Jeffrey Willis, a 46-year-old resident of Muskegon Township, was recently arraigned on kidnapping charges for his alleged attempt to capture and hold a 16-year-old girl last month in Northern Muskegon County.
Willis was arraigned before Muskegon County Chief District Judge Raymond J. Kostrzewa, who set his bond at $1 million. At the arraignment, Muskegon County’s prosecutor D.J. Hilson explained to the court that Willis’ silver van contained a secret compartment full of incriminating evidence.
Handcuffs, a rope, and several syringes full of a clear liquid that investigators suspect is a sedative, were all found in the hidden compartment. “This was a vehicle designed not just to kidnap, but to take sexual advantage of women.” Hilson told the court.
“Good Samaritan” Attempts Kidnap of 16 Year Old
The case stems from an incident that took place in Fruitport Township last month on April 16th. A 16-year-old girl said that she was lost at the time and had climbed into Willis’ silver van to use his cell phone. She said he then locked the doors and began to pull out a handgun. She says that she was able to escape the vehicle and flee to a nearby home where she sought help.
In addition to this particular case, Hilson explained to the court that officers are currently investigating leads that point to connections between Willis and Jessica Heeringa and Rebekah Bletsch. Heeringa disappeared in April of 2013 from the Michigan gas station where she worked. Bletch was shot to death while jogging near her home in Dalton Township in 2014.
Investigators have seized Willis’ silver van and searched both his home and property that had been owned by his grandfather who passed away in 2011. According to witness accounts, hundreds of items were removed from the two properties during the searches. The case is currently being investigated jointly by the FBI, the Michigan State Police, the Norton Shores Police Department and the Muskegon County Sheriff’s Department.
Willis is charged with kidnapping, assault with a dangerous weapon, and felony firearm. Under Michigan law, kidnapping is a felony punishable by up to life in prison, while assault with a dangerous weapon, also a felony, is punishable by up to four years. Each count of felony firearm is punishable by a mandatory sentence of two consecutive years in prison.
After reading Willis the charges, Judge Kostrzewa appointed a public defender to represent him and then scheduled the probable-cause hearing for June 2, 2016 at 1:30 p.m.