leaving for work, but no message came on Jan. 24. Concerned, Allen made several attempts to contact his girlfriend, but texts went unreturned and phone calls went straight to voicemail.
Co-workers also began to wonder why they hadn’t heard from Kesse. It was unlike her to not call in, and she had missed an important morning meeting.
At 11 a.m., Jennifer Kesse’s employer contacted her parents to inform them of the situation. Realizing that something was amiss with their daughter, Drew and Joyce Kesse made the drive from Tampa to Orlando to check on her.
They soon discovered that her car was missing, but her condo showed no signs of disarray. They found a damp towel suggesting she’d showered that morning before work, clothes laid out on her bed, a pair of pajamas on the floor, and some makeup on the counter.
What’s more, a particular pair of pumps that Kesse was excited to wear was missing from her closet that morning. All of this evidence seemed to indicate that Kesse had left for work as usual.
So where was she?
Police Open A Missing Persons Case For Jennifer Kesse
In the years following Jennifer Kesse’s disappearance, police have managed to track down her car — but not much else. Two days after Kesse vanished, investigators received a phone call from somebody who had seen a photo of her car on the news and thought that it looked a lot like the one parked outside their apartment complex. It was indeed the car in question, a black 2004 Chevy Malibu.
Upon analyzing the car at the police crime lab, just two pieces of physical evidence were recovered: a small amount of DNA and a latent print deemed “too minuscule” to yield any helpful information, Kesse’s father told Fox News in 2016.
A DVD player remained in the back seat of the car. Kesse’s personal effects, like her cell phone and purse, have never been located, but her bank account has had no activity since her disappearance, so police do not believe robbery was the motive.
While the lack of physical evidence from the car was frustrating, the video footage captured from the apartment complex was just as disappointing for detectives.
The surveillance video from the apartment complex where the car was found showed a person of interest dropping off the vehicle at noon on the day of Kesse’s disappearance, but any physical characteristics of the suspect are almost entirely obscured by the apartment’s gate. The cameras were designed to capture images just once every three seconds, as opposed to continuously, and it just so happened that at each interval, the person of interest’s face was concealed by a different gate post.
Investigators went so far as to tap NASA to enhance the video footage, but they haven’t even been able to determine whether the suspect was a man or woman. Police could only discern that the person was between 5’3″ and 5’5″. Journalists who covered the story reported that the obscured footage made the suspect “the luckiest person of interest ever.”
The Trail Goes Cold For Jennifer Kesse
Without much physical evidence to go on, the investigation turned to those who knew Jennifer Kesse. Her boyfriend and brother both checked out, and an ex-boyfriend who had wanted to rekindle the relationship was also cleared as a suspect. Detectives learned that a work colleague had unsuccessfully pursued a romantic relationship with Kesse, but he, too, was determined to be unsuspicious.
Kesse had mentioned to her family that construction workers doing renovations at her complex would occasionally catcall her, but those leads also turned up nothing. Her credit cards went unused after her disappearance, and her cell phone had been turned off. The beloved daughter of the Kesse family was nowhere to be found, and there were no more clues to follow.
“Imagine waking up and your daughter is nowhere to be found,” Detective Teresa Sprague of the Orlando Police told the Orlando Sentinel on the 10th anniversary of Kesse’s disappearance. “You can’t reach her, you can’t locate her. The police can’t locate her. Hours turn into panic and days into your worst nightmare.”
Sprague continued, “I cannot imagine the nightmare the Kesse family has been sleepwalking through for the last 10 years.”
The Kesse Family’s Struggle With Orlando Police
In 2018, the Kesse family sued the Orlando Police Department for more information into Jennifer Kesse’s disappearance. As Kesse’s uncle Bill Gilmour told Fox News in 2023, the department initially claimed “that there wasn’t… any evidence or nothing of consequence with [her] car.”
“But after my sister and brother sued them and got the records from the OPD and had their own team comb through the records — some 15-18,000 records — it said that they collected DNA in the car, which they originally said that they did not,” Gilmour stated.
Police also turned over photos of Kesse’s vehicle that the family had not seen before. The images reportedly showed dust from construction and “signs of a struggle” on the hood of the car.
“We were never aware of that either. So it’s just… disheartening,” Gilmour said.
In 2020, Kesse’s father said he believed Jennifer was the victim of human trafficking, and in 2022, he accused the Orlando Police Department of negligence and incompetence in the investigation into her disappearance.
“Now imagine, over that time, fighting for unredacted copies with the city’s lawyers and trying to have our private investigators find Jennifer from all those files. Then finding out that the lead detective on Jennifer’s case did not write a single report or any document since 2010, 12 years!!!” Drew Kesse said, according to News 6 Orlando. “We firmly believe the department’s negligence and lack of competency cost Jennifer the chance to be found.”
In November 2022, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement took over the investigation. The Kesse family hopes this will lead to further DNA testing and a break in the case.
“At this point in time and after countless attempts to get authorities to do what is needed to find Jennifer or not, decisively, we believe we have now positioned her case with authorities that are willing, able, and wanting to find Jennifer even after 17 years, outside of the Orlando Police Department,” the family wrote on Kesse’s GoFundMe page in January 2023.
Anyone with information regarding the case is asked to contact CrimeLine Florida.
After this look at Jennifer Kesse and her mysterious disappearance, check out the story of John List, the man who killed his family and disappeared for 18 years. Then, go inside the unsolved disappearance of Maura Murray.