Jessica Heeringa (Courtesy ABC News)
NORTON SHORES, Mich. (WZZM) -- It's been 54 days since Jessica Heeringa disappeared from her job at a Norton Shores gas station. The national media attention has gone away and tips are coming in at a much slower pace. If police have a strong theory or even just a solid hunch, they're not saying.
Truth is not much more is known about Jessica's disappearance today than almost two months ago. WZZM 13 has dedicated multiple journalists to the story but as the mystery grew we asked what more could we do to uncover clues?
That's why WZZM hired a licensed private investigator to go beyond what our reporters were doing. We are not identifying her so as to not jeopardize her work. Lee VanAmeyde spoke with her.
Q: You've been doing this for a month now, take me through the process, how you investigate, who you talk to.
A: I came here several nights to get the lay of the land, as to what would be occurring at 11 at night, what I found is that there are several businesses that are open at 11 and quite a bit of traffic that might use the Exxon station.
Many of those businesses are located in the nearby strip mall and WZZM 13's investigator was able to talk to workers and customers who are accustomed to being in the area. They told her that on the night Jessica Heeringa disappeared there were, at the time, what seemed like minor things out of the ordinary.
One example; The back of the Exxon station was totally dark. Two large security lights on the back wall normally on, were off. The back door which was normally closed, was open. This is where police say Jessica was taken and where a small amount of Jessica's blood was found.
WZZM 13's investigator talked to other people who questioned the initial police response, some alleging there was little care given to protect what was likely a crime scene.
Q: Tell me if there is anything that stands out about the case itself or how it's been investigated.
A: I would say it's unfortunate that a lot of things don't stand out and some of the things I find routine are not good things. By that I mean after speaking with witnesses, that there had been no crime scene tape put at the site and without that, anybody can invade the area. If you allow people to dirty up the scene, you really can't take anything from the scene and regard it as evidence.
Norton Shores Police Chief Dan Shaw says he is confident everything was done to protect the scene. "Once the officers arrived on scene there was no traffic around the crime scene area. Our officers did secure the area and collected the evidence and cleared the scene," Shaw told WZZM 13.
Shaw says there was no crime tape because the area was so small it did not require it.
Over the last month WZZM 13's investigator talked to people who were among the hundreds who called in tips, but some said their tips were never followed up by police. Others in the community offered theories as to motives and possible suspects but none were willing to go on the record, let alone on camera.
"In situations like this and particular this area, it's a small town feel and witnesses will know each other, probably know the families involved and maybe even the owner of the Exxon," explained our investigator.
The one lead that held the most potential early on were reports of a silver van seen leaving the scene. Blurry images of the van were caught on nearby cameras but they were not clear enough for that big break everyone was looking for.
However we've now learned that before Jessica's disappearance, a silver van was spotted by a worker across the street. He told our investigator that around 10:30 p.m. on Friday, April 26, the night Jessica Hearing disappeared, he saw a silver van driving slowly and suspiciously around the building where he worked.
Q: So just to get it correct, the silver van circled around and went down the street and then turned around, faced the Exxon station down the street?
A: That's correct, the witness said he saw the van go down the street and face the Exxon for at least 10 or 15 minutes.
Despite these and many other tips, we have no clearer picture today of what happened to Jessica than the night she disappeared.
"In a community with people willing to come forward, who do have ideas, and alternate theories, I truly believe this effort has to be an ongoing one," said our investigator.
Police Chief Dan Shaw says his department is still going through leads and they do have people of interest they are continuing to focus on. He is confident they will solve the case.