(NEW YORK) — Thirty years ago, 12-year-old Jennifer Odom was abducted after getting off her Florida school bus and found dead six days later, law enforcement officials said.
On Thursday, authorities announced the arrest of a suspect in the homicide cold case.
Jeffrey Crum, 61, has been charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual battery, the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office said.
Crum is already serving two life sentences after he was convicted in 2019 of attempted murder and sexual battery of a teenage girl who was “horribly attacked” after she got off a school bus in Pasco County in 1992, according to Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis.
About 13 months after that attack, Jennifer was abducted after getting off her school bus in Pasco County on Feb. 19, 1993, Nienhuis said. After a massive manhunt, her body was found in a field in Hernando County on Feb. 25, 1993, with evidence that she had been “brutally attacked,” the sheriff said.
“The M.O.s in both cases were almost identical, with the exception of Jennifer as we know was abducted and found six days later,” Nienhuis told reporters during a press briefing on Thursday.
Crum was identified as a suspect in the earlier case in 2015, when a DNA profile created from biological evidence recovered from the attack matched a family member in a DNA database, according to Nienhuis.
At that time, Crum quickly became a suspect in the Jennifer Odom case, too, the sheriff said. It took several years to conduct the investigation. The case was also slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the appeals process in Crum’s 2019 conviction, Hernando County Sherrif’s Office Det. George Loydgren told reporters.
Prosecutors recently presented the case to the grand jury, which recommended a true bill of indictment on murder, kidnapping and sexual battery charges, Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Bill Gladson said.
Crum was ordered held on no bond during his first court appearance on Thursday. He requested a public defender and is scheduled to return on Aug. 29.
Grand jury proceedings are secret, so authorities were not able to discuss the details of the investigation.
Gladson noted that he is confident in their case.
“I have confidence that we have the right person, and that we have the right aggravators in this particular case to treat it as a death penalty case,” Gladson told reporters.
“That’s something I felt was important to get out today because this is every parent’s nightmare,” he continued. “This is a thing that keeps parents up at night, worried about their children.”
Hernando County Commissioner John Allocco said the arrest brings closure to Jennifer’s family, those in the community and beyond.
“I can’t express the magnitude of the closure that this brings to her family, her friends and to this community and the communities around Florida and around this country,” he said during the briefing.
Nienhuis urged anyone with information on the Jennifer Odom case to come forward, noting that authorities believe there may be additional victims.
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