Date apprehended April 16, On September 20,Jeffrey Thomas Willis, a former factory worker already incarcerated at the Muskegon County Jail for other crimes including homicide, was charged by the Muskegon County Prosecutor's Office with the kidnapping and murder of Heeringa.
Willis had been a frequent customer at her place of employment, he matched a police artist's sketch of a man seen "being real flirty" with her on the night of frienss disappearance, and his minivan matched the description tecting one witnessed at the crime scene and recorded on security cameras speeding away from her workplace at about the time she went missing. His co-workers told police that he was scheduled to work that night but that he never arrived, nor did he show up for work in the days afterwards.
Soon after Heeringa's disappearance, a local resident saw Willis at the Mancelona property walking out of the woods with a shovel.
The judge decided there was enough evidence to call for a trial after four days of testimony during the preliminary hearing. Judge Raymond Kostrzewa noted frinds such as the folder on Willis's computer titled "vics" possibly short for victims which prosecutors say included a sub-folder titled with her initials, photos of Heeringa, and the date of her disappearance.
They also found necrophilia and murder porn videos downloaded from the internet—some of which were simulated and some of which were real. 224 casings found near her body matched a gun found in Willis's minivan, where police also found disturbing photos of women bound and gagged, handcuffs, chains, ropes, and syringes including one with a liquid later identified as a powerful sedative.
He was sentenced to life without parole six weeks later.
She became lost after leaving a party, and Willis approached her in his van with an offer to let her use his phone. He insisted that she get in the car to use the phone.
Once inside the car, he locked all of the doors and produced a gun, but she managed to escape with minor injuries after she said she couldn't breathe and convinced him to open her window. He lived next door to the girls in March in Fruitland Township and recorded them without their knowledge while textting used his bathroom.
She went missing a month earlier and was initially considered a runaway, with sightings of her reported soon after. Reports from the time said she ran out a back door at her boyfriend's house when her mother came to pick her up.
Willis graduated from the same high school in and worked as a janitor for the school district from to before being fired for looking at pornography on a computer meant for students in an elementary school.