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Cold Case Spotlight

Young mother Jennifer Casper Ross still missing from Reno, Nevada after disappearing 14 years ago

Jennifer Casper Ross was incredibly driven since she was young, according to her mother Carla Brown.

“Jennifer loved a challenge and she was very determined,” Carla told Dateline. By 15 years old, Jennifer was a talented ballerina, performing in local community events in her hometown of Pocatello, Idaho. By the age of 19, she had earned a spot in Gregory Thompson’s Productions as a dancer at Harrah’s Reno Casino & Hotel in Reno, Nevada.

In March of 1999, when Jennifer was 24 years old, she married a man named Sean Ross, who mixed the sound and controlled the spotlights at Jennifer’s ballet performances. Four years later, the pair welcomed a son they named Isaac Michael.

Jennifer Casper Ross Carla Brown

“She had so many things going on in her life,” Jennifer’s mother Carla said. But by 2005, at the age of 30, Jennifer’s busy life began to unravel. She broke her tailbone practicing for a show and then lost her job at Harrah’s. The financial stress—coupled with the weight of a raising a child—made Jennifer feel desperate to escape the pressure, according to Carla.

Sometime after 11:00 p.m. on May 4, 2005, Jennifer left her Reno, Nevada home and headed to a local bar a mile away. According to Detective Ben Rhodes of the Reno Police Department, Jennifer’s husband Sean later told police that he had advised Jennifer not to leave since it was already late.

Sean would tell police that Jennifer left the house anyway and headed alone to the Peppermill Hotel and Casino. Staff and guests at the hotel bar later told law enforcement that Jennifer was highly intoxicated upon arrival.

Detective Rhodes told Dateline that the next morning around 5:30, Jennifer took a cab from the Peppermill Hotel to the Reno Sparks Cab Company, where her mother Carla worked. However, Carla wasn’t at work that morning, as it was her scheduled day off.

“When she realized I wasn’t there she got spooked and ran out,” Carla told Dateline, recalling her coworkers’ accounts of what happened that morning. According to Det. Rhodes, Jennifer exited the building and jumped over a fence behind the building.

She was just one mile from her house. Jennifer never made it home.

Her husband Sean reported Jennifer missing the next day, according to Det. Rhodes. The Reno Police Department quickly launched an investigation.

“Cadaver dogs later traced her scent from behind the building back to the road but then they lost her,” Det. Rhodes told Dateline.

An employee from the cab company later found Jennifer’s broken high heels on the company’s property. No one ever found Jennifer.

“She’s barefoot, jumping a fence, she walks west and comes back out into the street,” Det. Rhodes said. “My issue is that she’s barefoot in the middle of the night and intoxicated, more than likely. Someone could have picked her up. She was a mile from her house.”

Reno police searched Jennifer’s home and interviewed at least a dozen people close to her, Detective Rhodes said.

Jennifer Casper Ross with her son, Isaac. Carla Brown

In the early stages of the investigation, Sean found two bloodied notes inside the couple’s home. According to police, the notes indicated Jennifer hoped Sean would continue to care for their son if anything ever happened to her. Police have confirmed through DNA and handwriting analysis that Jennifer wrote the notes and that they were covered in her own blood, though Det. Rhodes said it remains unclear when the notes were written or under what circumstances.

“No idea if Jennifer was forced or coerced into writing them,” Det. Rhodes told Dateline.

The detective feels certain that the notes do not indicate that Jennifer committed suicide.

“If she committed suicide, her body would most likely have been found,” Det. Rhodes told Dateline. “Her last known location was at the cab company and she was barefoot. Since she was barefoot, it is unlikely she would have walked somewhere remote to commit suicide -- to where her body never would have been found.”

Police say that, at first, Jennifer’s husband Sean cooperated with the investigation. But after failing a polygraph test, he did not return for a second interview, according to Det. Rhodes. Dateline was unable to reach Sean Ross for comment on this report. Jennifer’s mother said that three months after Jennifer disappeared, Sean filed for divorce. He is raising their son Isaac in San Diego, California, according to Det. Rhodes.

Authorities consider Sean and at least one other unnamed person to be persons of interest in the ongoing investigation into Jennifer’s disappearance. While there is no evidence to prove that Jennifer is dead, according to Det. Rhodes, both law enforcement and Jennifer’s family have little hope of finding Jenifer alive.

“We don’t have a body, but with this much time passing and her not turning up, we’re assuming the worst at this point,” Det. Rhodes said. Carla noted that Jennifer “worshipped her baby Isaac” and “he was her life,” adding that Jennifer would never have abandoned her child.

“I believe she jumped over that fence and fell victim to a crime of passion,” Carla said. Over the past 14 years, Carla has devoted herself to shining a light on Jennifer’s story. But Jennifer’s reputation as a Dean’s List student and ballerina disappeared along with the missing mother.

“It’s a living nightmare,” Carla said. “It took me years to humanize my daughter to the city of Reno. I just want people to remember Jennifer as an energetic spirit -- dancing. As someone who loved animals. As a wonderful mother.”

Jennifer Casper Ross would be 44 years old today. At the time of her disappearance, she was described as being 5'9”and weighing 130 lbs. She has brown hair, brown eyes and was last seen barefoot, wearing a tan sweater, blue jeans, and her wedding ring. If you have information on the circumstances surrounding Jennifer’s case, please call the Reno Police Department at (775) 334-2175.