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24-year-old vanishes, leaving little clues

Will a piece of surveillance video hold the key? Edie Magnus reports on the disappearance of Jennifer Kesse.

Each morning at rush hour Joyce and Drew Kesse stand on opposite sides of the road, holding posters of their daughter Jennifer, who is missing. 

Jennifer has been missing since January—the only clue to her fate these grainy photographs and the faceless, nameless person in them.

When we met them, they’d been doing this for 100 days.

Joyce Kesse, mother: Often times, I kind of hide behind the sign and I cry.  Not for me but for Jen.

Jennifer Kesse is a beautiful 24-year-old financial analyst with a constant smile.

On Tuesday morning, January 24th, when the Kesses’ got a call that their daughter did not show up for work   they tried to call her cell, but it immediately went to voice mail.

Joyce Kesse: That’s not Jennifer.  Jennifer has always been reachable.  When I got that phone call I knew intuitively something happened to her. 

The Kesses raced from their home 3 hours away to Jennifer’s condo.

They showed us the scene they found. They arranged her things to show us the way, they said they found them that day.

There was a wet shower, damp towel, underwear on the floor, hair and makeup items on the bathroom sink. On her unmade bed, a selection of work clothes were laid.

Joyce Kesse: We feel that she got ready to go to work. She left.  She locked her door and at that point is where the mystery starts.

But police say the mystery may have started even earlier.

Sgt. Rich Ring: It is as close to a vanishing as as I’ve ever seen.

Orlando Police Sgt. Rich Ring says Jennifer called her boyfriend in Fort Lauderdale at 10 p.m. January 23rd, the night before she was reported missing.

Sgt. Ring: The trail ended at ten o’clock—the night that she disappeared.Magnus: And she’s just off the radar after that?Sgt. Ring: Yes she is.

Did she get in her car and go out after that phone call?

Doubtful, her parents say... but police say it’s possible.

A friend of her brother’s from out of town had left his cell phone at her condo and asked that she ship it to him.

Sgt. Ring: We believe that there’s a possibility that she may have been out trying to find some type of means to ship this telephone to her brother’s friend.

All of which leaves a huge chunk of time during which jennifer may have gone missing.   

Her boyfriend and family were immediately ruled out as suspects. And police quickly focused on the many day laborers who were working at her condominium.

Jennifer’s family said she’d been uneasy about that, but no suspect emerged.

The first big break in the case came two days after Jennifer disappeared. Her black Chevy Malibu was found in a parking lot, just about a mile from her condominium. A resident of these apartment buildings had seen the news reports and contacted police. And when investigators arrived, they got an even bigger break. On top of the pool house behind me, there were security cameras... and they were rolling.

Sgt. Ring: We had actually captured a time when the car was dropped off at a particular apartment complex.

Dropped off by someone other than Jennifer Kesse.  Police haven’t said who—nor released that particular footage—but they have released something else:   3 frames of video of someone walking in the parking lot near Jennifer’s car—at around the same time it was dumped. 

But the big break also turned into a huge frustration for police.

Sgt. Rich: We immediately saw that there were some things that worked against us—the environment that the person was walking in. There was some posts that obstructed our clear view of the person’s face.

The person without a face is for police, a “person of interest” and the main focus of the investigation.

But despite enhancements to the photo by the FBI police can’t say for sure if it’s a man or a woman... all they knows is his or her height:  between 5’3” and 5’5 inches tall.

Edie Magnus, Dateline correspondent: Do you find yourself staring at that photo?Drew Kesse, father: Yeah, every day.Joyce Kesse: Drew does more than I do.Drew Kesse: Actually, I have it up right above my computer... And  I stare at it every day.  I stare at that more than any other thing.

Police won’t reveal what they found in Jennifer’s car, but say there were no signs of violence. 

Her purse and her cell phone were missing, but there’ve been no hits on her ATM card, nor calls from her cell phone ever since.

Police searched the area with hounds, helicopters, and horses… and still nothing.

The Kesses’ meanwhile organized volunteers to pass out more than a million homemade flyers.   They spoke at churches and went on local and national TV.

But despite generating hundreds of leads and with a reward of $250,000, the ultimate tip still has not come through.

Magnus: One of your theories is that she may have been taken by somebody who’d been watching her, stalking her, if you will.  Drew Kesse: It wasn’t for a car jacking cause they left the car.  It wasn’t for robbery because nothing was taken.  It comes down to that someone wanted her.Joyce Kesse: I mean what else is there?

For the police, it comes down to those elusive photos from a security camera and the question, why has no one come forward.  Sgt. Ring says many residents in that area are here illegally or may have other reasons to fear the police.Or maybe they’re just gone.

Sgt. Ring: Orlando is a very transient—community in some areas and there’s—people come through.  They’re here one day, they’re gone the next.

The Kesses say they think often of Elizabeth Smart, the Utah girl who was abducted and returned home safely after nine months of captivity.  

She is the poster child for their dreams.

Joyce Kesse: Actually repeating Elizabeth Smart’s name many, many, many times—helps me as well. 

They’re bolstered by the hugs on the street, the hundreds of waves from passing motorists, and the fact that Jennifer has not been forgotten.

Joyce Kesse: We never, ever in a million years expected the turnout and the outpouring of love and support from people we don’t know.

This day like every other one since their daughter vanished, the kesse’s were back on the street for another 90 minutes at the afternoon rush hour,  holding her face to the world.  Relentless—but, they say, not hopeless. 

Joyce Kesse:  Nothing of hers has been found.  And that gives us great hope. We continue to believe that she is out there being held captive.  Until you can prove to us otherwise we will continue to believe, we will continue to have hope, that we will have a very joyous reunion.

Jennifer's parents are maintaining their vigil, and police say the Kesse's are generating leads, almost daily.  For any information phone number: 800-423-TIPS
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